I was looking at my car and house the other day and trying not to let my frustration build to the point where I'm impossible to live with. (Yes, I know I'm difficult to live with... but I'm hoping not to graduate to "impossible." I'm assuming even my patient hubby has his limits). "I feel like I'm NEVER going to catch up," I said to no one in particular. (I don't know if it's old age or motherhood, but I'm certainly talking to myself more these days). And then I thought about it... what am I trying to catch up to? Why am I so stressed out about this?
I think it's a matter of expectations. Something my therapist said I needed to seriously revise because my expectations for myself are WAY too high and, in turn, I put impossibly high expectations on the people around me (my aforementioned patient hubby getting the worst of it).
You see, I used to have that car and that house that was always ready for "guests." My car never had wrappers or extra clothing or school/work items or shoes or sand or anything extra in it. My house always had made beds and done dishes and gleaming counter-tops and uncluttered counters. And now that I "don't work" (jesus, that phrase gets under my skin), I've been at a loss to figure out why I CANNOT, for the life of me, keep my car and house clean. But today, I figured it out.
As I let our new lab Ellie (she of the over-active snot production) into the back of my Escape which already had a fine layer of Husky hair (courtesy of Yukon), I had a brief moment of worrying about her snotting up the back of my car and then thought, "yeah, but it's better to have this fun crazy dog than a clean car." And then it hit me... my stress level and happiness is up to ME. It's a matter of re-framing the mess and altering the expectations. Instead of worrying about the sand in my entry way, the breakfast dishes in my sink still at lunch time, the petrified goldfish in my back seat, the extra hoodies and kids' shoes on the floor of my car... I need to view them as evidence of a life well lived. After all, when I had a clean house, it's because no one LIVED in it. Mike and I worked, William was in day care and the dogs played outside. When I had a clean car, it's because it carried only me. And while I had a good life then, it's nothing compared to what I have now. I wouldn't trade the cleanliness for the crazy, loud, messy, loving, fulfilling, growing life that is life with children. Again, I need to see the changes... the mess, the noise, the clutter as evidence of a life well lived.
The sand is a celebration of spending more time with my kids at the park and less time sweeping and telling them "mommy can't play with you right now." The dishes are because it was more important that they get the entire hour and a half of parent-child swim time at the local community pool than it was for me to have an empty sink. The petrified goldfish are because I didn't want to cut our trip to the coast and aquarium short just so I could work around the breakfast-lunch-nap schedule. The extra hoodies mean if we stay out playing way too late and it gets cold, my kiddos can throw them on instead of having to run home. Life well lived.
That doesn't mean I'm going to let my car turn into "the pit of despair" or my house a cluttered, unsanitary mess. That doesn't mean I won't continue to use nap time and late night as time to mop or vacuum or run laundry. It's just not in me to let it go too far. But I think I have to let go a little. For my sanity's sake. For my kids' sake. For my hubby's sake. If I keep stomping around, swearing about messes and telling the kids to "please find something to do I HAVE to clean up"... life's best moments will pass me by. There will be no evidence of a life well lived. No sand to stick to my feet and make me smile at the memory of Elizabeth coated HEAD-TO-TOE in mud at the park or William buried up to his neck in sand. No wrappers to remind me of the impromptu driving adventure to some new park that resulted in having to "grab a quick lunch" on the go.
My Tante (aunt), at my Oma's (grandmother's) funeral had one bittersweet memory in her list of memories of Oma. She said as a small child she often wished her mother would spend more time with her instead of cleaning so much. Her memory was that of Oma caring more about a clean house than spending time with her kids. And in the middle of all the sadness, the mourning, the family gathering... that moment stood out for me. That moment I stopped and thought, "I don't ever want William and Elizabeth to say that about me." I want them to remember when we used 5 sheets to make our entire playroom into a "tent city." I want them to remember mom diving into their kiddie pool with them to have "family splash time." I want them to remember taking a nature walk at the Delta Ponds on the way home from therapy instead of taking naps. I want them to remember building sand castles as the park, baseball games at the local field, backyard splash days, marathon Lego or Play-doh sessions and summer nights staying up late having a cookie on the couch.
New expectations, new frame of mind. I have my whole life to have a spotless house and car. I only have a finite time to make the best memories with my kiddos. Bring on the petrified goldfish and food wrappers. Never mind the unmade beds and messy playroom. I won't call it a mess anymore. I'll just call them souvenirs.