As I ambled through the living room I noticed the off white throw blanket was still wadded up on one end of the couch as it had been for the last week. I picked it up and caught a whiff of dirty dog, or possibly teenage boy, and dropped it back to where it had come from. On the other end of the couch, a stack of cushions were piled high leaving a pillow-free zone so our aging border collie could spread out on either the love seat or on the couch without anything getting in her way. For months I had fussed at the boys for throwing the pillows on the floor until I realized Lucy was the guilty party. As I glanced at the clutter again, I sighed inwardly, thinking I should really put everything back in its place but I passed out of the room without moving anything.
Entering the foyer I saw the sun was streaming through the windows, bouncing off the hardwood floors, and highlighting the soft tufts of Lucy’s hair that had accumulated once again next to the baseboards. I saw a dirty paw print close to the front door. Strange, I think. It’s just one print. I wonder how she only left one dirty mark in the middle of the floor?
An audible sigh escapes me this time. I should mop, I think to myself. But of course, before I can mop, I’ll need to vacuum first.
Another sigh escapes me. I really don’t want to mop. Or to vacuum for that matter.
I glance outside at the beautiful spring day. It rained overnight and the temps have dropped 20 degrees from yesterday. The wind has picked up and is blowing consistently. The outdoors look so inviting with the sun shining, the vibrant green grass, and the soft pastel petals gracing the early blooming trees, but after sitting through a couple of soccer games I know how deceptive this picture is. The unforgiving wind would cut through my clothes and chill me to the bone in no time. In winter that is expected. In spring the illusion of warmth is cruel and today I’m taking the change in weather personally.
I see the tall grass swaying to and fro in the wind. Some areas are still bare, waiting on the grass seed to take root and sprout. I notice the ground is wet from the rain and probably won’t dry out for another day or two at the earliest. I weigh the idea of mopping for another 60 seconds or so before deciding the wet grass and Lucy’s feet won’t mix well with clean floors, so I’ll put off mopping for another day.
As I turn away from the window I ponder my lack of initiative. I can’t seem to drum up the will to do housework today even though these small things are getting on my nerves. I start school at the end of May and I can feel my free time slipping through my hands. Some days it makes me anxious, worrying I have made the wrong decision about going to grad school while other days I’m impatient, ready to start this next chapter of my life. However, today all I want to do is read and relax and do the things I know I won’t get to do guilt-free for the next three years or so.
I’m restless, trying to square the desire to do nothing with what I think I should be doing. I circle back through the house, now heading to the kitchen. Hungry. But not hungry. I guess I’m just wanting to snack even though it’s well past lunch and I haven’t eaten yet. I grab some carrots out of the fridge and stand at the counter while I eat them. My gaze goes to the bird feeder outside the kitchen window to see if any birds are feeding. Nope, not now. Maybe they’re snug in their nest protesting the cold temps that Mother Nature has bestowed upon us. “I can hear you singing little birds, but just like you, I prefer to stay inside” I think to myself. Even the dog has chosen to stay inside. A good indication today’s weather isn’t friendly.
My eyes roam to the kitchen table which is covered by a dropcloth. There’s an assortment of craft paint, brushes, puzzles, and books scattered across its surface. This time the paint project is not mine. The youngest has been painting a birdhouse for the last few days. It’s still not complete and there’s a second one waiting in the wings. How many more days will it take to finish it? I’m not sure but once both of those are finished we’ll start on the new puzzle I had bought on Monday. Will I ever see the top of my table again?
The book at the edge of the drop cloth has been read and has set on the table for days no matter how many times the boy has been reminded to take it to his room. A kitchen chair is pulled out with an empty music stand sitting before it. I have to dodge it every time I let the dog out onto the back porch but I remind myself it’s well worth the price of the free concert I receive each night as I’m making dinner. The boy plays enthusiastically until it’s time to eat, and while I would be happier if he pushed his chair back in and put the music stand away, I let this small infraction slide most of the time. His days are long and the afternoons are rushed with soccer practice and dinner. This busy season in our lives is temporary but I still briefly wonder when I’ll see the top of my kitchen table again without the clutter or a half finished project on it––but just as quickly I let that thought slip out of my head.
Finishing my carrots I smile ruefully, realizing how much progress I have made. At one point the clutter on the table, the errant throw pillows and blanket, and the tumbleweeds of dog hair floating through the foyer would have been the straw to break the camel’s back. It would have been enough to make me anxious, to make me feel like I wasn’t doing enough, or that I was lacking in some other way.
I was a stay at home mom. Big or small, cleaning up was one of my primary jobs, right? And symbolic of so much more with the idealism of the 1950s household at the forefront of my thoughts––baking cookies, volunteering at school, having a clean house, and a hot-out-of-the-oven-dinner waiting on the husband when he comes home from a long day of work.
But those things belong on a Hollywood film set and not in every day life in 2018. Somewhere along the way, I had come to not only dread, but also to resent, this type of chore and the implied meaning behind it. On one hand I knew I was fortunate to stay home with the kids, but on the other, I had come to realize maybe it was time to move on, to find a new priority with a different purpose, to allow a little clutter in my life and in our house. A clean home was good but it had come to be overrated in my view. A happy home, where everyone, including me, pursues their own dreams with a passion and purpose, has now taken the place of the idyllic charm of the 1950s housewife. Somewhere along the way I have realized that there is a time and a place for each of those dreams–and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can do both.
I’ll always cherish these years I’ve been able to stay home, keep house, and watch my boys grow and I’ll always remember these are the exact things that have made me set off in the direction I am now heading. My little monkeys have taught me so much about life. They taught me about true inner strength, overcoming undeniably high obstacles, finding joy in simple things, and thinking outside the box. They taught me to be thankful for the small things because some days that’s all you have and to work hard, really hard for the big things because dreams are important, too. We think we’re suppose to be role models for our kids but in this case it turns out they were role models for me.
My time with my boys when they were younger, and my quiet time at home alone during the day, have been priceless gifts in a way that most casual observers can’t understand. It has been a time that has challenged every cell of my being, a time that has made me question most things in life, a time that has forced me to make choices I never would have wanted to make. It has made me into the person I am today with just a hint of the stranger I was a decade ago.
Wherever this journey may lead, and whatever I may end up doing, I’ll do it with these memories guiding me along the way.