I am a “panic cleaner”. Sure, I keep the kitchen neat, fix the bed in the morning, do laundry, and pass the Swiffer and vacuum as needed. Unfortunately, I seem to require company to really get things spiffy. I am also a pile maker: little piles of clean clothes stacked on the stairs to go up in the kids’ rooms, piles of mail to read, bills to pay up on the kitchen counter. To my credit, despite the appearance of chaos, I can usually find things quickly. However, this is not how I really want to live. I want to keep up with clutter, or eliminate things before they become clutter. I’m assuming that other stay-at-home moms know how it goes, though–“I’m just going to put the mail on the dining room table for now”, since it always seems like it’s time to rush on to the next thing, like preparing a snack or meal, helping a toddler with shoes or hand washing, or just being in the moment with one or both kids. Or, “I can fold those clothes later; they can stay in the dryer another hour or two…” Piles build up quickly here, and I’m convinced that some of them multiply overnight, too.
This past weekend, we celebrated my husband’s birthday with my parents, his parents, and his sister and her family. Knowing there would be that many people moving about in the house all day, we did one of the best “panic cleans” we’ve ever done in the two nights before the big day. One night, I finally dismantled the kids’ leaning cardboard shuttle that had become a nearly permanent fixture in our living room. We brought almost all of the toys that had made their way downstairs back up to the kids’ rooms (the kids did a good job of helping, by the way). We took all of the bills, pictures, receipts, and whatevers off of the kitchen counter until there was not a single thing on it. I love it. Even though I am not nearly as disciplined as I would like in keeping up with cleaning and household chores, I absolutely love having a tidy, clean, uncluttered space in which to live. And I know it makes my husband’s heart sing. He loves order, neatness, and an uncluttered house even more than I do. Getting things to this level of neatness felt like an unspoken but wonderful birthday present to him.
I told him, though, that I don’t know how long I can maintain this kind of cleanness. He knows the kids pull me in a thousand different directions all day, every day. He knows that our children are more important than a spotless counter or a complete lack of stacks of things. I think he also knows that with the kids being as young as they are, that maybe it’s not realistic to expect things to always be this way. I wonder, could I do it? How much extra tidying up would I have to do during the day to keep the panic clean intact? Would the kids go with the flow, could I work in little bits of cleaning here and there without their noticing? Or, I could save all those extra things for the night time, after the little ones are in bed. Let’s be honest–by the end of the day, how many of us want to straighten, clean, scrub, or anything but just sit and enjoy every second of serenity? Perhaps I’m lazier than the average mom. Maybe I just don’t expect enough of myself.
My mom lovingly tries to help me as much as she can when she visits, to relieve me of some of these tasks: I’ll come down from getting my daughter ready for nap, and she will have Swiffered my floor, or emptied the dishwasher, or any number of things just to lighten the load. I love her for that, and I know I am not always an easy person to help. I guess in the depths of my heart I want to believe that I can do it all: give my full attention and energy to my kids but also keep up a neat and clean house. Whenever I visit other mommy friends, I find myself wondering how they do it. Do they panic clean, too, or is it always that sparkling? Where do they put all their “stuff”? Do they hide bills next to their nightstands when friends come over, too? Or do they keep a precise file cabinet perfectly up to date as their mail comes in? Do they struggle mentally each time they go to wash that cup, or fold that basket of laundry, or put away those toys, as their kids try to climb up their legs, or ask to do Play-Doh with them, or just want to be held? What do they choose? I am still working on finding that balance, trying to be the ideal multi-tasker who gets things done while soaking up every fleeting moment of my kids’ being at home and actually wanting to be with me.
Yes, these days are few. In a few short years, my daughter will join her brother at school all day. If I have to choose now between keeping a spotless house at the expense of giving attention to my kids, and settling for a bit less than perfect clean so that I can give my best to my little ones, you know I’ll choose the latter and keep revving it up for those panic cleans. In the meantime, it’s only been a few days since our last big clean, so come on over, the counter is still clean!