Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Report from Inside the Residence

Yesterday, watching the local closings/cancellations scroll across the bottom of the television screen, I felt as if I might go insane. It was the again-ness of the whole thing. Again!? Seriously!? It feels like it's been snowing since early December without cease.

I spent a week and a half without a car, so we didn't leave the house at all except for weekends when my husband was home. During that time I stumbled on the fact that my son has zero accidents with the hang-out-naked-around-the-house method of potty training, and he can initiate and use the bathroom completely independently (still needs help cleaning up). We've halfheartedly tried a number of potty training methods with varying degrees of success, but never 100%! The only problem with this skill is that it, too, requires never leaving the house.

So between the ceaseless snowfall, the car in the shop, naked potty training, and the presence of a six week old with age appropriate feeding and diaper needs, we pretty much never leave the house.

Wow, now that I write it out like that, it becomes clear I deserve much more credit than I've been giving myself simply for not going insane!

Yesterday was actually one of the first times I felt the pressure. The housework was killing me; I tried so hard all day to clean, wearing my daughter on my chest to keep her from crying, attempting to engage, or distract, or redirect my son through a series of tasks so oppressively repetitive (laundry, seriously!? dishes!? what is up!?) and soul-wearying..and that isn't even what was killing me. What was killing me was that five hours later, the house was somehow, still, unbelievably, not clean! I was doing my best at a boring, crappy job and I was failing!

Just to be absolutely clear, the housework was the crappy job, not the kids!

As a teacher, it was so easy to separate child care from cleaning. You did the cleaning either while the kids were asleep or after hours. While the kids were awake, you interacted with them, taught them, played with them. This is how I envisioned my primary role with my kids if I eventually stayed home with them.

This part? I love.

But the problem with this lovely vision is that it turns out when you're in the house all the time (and please remember that I do mean all the time), you create messes. And babies and toddlers? Create lots of messes. And it turns out that if you don't clean them? They TAKE OVER YOUR LIFE! Like a mild cold turns to deadly pnemonia, the baby/toddler messes will rule your home in no time flat without constant vigilance. And the other thing it turns out? Babies and toddlers suck at both constant vigilance and cleaning! I know!

But for once, the answer wasn't to chill, or ignore the mess, or even to leave the house and avoid the mess (all my usual coping techniques). I wanted these feelings --the exhaustion, the irritation and frustration, the looming sense of failure-- to go away, but instead I sat with them. And then I sat with my husband while the kids slept and we talked. We talked about things we fear and things we hope for and things we carry around wrapped tight in the white-knuckled fists of our deepest hearts while we stumble through our days at work and at home, feeling our way into this family of four.

And then I woke up this morning and made egg, cheddar and spinach sandwiches for myself and my son, nursed my daughter at the dining room table while we ate breakfast and looked out the window at a squirrel atop a fence in the deep, deep snow. I rinsed and stacked dishes, did as many loads of laundry as I could manage, changed diapers and emptied trash cans, cleaned out the kitchen sink. We spent a small part of the day with the toddler in underwear (with no accidents!), and we watched the closings and cancellations scroll across the bottom of the television screen. Again.

The answer, this time, was to dig in deeper. To try harder. To do better. To (wo)man up. Right now I'm here with my babies and it's winter, and we're learning –which is messy-- so I need to clean up.

Today, I did, with a smile. And that feels good.

Not as good as the first day of spring, or the day in my future when I finally hire a housekeeper. But for a constantly messy crew surviving an upstate New York winter, half-naked and stuck in the house? We're doing alright.

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