Wednesday, October 24, 2012

COM Ch 9: The Final Frontier

Part II  Growing Down

Chapter 9:   The Final Frontier      

            Have you ever prepared a big holiday meal, say Thanksgiving?  I host Thanksgiving every year for my husband’s family.  And it’s always interesting!  Even though it’s basically the same menu every year, things always happen a little differently. 
            One year, I woke up Thanksgiving morning at 6 a.m. to get the bird ready when I had my first bout of serious morning sickness.  I have a chiropractic problem that causes a pinch in my neck when I’ve slept wrong, but only when I’m pregnant.  And if I wake up with that pinch in my neck, I know that I will be tossing my cookies every half-hour and completely unable to do anything but lay still and try to rest my neck until the pinch goes away. 

            Well, wouldn’t you know it, this was the first morning of that pregnancy that I woke up with that pinch in my neck.  I put the bird in the oven, set my detailed schedule on the table, and said, “Good luck, Honey.  I’m going to bed.”  I went upstairs and left Jason to clean the whole house and cook his first holiday meal by noon.  Actually, I only spent half the time in bed.  The rest was spent kneeling over the toilet. 
            Or there was the year that I didn’t have an actual roaster pan because mine got ruined (not from my cooking!) and so I crammed a twenty-pound bird into a 9x13 pan.  Let me just say, “Never cram a twenty-pound bird into a 9x13 pan!”  The juices filled it up so high that it began spilling out the sides of the pan and onto the bottom of the oven, where it began to create smoke. 
            And since I didn’t own a turkey-baster (I know, I know . . . How did I get by all those other years?), I tried scooping out juice with a large ladle that wouldn’t fit into the pan because the bird was so big.  So I kind of half-scooped, half-dumped the juice into a bowl, but it ended up all over the bottom of the oven again.  The kitchen filled with smoke, the fire alarm went off, and then (as luck would have it) the in-laws showed up.  We had to open the windows and doors to air the place out as I did my best to look calm and collected. 
            “Oh, so the kitchen’s filled with smoke?  No big deal!  It’s all under control.  Here, let me stand up on the cluttered counter to reach the ten-foot-high ceiling so I can rip the fire alarm off.” 
            I believe that was the same year that someone bumped the oven knobs during dinner and the kitchen also filled with invisible gas for twenty minutes before anyone noticed, thereby leading to airing out the kitchen again.  (Hmmm?  I wonder why everyone seems so relaxed and sleepy after dinner?  Must be the turkey?) 
            When cooking a big holiday meal, you just can’t predict how things will go.  Some things turn out just like you were hoping they would, like the homemade buttermilk biscuits, the pecan-praline-pumpkin pie (oh, that’s good stuff!), and the great boxed stuffing that takes a wonderful five minutes to make and yet turns out so flavorful and soft.  And some things just don’t, like cooking the turkey with the giblet packet still inside the cavity (If you didn’t catch it then you can’t prove it!) or the gravy that just wouldn’t thicken up. 
            One year, I had decided that I was going to make the best gravy ever.  The day before, I simmered all the veggies for hours to make a flavorful broth.  I lovingly seasoned it and strained it.  And I was going to add the turkey drippings the next day to make it wonderful.  People were going to talk about that gravy for years and how amazing it was.  It would be legendary!   
            That was the same year that I got the morning sickness.  I had to abandon all my plans and leave it in the hands of Jason and his family while I stayed in bed.  And for some reason, try as they might, they couldn’t thicken up the gravy.  It was impervious to cornstarch.  My legendary gravy became turkey-flavored water.  And by no stretch of the imagination can turkey-flavored water be called “gravy.” 
            I wanted to be remembered for my wonderful gravy.  Oh, they do still talk about it.  But now, all people say is, “Remember that year that you got really sick and everyone else had to do the cooking.  And remember how the gravy wouldn’t get any thicker.”  Ah, the best laid plans!
            Wait!  I just thought of another shining moment.  One year, 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, I dropped a twenty-pound slippery bird and the overnight brine it was soaking in all over the kitchen floor.  The bird never hit the floor.  Honestly, it really didn’t.  (But in the name of all honesty, I probably would have served it anyway if it did.  After I rinsed it well, of course.)  But the kitchen table and floor were covered with raw turkey juice.  So gross!
            Nothing creeps me out more than raw poultry juice.  When I make chicken, I’m often heard yelling, “AHHH, RAW CHICKEN JUICE” if so much as one drop splashes on me.  And now here I was, spending all morning on my hands and knees cleaning the floor while covered in soaking wet, turkey-juice clothes.  I will never soak a turkey again!  Never!!!  Once again, though, I had tried to be fancy.  I thought a nice orange/onion soak would make it really memorable.  Oh, it was memorable, all right!
            Some things go well and some things don’t.  Some years, it’s flawless.  And some years, it’s a wreck.  That was my life up to this point.  My life had been one big holiday meal!  Some parts were great and some were not.  Some years were huge struggles where nothing seemed to go the way I wanted it to.  And other years were smooth and enjoyable. 
            But after all the preparation and cooking are done, when you sit down at the holiday table to enjoy your meal, you can forget about all the work and trouble of the preparation and just enjoy the food and the company.  And by this point in my life, it felt like it was Meal Time.  All the years, no matter how they had gone, were a memory now.  And I was just sitting down to relax and enjoy the food and company.  But as everyone knows, sitting down to eat the meal isn’t the end.  
            Things had been pulling together nicely.  I had gone from young and carefree, to an emotionally, insecure mess learning to be in a relationship, to a married woman learning to be an adult, to an adult learning to be a mom.  I had come a long way.  But one more area still haunted me, just as it does after a holiday meal.  One more challenge was still on the horizon, and I could not ignore it any longer.  I had tackled insecurities, marriage, and children.  But this one was bigger, much bigger.  Two stories with a basement to be exact.  The house!  (Well, half a house, actually, since we rent a duplex.)  And like after a big holiday dinner, it needed to be cleaned.  REALLY cleaned! 
            While I was growing up, our house was always well lived-in.  We had a really nice, large house and nice furniture.  My mom has a great sense of style and she always decorated well.  (Well, I should clarify - the last house we lived in before I moved out was the really nice one.  There were several other smaller homes that we lived in.  I can remember at least four other homes before I was sixteen.  But I was in this last one from my early teens until I moved out at twenty-one.) 
            In addition to six kids, there were always animals at my house.  My mom is an avid animal lover.  Over the years, we have had an array of animals including dogs, birds, cats, a hedgehog, a sugar glider, stray raccoons, lizards and reptiles of all kinds, gerbils, and a monkey.  (Yes, a real monkey with a black and white face, like the monkey from Ace Ventura or George of the Jungle.  Her name is Holly.  She used to be so cute, sweet, and diapered that you could play with her.  Now, she’s mean, dirty, and obese.  And she doesn’t wear her diaper anymore, so I won’t touch her.  And if you walk too close to the cage, she takes a swipe at you.  Lightning-fast, razor-sharp, yucky, monkey poop-fingers!  I got it in the eye once.)   My mom even told me how, when she was young, she kept a chicken in her locker at school.  (What!?!) 
            My mom’s house was the place to be, the hang-out.  All the youth group kids and family friends were welcome anytime.  And with six kids in the family that meant a lot of people in and out all day long.  There was always a lot of commotion and rarely ever a dull, quiet moment.  (And when there was, trust me, it was just a moment.  And then, it was gone!) 
            With this many people, animals, and things going on, it was delightfully busy and comfortably messy.  I spent a lot of my youth helping keep the house clean.  But, in all honesty, it wasn’t that bad, although my mom did scold me on occasion when a job wasn’t done to her liking with “If you’re going to do the job, then do it right.”  This would immediately make me think, If you want something done right, then do it yourself.  Or she would say, “If you can’t do it right, then don’t do it at all.”  And I would think, Exactly!  Thank you!  (I had to bite my tongue pretty hard sometimes.) 
            But despite all the work done, there were still certain messes that never got cleaned; certain ones that made me say, “I’ll never have that at my house.”  (My mom asked me the other day if I remembered how much work she did around the house to keep it clean.  I admitted that I honestly didn’t notice.  I was a typical teen, too busy with my own life and only noticing how much work I did.  Now that I have kids, my mom’s getting her mother’s revenge.  You know - “Just wait till you have kids of your own.”) 
            There were always upturned bottles of food crammed in the fridge and leaking down the walls, unidentified and uncovered bowls of leftovers in the fridge or piled in the sink, and (the grossest one to me) the sticky table.  Oh, there was also the occasional animal poop and food ground into the carpet.  But it was the table covered with a film of sticky, old something-or-other that always got to me.  I would not let that happen when I got my own house.  I mean, how hard is it to keep the table wiped clean?   
            In my own house, I also wouldn’t run out of toilet paper and leave an empty roll.  There would not be old food left out all over the place for hours.  Laundry wouldn’t cover the floor.  I wouldn’t have to search high and low for pens or clean dishes.  And the table would get wiped down!  (Oh, how my husband is laughing right now!) 
            Oh, and I wouldn’t lose track of my kids!  Once, I was sitting at the table watching my mom run through the house.  She was holding a twin in one arm and holding the hand of the other twin, and frantically yelling, “Where’s the other twin?  Where’s the other twin?  I can’t find him.”  I stared at her for a moment, thinking she was kidding.  But the terror in her eyes told me she wasn’t.  So I pointed out that she was holding onto both twins.  (Later, though, I thought it would have been funny if I just let her go and see just how long it took to notice it herself.  Ahh, the things we think of after the fact!) 
            Now, I wouldn’t mind being a good cook like her, but I was definitely going to keep house better.  Okay, now!  In my defense, when I was on my own for the first time, I chose to be messy.  I think it was my way of taking a break after helping out all those years at home.  You know, asserting my independence like, “Now that I’m an adult, I can be as messy as I want and no one will be around to tell me to clean up.”
            And in the early years of my marriage, it was alright to be messy because there was no one but my husband and me.  We couldn’t generate that much mess, except for my piles of graduate school books and papers.  Oh, of course, there was the laundry and dishes, too.  But when you only have two people to clean up after, it’s easy to let it go until you need it.  Plus, it was so much more relaxing to just, well, relax.  Besides, I knew that I could change anytime I wanted to.  (Ha-ha-ha!) 
            But having kids changes you - whether you are ready or not.  They changed me from a smug, condescending youth to being The Mom.  Before I even had a chance to learn to be responsible for two adults, I had to become responsible for a little human being.  And then another and then another. 
            And with the birth of my little atomic bomb, things began to get a lot tougher.  With three kids now and a habit of procrastination, toys and clothes were everywhere.  Dishes filled the sink, sometimes as long as three days.  (Yikes!  I know it’s terrible.  But in the name of honesty, it’s true.)  And have you ever smelled a peanut butter jar that was left filled with water for several days to soak?  God could have created a worse smell, but I doubt He ever did!  I think “It’s soaking!” is one of the biggest fibs we tell ourselves. 
            In the summer, ants were all over the floor, transporting cracker crumbs and other precious cargo from our kitchen and living room.  I could almost hear them stomping in unison . . . “Dun, Dun, Dun, Dun, The ants go marching two by two. . . Hurrah, hurrah . . .”  My boys actually started to grow rather fond of them and Ryder began “adopting” them as pets.  Once, he hid one under a card and played hide-and-seek with it.  He would turn around and go, “Hmm, I wonduh where duh ant id?”  (He won’t say his S’s.)  Then he would run to the card, uncover it, and yell, “Dare it id!” 
            I told him that ants in the house are not a good thing.  So, thereafter, I would find him stomping to death all the poor little ants he could find out on the sidewalk.  “IN the house, Honey.  You can kill all the ones you find IN the house, not the ones outside who are just trying to make a living.” 
            After I got married, I actually saw some benefit to the mess when Jason would work late at night.  One night, I was going to bed with two kids and I got a sudden attack of fear.  What if someone broke in?  Would I be able to protect myself and my children?  I looked around the living room at all the toys strewn solidly across the floor, and I realized that it was the best alarm system ever. 
            Anybody who wanted to break into our house would either have to be really nuts or really athletic.  They would have to precariously tiptoe through a tangled web of toys in the dark.  And one false move a half-inch on either side would make such a ruckus that we’d wake up.  Then I would run out to the living room and have a million little toys at my disposal to begin throwing at him until he stumbles backward and out the door, running in terror from our house.   
            But other than that, there wasn’t much virtue in the mess.  And I began to fear that I was setting my kids up to be slobs who would drop things wherever they felt like it.  Can I really expect them to pick up after themselves when I can’t even do it?  I’m not kidding!  I don’t know how many times my husband has said, “Why did you leave the empty wrapper on the table . . . two feet from the garbage?”  It surprises me as much as it does him!  I really don’t know why I do it.  But I’m working on it.  Although, it could take a while.  I’ve worked hard for over thirty years to fine-tune my ability to leave things wherever it’s easiest. 
            Now to be fair, it wasn’t just my extreme lack of good housecleaning habits that helped create the disaster.  It was also that I didn’t have much time to hone my housekeeping skills with three kids underfoot all day.  Especially with one of them being so demanding and busy that he needed to be watched very closely . . . or else I’d find him jumping off the back of the couch, barely clearing the table, and yelling, “Me Batman.  Me can’t fly.”  And I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, “Boy, is he fast!” 
            [I once thought it was safe to go to the bathroom because he was zombied out on TV downstairs. (Another thing they don’t encourage in the parenting books.  But experienced mothers know the value of a good mind-consuming program - carefully chosen, of course, for educational purposes.)  And no exaggeration, but five seconds after I sat down, I heard him screaming from upstairs .  So here I am, sitting in the bathroom downstairs, reaching for the door and screaming, “WHAT IS IT?  WHAT’S WRONG?  WHERE ARE YOU?  ARE YOU ALRIGHT?”, when he comes walking nonchalantly into the bathroom a few seconds later, not at all out of breath from his light-speed sprint up the stairs and down.  How on earth . . .? 
            I have often wondered if I actually had twins when Ryder was born at his homebirth, and the other one got away before we ever noticed him.  So, here is this little carbon copy of Ryder, hiding out in the dark crevices of our house, emerging at night to fight the ants for the crumbs off the kitchen floor, and then surfacing now and again throughout the day to cause trouble.  He looks like Ryder.  He acts like Ryder.  But he can’t be Ryder because Ryder was just upstairs a minute ago launching himself off the bunk beds into the wall and this one here is out in the back yard swinging from the monkey-bar in a diaper.  A secret twin would explain a lot!] 
            However, I can’t really blame the kids too much.  Most of my problems were self-induced.  A long over-due bill!  Time to pay the piper for the years of relaxing in my mess.  Like I said, my mother did teach me well about how to clean.  I got to practice quite often . . . cleaning the kitchen, the living room, the bathrooms, the floors, the laundry.   (Hmmm!  I wonder why I resisted cleaning as I got older?) 
            As a youth, and as the oldest, I had a lot to do around the house.  My mom would leave me with a list of chores that read something like this: clean the bathrooms, clean the kitchen, make sure to scrub the counters and do the dishes and the floor, do a load of laundry, vacuum the carpets and the stairs, and scrub the hard floors, put on your old clothes and get up on the roof and re-shingle.  (Okay, maybe not that last one.  But I’m sure she considered it.) 
            My oldest brother, who was four years younger, got a list like this: sweep the breakfast room floor and pick up your toys.  I really did wonder what she did all day because I felt like I was always busy helping.  (Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, She had six kids (and a job).  Don’t worry, I want to slap me now, too.) 
            I was always pretty comfortable with a certain amount of mess and, frankly, was too lazy to put too much effort into cleaning.  Just ask my college roommate, Jen, and the three girls I shared an apartment with for a year after college.  (Sorry, Gina, Laura, and Sarah.  I never did do bathroom duty.  It just seemed that if I waited long enough, it got done somehow.  I never intended to not do it.  I was just more comfortable than others with waiting longer, I guess.  Oh, and sorry to Laura about the “Oh, so we’re Sunday Christians now” comment.  You were right, I should have been more respectful of the Lord’s Day by not playing the music that I was when we were getting ready for church.  I really am sorry!) 
            Well, now the years of my “I just don’t want to clean because I cleaned everything as the oldest of six” attitude were catching up with me.  I was drowning in our messy house, and I couldn’t bear it any longer.  I had finally come to the point where I really desired a clean house.  (I never thought that would happen.)  But it was more than just wanting it; I needed a cleaner house because I was so overwhelmed!  
            And as I tried and tried to keep up with the mess, I had an epiphany . . . I couldn’t change it whenever I wanted to.  I wasn’t fulfilling my vow to “do better than my mom did.”  And I only had half the amount of kids that she did.  Now, I was the one with dirty dishes all over and a perpetual pile of laundry.  Dirty laundry was piled high in the hamper and on the floor of the laundry room (which is also the upstairs bathroom).  And the clean laundry was piled high in the bedrooms, waiting patiently (and in vain) to be put away.  I have only caught a glimpse of the mythical “bottom of the laundry hamper” a very few times. 
            Okay, now!  In my defense, we have a really small, stackable washer and dryer that only holds about a third of the size of a normal load.  Oh, it makes me want to cry!  When we moved into the last rental, we had to buy a new washer and dryer.  We got three-and-a-half years out of them before we moved in here and had to put them in our garage to store them.  And while they rot out there, we struggle to keep up with smaller loads and more people.  So we can never really catch up.  Sigh! 
            And, to my chagrin, there is a sticky stream of something or other that has got a vice grip on the bottom drawer of my refrigerator.  I’m stumped - it looks like molasses, but I don’t keep molasses in the fridge.  Hmm?  And, yes, I hate to say it, but there is a layer of grime all over the kitchen table, constantly.  It is hard to keep it wiped clean all the time.   
            And then, there’s the toddler that I can’t keep track of.  But I think that’s him standing outside screaming into the neighbor’s open window for the little girl to come out and play, with no shoes on!  I can’t seem to keep his clothes on him when he is out of my sight.  I hope this is a just a phase that doesn’t last long.  But, at least, he is in the backyard where no one can see but the neighbors on either side. 
            And my two older boys are fighting for the same swing while wearing the same clothes that they have been in for three days now.  Hey, it does help reduce the laundry loads.  And note to self: replace the other swing that broke some time ago.  And when WAS the last time I took a real shower?         
            I had a lot of old habits to change, and my stress level was beginning to skyrocket.  I knew I had to do a better job than I was doing.  In retrospect, I wish I had formulated the self-discipline to do this before my third child came along.  It’s like the old frog-in-the-pot trick. I didn’t realize that the temperature was rising until it got so high that it hurt.  I was slowing sinking into piles of “stuff,” and it was going to require a terrible amount of effort to try to reverse the tide with three little ones at home. 
            But I had finally reached the first step to changing: admitting that there is a problem.  After thirty-some years of life, I finally admitted that dishes and laundry didn’t just wash themselves, and the garbage didn’t take itself out to the trashcan outside. 
            [No, but it does pay to let it pile so high that it precariously balances a foot over the top of the garbage can.  So then when my dear hubby comes home, he has to take it out first thing.  I keep trying to tell him that the reason I don’t take it out is because it doesn’t really fill up until dinnertime when I am busy cooking and cleaning off the table.  And he is already on his way home by then.  Besides, it gets my hands all gooky from whatever has gotten onto the sides of the garbage bag. 
            Honestly, though, I think there’s a part of me that feels like it shows appreciation for all I do if he takes the garbage out or clears my plate from the table, instead of making me do it myself.  And leaving them may be my way of giving him a chance to show his appreciation.  Whereas he views it as me just being lazy!  Oh, the differences in the way men and women think!]       
            You know what’s the hardest part to get used to, though?  The thing that really gets me?  No matter how much you do in a day - the laundry, the dishes, cleaning up after the meals, etc. -  it is all back again the next day.  And, somehow, just a few hours later, it never looks like you did any work, anyway.  (Thus my glee at hearing Jason finally realize that back in chapter 7!)  You never really have anything to show for the work you did.  People don’t see the clean dishes in the cabinet or folded laundry in the drawer.  But they sure notice if it doesn’t get done. 
            It’s kind of a lose-lose situation, don’t you think?  Either work, work, work to finish something no one sees.  Ugh!  Or don’t do it and get in trouble for the mess.  Ugh!  Or better yet, maybe you should wait till your spouse gets home and then slave away in the kitchen to get stuff done.  That way, at least they’ll actually see what you do. 
            But remember that men don’t usually hear what is going on in the kitchen when they are relaxing in the other room.  So unless you pop your head in every now and then, wipe your sweaty brow with dirty-dishwater hands and say,  “Wow, I have been in here for an hour cleaning the kitchen, and I still have more to do,” you may not get credit for it.  (This may backfire, though, because your dear hubby might then say, “Well, why do you let it get to that point in the first place?  Do the dishes as you go!”  Yeah, if only. . .!)  
            Let’s say you decide to make a labor intensive meal, like homemade soup.  Now, it really doesn’t look like much, just one pot of boiling stuff.  But no one sees how much time went into washing and peeling and chopping the carrots, the potatoes, the onions, the garlic, and any chicken involved.  You don’t see the time that went into making the biscuits from scratch, such as grinding the wheat (my newest adventure and I love it), mixing the ingredients, baking them, and mixing the garlic butter that I lovingly brush on the top.  (Okay, that’s really just “melt butter and add garlic powder!”) 
            But wait!  There’s also the dishes that you have to move around to get a spot to do all the cooking and then the pile that’s left afterward.  There’s the diapers that have to be changed, the butts and noses to be wiped, the numerous sibling spats that you need to referee, and the many, many interruptions of, “Mom . . . Mom . . .  Mom, look at this!  Mom . . . Mom . . . Mom, look at that!!”
            And usually, hubby’s home by then, just in time to see a huge stack of dishes and the children doing God-knows-what because you’re busy in the kitchen.  And there’s nothing to show for all your effort except one piddley, little pot of soup and a few balls of bread.  And then you get to sit down for twenty minutes to eat a meal that took two hours to make and listen to the kids complain about how they hate soup. 
            And then . . . you get to stare at the huge pile of dishes leftover.  By this point, you are usually thinking, I just need a little break.  But you know that taking a break at all really just means more work later.  So you drag your screaming muscles up to tackle the dishes.  But you can’t make it to the last big ones, so you leave them “soaking.”  And you sit down for a few seconds, only to finally get a good look around the living room and realize that it’s a disaster, too!  And try as you might, you can’t convince your husband that you actually have been busy all day.  (When I was in PNG, I decided that the simple life was the life for me.  What happened?) 
            Men, hear me now!  Moms are busy all day long with mundane tasks.  We barely have a few moments to pee.  Ten seconds to be exact, remember?  And even then, it’s rarely by ourselves, if we have little ones.  It’s not that we want the house to be a wreck, and our hair to be plastered in sweaty clumps to our exhausted, stress-wrinkled foreheads.  It’s probably that we couldn’t get a chance to take a shower or brush our teeth if our lives depended on it.  And although we have been working all day, you will probably never see what got done.  You will only see the things we couldn’t do. 
            It’s a long series of small choices: feed the kids lunch or do the dishes, break up a fight or finish sweeping, start dinner or clean the kitchen table off.  Everything that gets done is ten other things that didn’t get done.  Yes, it does help to train the kids to do a lot of this.  My work has been infinitely harder because I never did.  I got into “Mommy-mode” where you are used to doing everything, and I would forget to instruct the kids on how to pitch in.  Anyway, you would be amazed at how much time just managing and feeding children takes, especially when you home-cook your meals. 
            And, husbands, please remember that we are easily crushed when you come home, cock you eyebrow and say “What have you been doing all day?”  Those are fighting words.  They will effectively make your wife feel about two inches tall.  But, watch out!  She’ll be an angry, fierce two-inch tall beast capable of overthrowing small buildings. 
            And even if she says nothing (when I am at my maddest or most hurt, I am unusually quiet), she’ll be mentally throwing you around the room as she yells, “What have I been doing all day?  I’ll show you what I’ve been doing all day when I take one day off and do NOTHING!  Then you’ll miss it!  How would you like it if I came to your work and asked, ‘So, what have YOU been doing all day?’ as you stand there in the middle of a stack of stuff that you’ve been trying to work your way through all day as your boss throws more and more stuff on it.  In my case, my bosses are little, egocentric dictators who make messes faster than I can keep up and need more care than a barn full of animals.  Oh, for the love, I AM ONLY ONE PERSON!”   
            At least at your work, you usually eventually get some sort of a finished result to show your boss, and then you get to come home and put work behind you for a short time.  And you get paid for it.  Moms don’t get that.  We don’t have a finished job to show you.  And we work, work, work all week for a weekend that never comes.  (I think moms will have some of the biggest piles of rewards in Heaven.  Every bit of recognition, thanks, or appreciation that we didn’t get here is one more reward stored up there, as long as we are doing our job to the best of our ability, for God’s glory.)  
            Not that I’m complaining, of course!  I love being home with the kids, and I love cooking.  But we moms would also love a little understanding and a little slack.  Even if there is nothing to show for our work but kids that have been hugged and cared for, food on the table, and a spot cleared off for you to put your plate down.  Okay, I’m down off my soapbox now!
            [And I do have to be honest here and admit to a short-coming that will delight my husband.  I have recently been reminded, during one of our louder and angrier discussions, that there are certain things that I do that really bother him.  Little things that are done over and over again become big frustrations.  The wrappers left by the garbage, instead of in it.  The lunch plates left on the table till dinner.  (And the breakfast plates, too, as my husband so gently reminded me.)  And the . . . I’m sure that there are more, but I can’t think of them right now.
            Anyway, I realize that I have done these things, knowing how important it is to him that I don’t do them, because I felt that I was so busy that I had some “right” to leave this mess.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am really busy and I am trying really hard.  Just not with the things that matter most to him.  How is he supposed to feel about that?  I have been convicted of that not just by Jason, but by the Holy Spirit.
            Do I try to make them a priority because these are ways that I can show my love for him, just like there are ways that I want him to show his appreciation to me (hint, hint . . . cleaning up my plate instead of making me do my own)?  Do I make an effort to do the things that matter to him?  I got the message, I admit my shortcoming and, Honey, I’m trying.]       
            Instead of doing it “better than my mom,” I became her.  It’s no use fighting it.  It is the natural progression of things.  When we have kids, we become the “the moms” and our houses become “lived-in.”  Granted, some are more lived-in than others.  (I seriously have to wonder what happens all day when someone has a few kids, but their house is always pristine!  It’s just not normal!) 
            Becoming the mom and realizing that I couldn’t keep my vow to do better than other mothers helped me learn an important lesson.  It helped me learn that I need to have some understanding towards other mothers and to cut them some slack, especially my own mother.  It humbled me!  I learned that I can’t be judgmental towards others because of the state of their house or the craziness of their day or their children.  I couldn’t shake my head in judgment when I saw children with messy hair, dirty faces, and sloppy clothes anymore, because those were my children now. 
            Matthew 7:1-2:  “Do not judge others, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  (Thus the reason I say never comment on someone else’s kid or parenting style.)   
            For me, learning to keep a clean house seemed to be the one area left to conquer.  I had made it through a couple parental divorces, some very intrusive insecurities and fears, graduate school, marriage, and three children.  I had spent years reading cookbooks and was working on finding my cooking “style,” and I was doing pretty good.   (We did still grab fast food a few times a week, but I was doing good with the meals I did cook at home.  Although how does beef broth, soy sauce, honey, and garlic end up tasting exactly like peanut butter?  I’m totally not kidding here.  We ended up with peanut-butter-rice-sir-fry the other night.  Even Jason said so.  It was really weird!) 
            [Oh, and I have to share this one!  When Jason and I were dating, I decided to make a really special meal, to show off my itty-bitty cooking skills.  (I should stop trying fancy stuff.)  Anyway, I made a filet mignon stuffed with a garlic-mushroom sauté.  And never having cooked much before, I learned a valuable lesson about stuffing meat . . . always warn someone when you stuff a piece of meat.  When he cut into it, it basically exploded with slimy goo.  Scared the daylights out of him.  He actually yelped in horror.] 
            And now, I was at the point where I was finally beginning to tackle to house.  I really wanted not only to keep it clean, but to make our lives and home a lot healthier by trying to live more “green.”  I actually went to the point, as I said, of researching EVERY SINGLE ingredient in all of our lotions, shampoos, food, toothpaste, etc.  (And, yes, this explains why my hair is silver and not a nice, dark, from-a-bottle brown.  Actually, it’s only half-silver.  It’s a weird mix of brown and silver streaks.)   
            I literally walked around the house, grabbed every item we used for anything, and I wrote down every ingredient on a list.  Then I spent about fifteen hours over the course of a few weeks typing in every ingredient on-line to see what they were made of and if they were toxic.  (I’m neurotic like that.  I get really intense when I first get into a project.  I work on it or research it to death, and I don’t stop until I fully exhaust myself with it and have learned all I can.  And then I don’t want to think about it again for months.)   
            Man, it was a lot of work and hours spent reading about all the changes I wanted to implement.  In fact, researching was so tiring that I would have to put the research down, lay down among the toys and papers, and rest my eyes for a little while.  But little by little, I began making changes and things started to come together, and life felt more in order and simple.  We got rid of a lot of stuff and found natural, homemade alternatives.  It felt good and it felt clean. 
            I became determined to simplify my home, to get everything more organized and to do my best to keep up with the cleaning.  I was pretty proud of myself!  (I really do wrestle with my pride more than I wish.)  But it really did feel good that we ate healthy (so I thought), that I did the dishes every day, and that laundry was getting washed occasionally.  (I didn’t say folded and put away, but I did say “washed.”)  I felt like I was finally becoming the kind of woman I admired. 
            Despite never being one before, I have always admired neat-nics.  When I would see a woman on TV who is doing the dishes or the floors because something inside her desires order and cleanliness, I would feel a wistful sense of longing.  She seemed so mature and responsible, and I would think,  I wish I could be that way.  It just seems so womanly.  And now, finally and slowly, I was getting there.   
            And I began to smugly think, Wow!  Now I am doing better than my mom.  My place is cleaner and more natural.  In fact, I’m doing better than a lot of others because I have read many, many books on healthy living. 
            And then . . . it happened!  I stopped over unexpectedly at my mom’s house for some reason or other, and I was horrified.  Disgusted!  Shocked speechless!  Her house was . . . spotless!  Spotless!  Wait!  NO!  How could this be?  I was supposed to have the cleaner house!  
            Hers is a house with five grown boys, a monkey, monkey poop, orphaned baby animals (in the house), a screeching cockatoo, a billion cats, and lots of horses (not in the house).  It can’t be this clean!  Where is the unidentifiable slime on the table, the mystery smells, the kitty “surprises” lying just outside of the litter box (I mean, come on - the litter box is two inches away!), and the collection of old food in the sink? 
            But, no!  It was clean, clean, CLEAN!  Ugh!  It was a blow to my self-esteem.  I had to swallow my pride and admit that, despite my efforts, my house was still nowhere near as clean as my mom’s.  (I admitted this in my head, not out loud to anyone, of course.)  She was supposed to be the messy one because I was trying so hard to be the clean one.  I was supposed to be ahead of her. 
            That, appropriately, brought me down a notch.  It helped me realize how futile “mompetition” is, comparing myself to someone else (and how sinful it was to let it lead to pride).  There will always be someone else out there who does better.  It should have been enough for me that I was doing better than I had ever done before, that I was improving upon myself, instead of settling for mediocrity. 
            Once again, I was reminded that I needed to focus on myself; do the best job I could do, not to glorify myself, but to glorify the Lord.  (Hmm, sounds like a lesson I thought I learned years earlier!)  This was the position He had me in, the job that He gave me to do at this point in my life.  And my job was to do my best at it for His glory and to praise His name, to honor Him with my efforts.  Not to “do better than my mom.” 
            1 Corinthians 10: 31:  “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 
            Seeing her house clean like that also somehow helped me see her in a different light.  She was no longer a frazzled mess to me, but a person who loved order and simplicity, too.  She’d just been trapped in a house with six kids for far too long.  I began to feel a sense of connection with her.  I stopped tsk-tsking and shaking my head in judgment, and I felt the connection that bonds all of us mothers who are currently deep in the pit of motherhood.  I was no better than her or any other mother, really.  I was just different. 
            Youth brings smug attitudes of condescension, but experience brings humility and understanding.  (Hopefully!  If you’re not too stubborn!)  And I began to try to see myself in a more accurate light.  I could be good at some things, but worse at others.  I was no better than anyone else out there.  And I needed to judge myself by God’s standards for me, not by what anyone else does or doesn’t do. 
            [Oh, and after I gave my mom kudos for her housekeeping (in my head), I learned something that delighted me.  She told me that she had a housekeeper who helped clean every now and then.  Phew!  I was relieved, in a sick kind of way!  And then I thought, Hey, I would if I could!  But to be fair, every time I go over there lately, she is tidying up and doing dishes.  She’s actually gathering the crumbs as they fall from the table.  I’m so jealous!]
            So, here I was finally becoming the woman I wanted to be and learning a lesson in humility.  (I never learn a lesson once, but over and over again in different ways and at different times!)  Things were working out rather well.  There had been many ups and downs along the way, but things were coming together quite nicely.  The holiday meal was over and the house was getting cleaned up after the company left. 
            And now, there was only one area that didn’t seem to be working out yet as we had hoped.  Buying our own home.  I really, really wanted to have a place that we could call our own.  But I was pretty confident that it was right around the corner.  After all, everything else seemed to be going rather smoothly, and it was the next thing on the list.  
            I was proud of how well I was doing.   Proud that things were coming together with my efforts, proud that my family was eating healthier, proud that life was feeling “cleaner,” and proud that I was learning to be more humble.  (Hmmm?)  And as we all know, pride comes before a fall. 
            Isn’t it amazing how just as we reach that last frontier of self-development and begin to relax, God brings other challenges to grow us?  I didn’t know it yet, but just at the pinnacle of achievement, I was about to embark on the hardest years of my life.  Overnight, I was going to go from cool, collected, and confident to a complete mess. 
            Just when things were coming together by all my wonderful efforts, one small crisis (fed by several more) blew everything apart.  I had been the one with the answers, with the know-it-all list of advice on raising kids, with the “green,” clean home.  I was a big-shot in my own mind.  And now, I would take a long, hard fall from my high horse.  And I became someone that I didn’t recognize anymore; someone who was weak and scared and didn’t know left from right.  Someone who didn’t have any answers.  And it broke me!  It broke me worse than anything ever had before!  

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