Please Pardon The Mess

momsWelcome to our home. Enter. I know what you are wondering. The ottoman is tipped over on its side. The area rug is askew. Drawers pulled open, contents sticking out. Cheerios and crayons on the floor. One of our dogs is chewing on a Slinkie. There’s a bra on a bike helmet and a pop tart on the bookshelf. Have we been burglarized? No, but thanks for your concern. It isn’t an outlandish assumption. This is what our home looks like most every Thursday at 2pm.

I can explain. Things weren’t always this way. Rewind four and a half years. My husband and I purchased our first home together and immediately began to furnish it. Not long after we signed on the dotted line and removed the realtor sign off of the front lawn, I learned that I was pregnant with our first child. We painted each room, put up crown molding and picked out each item for our humble abode. Actually, that isn’t exactly true. Let me reword. We are not that handy. We don’t know how to do everything but we know how to pay people that do everything. We hired painters and people to put up crown molding and they did an excellent job but I did coordinate paint swatches to pillows and select all our furniture until my vision was complete. Our house was beginning to feel like a home. Sort-of.

I remember having one of my best friends over to show her the final product. With her seventeen-month old son wrapped around her leg, she remarked that everything was beautiful, “just gorgeous”, yet added on her way out the freshly painted front door that a year or so from now she imagines I will regret some of these purchases. I was puzzled and my hormonally-charged feelings were hurt. I felt fully committed to my damask wallpaper and felt her words were some sort of slight at my old whimsical self from my twenties. It turns out that it wasn’t. She was referring to my marble and mahogany living room furniture. She was speaking of my all glass curio and my large Phantom of the Opera-esque candelabras, as well as my bar-height kitchen table with tapestry stools.

I still didn’t understand what she really meant until our daughter, Sonoma, was born and started to walk. Suddenly the living room didn’t seem so elegant but more like a mine field of what to avoid. Don’t jump near the glass cabinet. Watch your head near that table. Our living room became an obstacle course of glass, marble, and mahogany claw-feet.

Our second daughter was born seventeen months later. In came the new baby. Out came the glass curio. Boxed away in our crawl space went the a lot of the Lladro and the Lenox. We slapped those big, black  sticky foam corner protectors onto every granite surface, edge of fireplace, and sharp corner we could find.

It wasn’t all about safety. Safety was just at the top of the slippery slope. With every month that passed, order within our home diminished. Three daughters and three dogs later, there were little fingerprints and dog paw prints across our glass window panes. If I missed a day of vaccuming, dog fur would blow like tumbleweeds across our family room. There were oat puffs on the chairs, Fisher Price Little People littered across our floors, and a cardboard party hat strapped to our Buddha statue as our daughters affectionately included him in their play birthday parties.

Please don’t misunderstand. I have well-behaved children. They aren’t rude or obnoxious. They barely whine and only act like little Gremlins twenty-percent of the time. They are children though. They are creative and fun and unpredictable. My daughter Sienna drew on her entire leg with marker the other day because it was fun. She played mummy with our beagle-basset hound and the toilet paper. Sonoma painted Sienna from head to toe with Desitin a few months back playing a competitive game of “sunblock.”

Contrary to what it may seem, I am not a slob. I’m not a hoarder or “a messpot”. In fact, I am a Virgo thru and thru. I’m just a Virgo elbow deep in juice boxes, stuffed animals, and piles of paperwork. I’m a mother of three children three years old and under and I may have forgotten to mention that we have three adorable rescue dogs. I cook. I clean. I work from home and I do organize throughout the day. I even dusted with our little feather duster until one of our three rescue dogs ripped it apart and ate it.

The problem as I see it is two-fold. First, we are too hard on each other. I know there are people who have children and keep their homes impeccable, and good for them. Perhaps this gives them a sense of peace. Just don’t judge me. Child-rearing and organization are not parallel. A neat home doesn’t necessarily make a happy home. It may just make a museum.

My husband and I went to another couple’s home for a get together a few weeks ago. Their home is impeccable and wherever I go, so many friends and even some family have made the case that this woman is the ideal wife and perfect mom. In fact, she is very cultured, classy and hospitable. She and her husband are hospitable to a fault. Upon arriving at their home, her apron matched the drapes. With her decor and appetizers and calm demeanor, she made the Stepford Wives look flustered and disorganized. Into the evening, our gracious host advised me that the bathroom was upstairs, the third door on the left. I ascended the stairs with our infant daughter in tow, as it was my intention to nurse her in the bathroom, and somehow I miscounted and opened the wrong door. Inside was a strange sight. Before my eyes was a guest room filled with piles of boxes. Boxes filled with toys and clothes. There were items strewn all over. It was a mess. This just wasn’t a mess but this was a crack in the case. This was hard, cold evidence that they were human. Perhaps they could be as human and momentarily overwhelmed at times as I was. I knew though that this line of reasoning was disturbed. Why was I rejoicing over their scattered laundry?How sick is it that I felt relieved to the point of being enthused at the sign of their humanity? Was it possible that they too had bouts of messiness? Could “perfect” be a myth like the Lochness Monster or Sasquatch?

This brings me to my second point: we are too hard on ourselves. I knew in the cluttered, dusty recesses of my own spirit that this was more about my own insecurities then it was about keeping up with the Joneses. There would always be someone else neater and more organized. Why did I feel though that a messy home was a reflection of my failings as a parent, a wife, and a mother? Couldn’t I still be a great mom and an okay organizer. Couldn’t a messy home be seen as a sign of a happy home?

The true measure of a friend is directly proportionate to how much straightening-up I must do before the friend arrives: the less straightening and fussing, the closer the friend. If we are really best buds, I may not even put on eyeliner and change out of my owl pajama pants. Lucky them.

I had a heated disagreement with someone recently who seems to view this issue quite differently than I do. I came away from the argument feeling empty and confused. Am I inadequate because my home isn’t always neat and orderly? I sat with my feelings of inadequacy and did all I knew to do. I offered my frustration up to God and I prayed. I prayed for a sign.

Sometimes God has a better sense of humor about things than I would expect. Ask and you shall receive. Less than a week later, my cousin, who knew nothing about my struggles with domestic order, gave me a belated birthday gift. It was a sign. Literally. In big black block print it read, “Good moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens, and happy kids.”

For me, it isn’t a matter of organization but perspective. My home will be cleaner then a few hours later it will become messier. As sure as the tides change, it will always be in a constant fluctuating state of order and this is not relevant to my worth as a mom. It will never be “perfect” or showroom quality. Our home is lived in and within it there is love. It is the love and the laughter that makes a home perfect, not perfectly aligned statues on shelves. Our house feels like a home thru and thru each disheveled square foot.

I now embrace the chaos. It’s a part of our life. It is what separates our home from a house. I am glad my children won’t think it’s the end of the world if they spill something on our couch. And, if I have twenty extra minutes in the afternoon, I’d rather play with my kids so I do. Don’t get me wrong, I still fold laundry. It’s just that my linen closet doesn’t need to look like a page from Architectural Digest for me to feel adequate. Actually no matter what mountain of available time I ever have in my life at any future point, I doubt I will ever devote it to fastidiously folding and piling wash cloths. I hope I will always find something more interesting to do in life than fret over folding. Anyway, I doubt anyone on her deathbed ever uttered that she wished she had a neater laundry room.

It is my hope though that one day we can live in a world where we won’t be judged by one another about the order of our homes or the mess in our linen closets but by the content of our character, the kindness in our hearts, the joy in our lives, and the laughter in our homes.

Staying Connected

smartphoneAs I sit down to the keyboard to write this blog I log off of my Twitter account and minimize my Facebook page, my iPhone pings out loud to alert me that I have received yet another email in my inbox. I pick up the phone and check it immediately. Like Pavlov, his chimes, and his hungry dog, it has become second nature to me. It is an email for a whopping 5% off of diapers.

When I think about the technology of modern times, I think about my grandfather who is no longer alive on this earth but he was someone who adored modern invention. When I look back upon his life and the ninety-two years that it spanned, it must have been an amazing journey to see the evolution of paved roads, the automobile, air travel, and the microwave oven. My Pop witnessed not just the development of the television but the very beginnings of a black and white fuzzy box with thick wires and silver bunny ears evolve into sleek screens with remote controls with VCRs and even DVDs. I wonder what he would now think of Skype and Facetime, of being able to take a picture of a bank check to deposit it, and being able to check the stock market when you’re out at the supermarket with just the click of the phone.

It isn’t just about the generations of yesteryear though.  As a young girl in computer class in my Catholic grammar school, I patiently took turns inserting a floppy disc into a computer that flashed a black and orange screen. My nervous computer teacher would command the class, “Don’t ever put your fingers on the center of the disc.”, lest I singlehandedly impede the progress of the entire third-grade class with a slip of my forefinger.  Now my own daughters who will soon enter grammar school will never know what a floppy disc is. They also won’t know what it means to have to get up from the couch to change the TV channel, what it is like for their parents to remind them to get off of AOL because they are waiting for a call, or having their mom embarrassingly pick up the other end of the house line while they secretly talk to boys on the phone in their room.

Granted, there is the dark side to modern convenience that I escaped, as well. I will never know what it is like to be dumped by a boyfriend in a text. I’ll never experience an argument over a relationship status on Facebook. It’s complicated. You can quit a job, cancel plans on a friend, or end a relationship, all with the click of a send button. There is something lost in the forced face-to face or even in the phone-to-phone confrontation though. There was something to be said for the nervous knot in your stomach because you feared calling your best friend to cancel last-minute. Life has made it easier for those who fear confrontation to avoid it altogether.

Perhaps the worst side of modern technology is, quite ironically, that it impedes our ability to stay connected. And I know you know what I mean. Everyone knows someone like this or has someone even in their own immediate family who is guilty of this. I call this person “the social stenographer”. This person sits at family gatherings or at a restaurant with his or her smartphone held low and texts. They just don’t reply to one or two texts but sit there typing fastidiously with four fingers. At first, I have even tried questioning the person out of sheer curiosity. “What are you doing?”, I’d ask. No response. “Are you playing Tetris?” No response. “Are you sealing an important deal?” To which that distracted individual often responds with a “What?” simply because she didn’t hear me. She is so busy posting status updates, sending pics, making jokes, tweeting thoughts, texting friends, and staying connected that she is failing to stay connected in the moment. We continue to have half-hearted dialogue which serves as filler in between the texts to the rest of the world. She is missing the present moment entirely, and I am quite honestly, wasting my time.

My husband, Joe, is a person who is very professionally dependent upon technology. Without the Internet, the cell phone, and most other modern conveniences, I cannot imagine how his business (a luxury transportation company – would operate. I imagine he would be glued to his desk in his office until the wee hours of the night answering his phone and missing a lot of pee-wee tee ball games if the year wasn’t 2012 and Jetson-esque technology wasn’t around. We, however, have found that there has to be a limit to tech-stuff in our home in order to preserve the quality of our life. Just as good fences make good neighbors, good boundaries make happy families. We have set the tech boundaries and found the old adage about having too much of a good thing to be true.

I love a good, crisp, dry Chardonnay as much as the next wine enthusiast. I realize though that just as too much dry white wine can make you drunk and unable to function, too much social media can impede your ability to experience the world all around you. It isn’t possible to immerse yourself at “play tea-party” with a three-year old while texting a friend about dinner plans. It isn’t possible to check emails and really watch a movie with your spouse. (The couple that watches cable together stays together. ) It is so very easy to forget that we work hard in our lives to have these small, quiet moments of peace rather than having these small moments of peace in our life to fill them with work.

Over two thousand years ago, a little heavy-set bald man referred to as Buddha taught about the importance of living in the present. The concept was not to live in the past and not to live in the future but to really focus on the here and now. Although this spiritual guru may not have known with great certainty that one day a man named Albert Gore Jr. was going to come along and invent the Internet and set technology into hyper speed, the same rule applies today just as much as it did over twenty-one centuries ago (and yes, I know Gore did not really invent the Internet and it was a group of very smart people at Stanford or UCLA or the US Dept of Defense or somewhere…I’m more interested in sociology than science).

Implicit in that Eastern teaching was instruction to NOT live in the “there and now” as well. In these multifaceted and complex times we live in, we must avoid the “there” when our minds and focus should be in the moment. Yes, we should email at work to make a living, email to keep in touch with our cousins across the country, and email to start an emotional and spiritual revolution that the world is so very in need of. We should do this though in our own time and not when we should be reading our kids a bedtime story, letting a colleague cry on our shoulder, or when catching up with an old dear friend at a local pub.

There is no doubt that life is full of important secrets and whispers that are ever so gently calling to us if we allow ourselves the silence and space to listen. I am a firm believer that fate is always whispering into our souls and tempting our spirits to wake up a bit more. When we are distracted we will miss these sweet nuisances in life and they are the nectar of our souls. While we are staring down at our smartphones, half-listening with dull hearts, we are missing life’s fine details, and indeed, God is in the details.

Although there are so many other thoughts on this dancing around in my own cluttered mind, I have to put this blog to rest and go play with my children whom I have been ignoring for the greater part of an hour now. It is time to log off for a bit and log into life. I encourage you to put down the tech and be in the present if only for an extra moment in a day. These small changes will have thunderous aftershocks on our spiritual frequencies I suspect.