I Like My Mess

Life has a funny way of making you accept yourself.

Recently, a woman moved two doors down from my house.  She was a part of a homeschooling group,

which I had been a part of for a few months, in another town.  Small world!  Being the introvert, nee` hermit, I was happy to see her but a little hesitant to bring her housewarming cookies, so to speak.

But she pranced up to my doorstep with great enthusiasm and told me all about her idea of starting a science group on Wednesdays; which was fine with me.  I have kids a little older than hers, and I have more than twice the amount of kids that she does and we have a daily schedule starting with chores, breakfast, school, lunch, school, martial arts, etc.  Our days are pretty packed, but I can rearrange our science times; that is the luxury of homeschooling, after all!

She lent me a few books she intended to use for the class, and once I ordered them for my brood I walked down to her house to return them.

Now, this day…and this doesn’t happen every day…but on this day, during this short walk, I realized myself.  This was a little glaring, since I have 5 Bajillion distractions at home to keep this from happening, but as I was walking down the street by myself, I had nothing keeping it from happening very suddenly.

I realized I was wearing an old, floral, cotton knit halter top maternity dress being pinned together above my breasts by a safety pin.  Under the safety pin was no bra holding the girls up…there was nothing at all.  And was barefoot, which I don’t entirely have a problem with…but I’m also a little on the “granola” side, so I wear shoes out “for social graces, only.”

Normally I encourage the people in my house to get dressed, preferably in normal clothes that match, but we live in the heart of California and it was the middle of August: it was a wee warm out, and my sole purpose in surviving the heat was to wear the least amount of clothes as possible; within the parameters of modesty, and a little dash of self-respect.

I believe I had forgotten that last “dash,” but I was already at her house by this time.  I had to believe that I was simply dropping these books off, and quickly, and she will not have time to notice anything missing.  Like a bra (listen, if I was a smaller lady this wouldn’t be a problem.  But I am a heaping spoonful of woman with noticeable features, and bras make a big difference; especially if they aren’t there).

She came to the door after I had reluctantly knocked upon it, and she was very polite and thanked me for returning the books, further expressing her excitement about the impending science class.

So far so good, just add the common pleasantries to end the conversation and I should be good to go.

And then she said,”would you like to come in?”

I cannot express enough the conflict I have within myself, one side urging me to be more social and enjoying spending idle time with women, and the other side hiding under a thatched hut with flaming spears, blaring music and “Beware of Dog.  And Owner” signs hanging forlornly on the fence.  My personality is about as introverted as you get.  I don’t not like people.  I like people very much.  I like people in scheduled times so I can prepare myself for social interactions, and for somewhat brief amounts of time; some briefer than others.  Church on Sunday lasts about 5 hours, with the mingling, the sermon, the mingling after and typically a social hang out at the local park until mid-afternoon.  That is our normal Sunday schedule, and I am prepared for it.  I am prepared to be around people I like, who give me coffee and lovely conversations, and I am prepared to be exhausted when I get home.

Unexpected visits to another woman’s house is different though.  I don’t know what we’re going to talk about, I don’t know how long I’m staying, I don’t know if she is busy doing something or has to go somewhere soon, I don’t know if I’ve stayed too long.  All this is being calculated in my head as she leads me to the kitchen and offers me a glass of water…when she sits down at the table.

Okay.  I’m a grown woman with a college degree, a fruitful career before having children, and I have studied the art of small talk.  I can talk to a housewife.  Hell, I’m a housewife.  I can do this.

I sit down, and we have a lovely discussion of births and pregnancies and homeschooling.  Pretty general topics that are akin to noting the weather by now.  I’m not terribly fond of discussing my pregnancies and births, mainly because I have discussed them so many times before in similar situations that I believe there must be life beyond these subjects; but it is more important to save my calloused, controversial, ragey conversations for my close friends and be gentle with the rest.

We finish up our water and she gives me a tour of her house.  I am noting the similarities in our houses, and suddenly get this wild idea to invite her over to see my house!

I take this younger mother two doors down and just as I start to open my front door, I remember that realization of myself I had earlier.  That moment when I realized I was not dressed to visit anyone.  A similar moment happens as the door is fully opened, and I see the heaps of clean laundry on the middle of the stairs, and I realize: I should have kept my big, optimistic mouth shut.

We walk past the schoolroom that has construction paper and school books strewn across the desks and oozing onto the paint stained carpet.  I show her into my purple kitchen, which I painted in a frenzied nesting phase during pregnancy #4, which I had also neglected to clean, and turned her to see the darker purple living room with blankets from morning cartoons with the younger unit of children.  We walk through the library which has the computers and the train table that seems to pull odd small toys into and onto it as if like a nebular cloud.  I show her upstairs, as we ignore the clean mountain of clothes, and I have a crashing wave of hostile regret as I realize the 1 year old has been trying to change her diapers again, and the diaper bin had been knocked over and there were dirty diapers strewn in the hallway.

Oh yes.  Diapers everywhere.

I can almost feel her body start to retreat into itself, remembering the good times in her clean home with spotless hardwood floors and closed bins of LEGOs lining a corner of her living room.  The sparking clean, and bare, kitchen counters she has.  The lawn in the backyard that is actually green, and not sprinkled with a tornado of tricycles and dolls.

At this point in my life, I have two options: Option 1 is to apologize for the state of the house, and suggest she visit at another time when we are more prepared for guests (insert laugh here).

Of course I didn’t take this option.  I choose Option 2: ignore the messes, pretend my house is fine and proceed to show her the blazing pink and green walls I had given my kids for their bedrooms, and all the hand painted figures and stencils I placed upon this beautiful paint.  Princesses, unicorns and random African animals for the girls, Tyrannosaurus Rexes, reptiles and cars for the boys.

Hey, let’s go in my room and I can show you the oddly large closet I have!  It used to be my sewing room, it’s so big, but I couldn’t hear the kids downstairs so I had to move my desk.  Still ignoring the ridiculous amount of laundry we are stepping over.

By this time she had fully had enough, and nervously said, “I was going to go to the store, so I have to go.”  Oh look at the time!

Still in my delusional haze, I cheerfully said it was so nice to see her and we should get together again sometime!

It was only after she left that my protective guard finally fell off in a crumbling facade.  I shut the front door after my dazed visitor left, and I was alone again in my old, floral maternity dress.  Still braless, and now with the added burden of realizing that despite my prolific gifts in the arts and creative subjects…I may not be at the top of the class with domestic wizardry.  Which is really what it feels like some days.  How do you do leaf prints in salt-flour clay, math, language arts, spelling, 1/2 hour of reading, German lessons, history, science, cursive, martial arts, sundry outside events which pop up…and keep up with the laundry?  It takes me 3 loads of dishes a day to keep up, and there are quite a few days when I can only muster 2.  The 1 year old got into the raisins while we were doing our lessons, and I keep picking even more off my calloused foot the further I venture into the kitchen.  Although I wiped down the windows and glass doors in the kitchen and living room, I only did the inside, so the other side is still mottled with dog prints, kid prints, mud and oatmeal.

It was about 5 p.m. by then, and the kids were all happily occupied with their projects in the library.  My husband, who works from home, found me sitting outside when he was done with work, sipping a Blue Moon and staring glassy-eyed into the lawn.

“What happened to you?”

I explain what happened, and he cringed in empathy.  It was just one of those days when you don’t invite anyone over, and my albatross of guilt was pretty heavy.

“You just won’t believe how clean her floors were.  Her boys were playing with like, 2 LEGOs.  They had, like, bookshelf.” (as opposed to our walls flanked with at least 10, and many shelves are double booked).

I couldn’t compare with her.  She won the domestic homefront, and I embarassed her greatly by introducing her to my whirlwind of artistic projects and crazy endeavors.

Slowly, my husband helped me crawl out of the box of domestic shame and remember what we do well.  We do kids well, and we do a lot of kids even better.  We do organizational chaos well.  We have a million projects going at all times, and that means there will be some messes here and there, and there are days when we don’t keep up with the kitchen.  But we always bootstrap up and finish our work, feed our kids, give them a big heaping of education, have numerous social events during the week, and we’re all happy and healthy.  That’s not too bad, now is it?

And I had to realize myself.

I had to not only accept, but like, myself.  I actually really like this floral, halter maternity dress.  It’s very light and flowy and perfect during the summer.  I love being able to go barefoot.  I love all of our projects, and I love seeing what we accomplish.

 I even like my jumping 3 month old black lab foster dog (he’s doing better, even though we’ve lost a few chickens to him playing fetch with them).  

And I really do like the paint stains Stanley Steamer can’t get out of our carpets.  I also like the paintings we created which resulted in the stains.
I like the bazillion homeschool projects we have hanging on the walls; the “5 kingdoms of living things” poster we made of animalia, plantae, fungi, protista and monera.  My sewing machine is still sitting on top of the sewing box, next to the mountain of fabric and projects I was working on the other day.  The library in the next room with the train table, taped up to be a race track; the computers for the kids and the 8 bookshelves heaving books and belching knowledge.  
My desk that has a pile of etsy orders and personal projects to finish, a basket of glue guns and mosaic stones from a craft night I had, and an overworked laptop which holds my infinity loop folder of random ideas; some folders turning into books in the works, some of which are melting into blog entries, and some special few which have gotten published.
The stairs, on the other hand, are holding two loads of clean laundry I didn’t have time to take all the way to my bedroom to join the rest of their comrades laid out in a beautiful chaos that used to be organized baskets; until the fleet of toddlers went looking for their pants this morning.
I love that I had spent half the day on Wednesday cleaning the chicken coop, sweeping up dirt from treasure hunts, replanting flowers and placing seeds into my beautiful garden.  I love the two foot tall marigold flowers that protect my heirloom tomato plants, which sit in the shade of my seedless grapevines that are conquering the fence, and being very good company to the fruit trees I lined the yard with.  
I like all of these things.  I even like the second load of dishes that have been forgotten in the sink, the toys and Legos that are under our couch, and my 4 inch heels on the kitchen counter that my daughters have been playing with all morning, pretending to be mom while sipping water out of coffee mugs in the backyard.
My house is not my neighbor’s house.  It is not garnished with two IKEA chairs and an ottoman in the front room, and a giant bean bag holding her two little kids playing with a few Legos.  My kitchen is not her kitchen, with clean counters you could probably lick if you wanted to (and not taste anything afterward).  My bedroom is not her bedroom with a neatly folded bed and matching curtains.
No, my home holds two capable adults with crazy ideas and wild experiments, who wonder, “What if I painted my entire house purple?” “How do you cook beans from scratch in a pressure cooker?” “Do my kids need more arduino kits?” (yes) “How many sewing projects can I work on at once?  Are 4 bathrobes enough, or should I stock up my etsy store with more infinity scarves/ipad sleeves/hand painted wooden figures?  And Halloween is coming up, I think I’m dressing all the girls up as a hoard of White Queens, so I’ll need to finish sewing those dresses.” And a treadmill next to our washable couch, so I can run off the extra energy that keeps me from sleeping at night.  
My home holds our 5 kids, coop of chickens, 2 friendly dogs and two very cuddly hypoallergenic rat catching cats.
We have painted the walls and drawn on the walls; we have spilled coffee and paint on the carpet which we are getting around to switching to hardwood…once we set aside the funds and stop buying books, arduino kits and art supplies.
We have a messy kitchen which hosts a number of culinary wonders and experiments daily.
We have to make an effort to actually put folded laundry away, instead of escaping to the beach, or woods, or our favorite pub in San Francisco.
When I think about it, when I realize myself…I like me, and I do like my house.  Even when my neighbors come over and look around nervously.

“So, you are the crafty type?”
Definitely crafty.