I grew up in a clean house. A spotless house. Nothing was ever out of place. When crumbs hit the floor, they were vacuumed up immediately. Our beds were never left unmade before school. Even the basement, which was home to our toys and games, was picked up every night. My parents were and are Type A perfectionists.
I’m made up of the same genetic code, but I worry if it’s to a fault. Often my son will call from the family room, “Mama? Will you play trains with me?” I tell him, yes, I’ll be right there, and I mean well, but before I know it, an hour has gone by. I’ve put the breakfast dishes away, cleared the kitchen counters and swept the floor. Everything is clean and where it should be. Then I look at my watch and it’s time to pick Lauren up from preschool.
I don’t feel good about this part of my nature, but sometimes I get wrapped up in guilt that’s not based in reality. To confirm, I asked my husband if he thought I was Type A to a fault. Am I so distracted by cleaning I forget the kids? He told me I was improving, though sometimes I focus on the house more. I know he’s right, but the truth hurts when it’s coming from the person whose opinion matters most.
The thing is, I feel better about myself when the house is clean. My mind feels less cluttered. I’m pleasant to be around. But when things are harried, I am equally so. Post-holiday I’m at my all-time worst. There are decorations to be put away. New toys that I need to make room for in the house. Then add piles of clothes to clean from unpacked bags, thank you notes to be written, and finally my work, which inevitably falls by the wayside.
When I do take time out to play with the kids, I’m distracted. They’re playing dress up and I’m thinking I need to give away the costumes that are becoming too small. Or when Lauren and Will are splashing about in the tub, I’m eyeing the bathroom floor, thinking it needs cleaning. I doubt I’m fun to be around when I’m like this, and I’m sure the kids can tell I’m in mama la la land.
During moments like these, I remember the nurse who came to visit after Lauren was born. My parents were staying with us, so of course, the house was organized. The nurse was stunned. Here I was a first time parent, and nothing was out of place. After she asked questions about my health and checked the baby, she said, “Kids don’t remember a clean house. What they remember is that you spent time with them.”
Her advice did more harm than good. Every time I clean rather than play, I remember what she said. Then I feel like I’m failing in some way. To be honest, I remember my parent’s house being spic and span, but I also remember my mom spending time with us, too.
So how do I balance the two? I don’t know. When I wrote about a similar subject, one of my readers suggested accepting controlled chaos and going with that. He might be on to something.