while they were away

I get real hugs from all of my kids, even my big boys.  The little ones hug me and I tell Silas that when he gets home it will be his birthday and I’ll be ready for him with strawberry cake and presents.  Everyone heads downstairs to leave, while I lay down to nurse Job to sleep for his nap.  Jonny returns a minute later to ask me, “Did you mean to leave two eyes on the stove on?”  “Um, no.”  I bet that makes him feel real confident about leaving me and Job here while the rest of the family travels to North Carolina for the fossil festival.

I hear the front door slam for the last time, and rather than feel excited, a deep angst stirs in my stomach.  I’m nervous.  Really nervous.  I try not to cry.  I pray that God would use this time to help me pull myself and my house together.  I put Job in his crib and do the first thing: I start a load of laundry.  I walk back upstairs and hear a honk from outside.  I thought they were already gone, but they are just pulling out of the drive.

The house is a big mess, and I’ve got a big mental list of what I want to accomplish.  First thing, I’ll make a cup of tea and a handwritten list.  I hope Job takes a nice long nap.

I wrote those words right after my family left last Wednesday.  I never made that cup of tea, but I did make a list and Job did take a long nap that first afternoon.  The list was a little (a lot) ridiculous.  It included:  paint the entire living room, paint the insides of all kitchen cabinets, paint the outsides of all kitchen cabinets, stretch and frame finished cross stitch projects myself, organize pantry, start seeds, and paint living room shelves.  Oh, and clean the entire house, clearing all horizontal surfaces of clutter.  I guess I’m pretty silly.  I had a six month old baby hanging with me, and he doesn’t nap that much.

A combination of things has happened over the past eight months or so to render me and my house both a big mess.  A difficult pregnancy was followed by a postpartum period characterized by pain and depression.  I hit what I guess might be described as the bottom a few weeks ago when I finally decided to visit the doctor.  She speculated that I was suffering from postpartum depression.  I think the fact that I kept starting to cry as I described my symptoms might have had something to do with that.  At any rate, a bunch of bloodwork and one MRI later and I was deemed healthy enough.  The truth is that I was exhausted both physically and emotionally.  When Jonny started talking about hotel reservations for the trip we’ve been planning for a year, I shocked myself by saying, “I don’t think I should go.”  I knew he could handle it and I can’t remember the last time I was home for more than part of a day without a houseful of children.

So here I was alone in the house, trying to figure out how to spend what was simultaneously an enormous amount of time and a precious little bit of time depending on how I looked at it, to best create an environment that I could begin to thrive in again.  It’s amazing what a mess a small house + seven kids + a mom who isn’t functioning well can turn into.  This is despite the fact that yes, my kids have chores.  The house still gets messy when I am not staying on top of everyone, which I just haven’t been.

I spent the first day and a half just cleaning.  It was so bad that I used a broom to sweep clutter from under furniture and out of corners.  I emailed a friend, “Where did all this CRAP come from?”  It was incredibly overwhelming and upsetting.  I realized that there was no way my list was going to have many lines drawn through it.

I stayed up too late while they were gone.  I wore scrubs and ate a lot of boxed cereal.  I accomplished a lot, but only a fraction of what was on my list.

I finally got around to putting some prints (all by Alice Cantrell) that I’ve had waiting in frames, and I ended up dropping off my cross stitch pieces to be framed professionally.  These little things that make a house pretty, that make it a home, I was able to place my focus there once things were clean and orderly.  A free leather couch from Craigslist and the products of my recent furniture painting episodes really helped as well.  I need to stop denying myself the joy of making things pretty for the fact that I know that every single day my house will get messy again.  It can still be pretty beneath the mess.  I did empty all my lower cabinets and paint the insides white.  This may sound a little nutty, but they were just primed wood inside and really needed a durable finish of some sort.  In the process my drawers and cabinets were organized and it really made all the difference.  Other than some basic cleaning around the house, nothing else on my list was accomplished.

I enjoyed my time with Job, and I did make a (delicious) strawberry pie (recipe here) and homemade ice cream (favorite kitchen appliance) to share with a few friends who came over one evening to keep me company while I painted, and help me clean up when I spilled white paint all over my wood floors.

When Jonny asked over the phone whether I missed everyone, I answered, “I love you, but I don’t miss you.”  I realize that I’m too honest sometimes.  Of course I was happy when they pulled into our driveway at nearly midnight on Saturday.  The little ones woke up and came in the house looking for me right away.  Beatrix and Silas climbed into my lap and I was so glad to hold them.  Larkspur came walking up the stairs behind them with a wad of gum stuck in her hair so large that it was a bit horrifying.  Keats started naming all the junk that they’d eaten, saying that they only had one healthy meal, beans and rice, and that they had actually eaten that for breakfast.  And well, you all know that story.  My three oldest deemed the house “too clean.”  Punks.

With everyone home, our house is messy again, but I have a better handle on things and I am still carrying that feeling of cleaning a room and having it remain that way for longer than five minutes.

I may never go to the fossil festival again.  Though if I do choose to stay home next time, I’ll be planning meals and buying groceries ahead of time to send with my family.

p.s.  Thank you, Jonny.  Thank you.



  1. Elizabeth says:

    I feel as thought we could be twins. The heartache and depression caused by my oldest (a teen) after the birth of my youngest was such a blow to me I sometimes wonder if I will ever recover. However, it seems that I am learning to function anyway…that I can push myself to keep living life even during the really, really rotten parts. I love your blog and am thankful for your honest words.

  2. I didn’t think I could adore you more. But I was wrong. xoxo
    (And how I love that you put on your scrubs — no fooling around, baby.)

  3. I cried at the end of this post. It is so REAL. I love that about you & your blog. Your home is TRULY BEAUTIFUL. Mess & all, that makes it even more so to me. Best line–I love you, but I don’t miss you. Boy, do I feel that way sometimes! xoxo

  4. I had three days to myself over Mother’s day weekend, the first time in 11 years I had had more than 3 hours alone at home, and the first time ever for everyone to be away overnight.
    I really needed it, I didn’t get everything done on my list, and I didn’t miss mine either!!!
    I do love them, but a break is sometimes just what we need. I am glad you took the opportunity to have some quiet time with just Job for company.
    xoxox from Maine

  5. Rebecca says:

    Ginny, thank you for this post. I love how you share the beauty of your everyday, but also hard spots and how you work through them. It is encouragement to this mama who also sometimes battles depression and messes. Blessings to you and your family.

  6. Noelle Swanson says:

    I loved this post. It’s so honest. Very often I am overwhelmed by our home. Even as I write this all of the contents of our dining room are in my living room, kitchen, and play room. We are putting down checkerboard flooring and repairing a roof that needed to be repaired 4 years ago.. Home schooling my 5 children requires me to be home … a lot …. with all the kids. I love them and am so grateful that God has given us the gift of home schooling. However, I am glad that I am not the only one dealing with a messy home. Your pictures make me feel better. I am not alone.
    (And just so you know, my house has been much messier than this…. hope this makes YOU feel better!)

  7. Thank you so much for this post. It really was what I needed today.

  8. Ohh, Ginny. I so, so understand. It’s not that you don’t love your family, it’s that sometimes, you just really need a break.

    I completely and utterly get it, and I think it is just marvelous that Jonny understands that.

  9. Charlotte says:

    And thank you Ginny! You are so honest and such an inspiration to moms around the world. I just love your blog. I hope you feel better soon. I find it helps even to just acknowledge when you’re feeling low. You’re doing a great job.

  10. You are just so beautiful. I love how you made a list and did what you could. I hope that the tests all come back fine and that you are able to start finding yourself again. Motherhood is so beautiful and you are doing an amazing job. You blog is one of my very favorites. Thank you for keeping it real. ( if you could see my house right now and see all the thoughts and lists swirling around in my mind. We are three weeks post flood. Little. G started having seizures again on Good Friday which was 4 days before the flood. I have cried over so much yet seen Gods hand in it all. He is faithful.)

  11. Mikaela says:

    Oh, Ginny! Oh, goodness. I am single and childless and yet I see myself in you in so, so many ways. Reading this is like reading my own journal entry 10 years in the future. Last week I had three unscheduled days for the first time since winter break, and I wrote myself an impossibly long to do list and ran myself ragged trying to fit it all in. I left for vacation in tears over the contrast between my ideals and my reality. And here I am on vacation, doing the very same thing–1 am, and I’m sitting beside a birthday cheesecake that just came out of the oven and checking emails and trying desperately to do more in 1 day than is humanly possible.

    I am so sorry to hear you’ve been struggling so much, and am incredibly grateful for your presence here in spite of that. Your honesty, humor, and utter authenticity fill me up and inspire me time and time again.

    Here’s wishing you a few moments of peace this week, tea in hand, and enough order in your house to calm your spirit. (I’ll take some of that, too!)

  12. Dear in Christ Ginny:

    So, late at commenting today but here I am…. 🙂 first day fully moved into our new place; it’s just my husband and I here and we have a 3 bedroom condo now that is about the square footage of your home; for us it is a very gracious space; add 7 kids (we have none) that space would be a lot more crowded and very hard to keep organized. It’s hard but I see you and Johnny making changes to make it work. So so hard in the interim when it is still messy and under construction.

    I’ve struggled with these feelings too; I had a year or two where everything was going wrong – job, health, $, interpersonal stuff – it can be really hard and very hard to share about. I remember calling a friend late at night in tears, more than once. Then last year I had mono, new bride of 5 months and then I was on the couch sick for about 6. I remember one day an icon fell off our one buffet and cracked and I just bawled; depression for sure was one of the struggles at that time for me…exhaustion on a chronic level plus a lot of chaos is hard.

    All I know now is that God is light and that He can be with us in the dark; that He can even enlighten our darkness (psalm 18).

    I have sensed that you were struggling and I want to know that I am praying for you daily. You have a beautiful life but we both know I think that life is beautiful and hard, to quote one of my school friends.

    May God’s peace, protection and comfort surround you and may Christ’s Mother bear you up on her knee and may we be children of the Mother of God, protected and held.

  13. Ginny you look like a young child in the selfie picture of you and Job.

  14. Ginny,
    I am not sure I’ve ever commented, but I wanted to let you know that this might be my favorite blog post of yours since I’ve been following your blog (about 2 years?). It touched me in some very deep ways and for that I want to thank you. I love reading about you and your family. I love your knitting and your bee keeping and your honesty. I love that you are just putting yourself out there for all of us to see and read and feel like we aren’t alone in our struggles — and victories! Much love and many blessings to your family.

    PS I loved Jonny’s post about traveling too. Sounds like a fabulous trip!

  15. I understand all those feelings. Especially the feelings a clean home evoke. I have just finished tidying up, sweeping and mopping the floors. Everywhere looks clean now (except the bathroom) and I feel satisfied, fulfilled, peaceful. I wish you all those feelings and a clean house more often!

  16. fishdogfarm says:

    I so love your blog. I’m glad to see I’m not the only woman in the world who shuts down when the house is a wreck. My mood can be directly affected by the state of my kitchen. Then more kids we have the harder it gets. I cry a lot as well. It’s hard sometimes. Ok a bunch of the time. Hugs to you, and bless you for sharing.

I love to hear from you!