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.