I think this past weekend was one of the nicest we’ve had in a long time, so relaxed and peaceful. I’m not sure that my kids would agree. They like going places and always want to be doing things. “Can we go fossil hunting?” (“You mean, ‘May we go fossil hunting?’ “) “How about fishing?” No, on Saturday we hung around the house. I tidied my bedroom. We cleaned our front porch. Our porch is maybe a little infamous amongst our friends because of how messy it gets, and how often I make excuses for the state of it.
Last week, on a day that I was feeling a bit upset about the front porch, the first thing anyone sees when they pull up to our house, I said to Jonny, “You guys make these messes, and I just can’t keep up with them. You don’t ‘get’ why they bother me so much, but please try to understand that I feel like the state of our home is a reflection of me, and ultimately my inadequacy.” I may or may not have been crying.
Jonny worked for years building our porch, laying flagstone and creating stacked stone columns. During those years we dreamed of one day sitting there in rocking chairs on nice evenings. I’d have my kitting, he’d be whittling a piece of wood. That may happen someday, but it isn’t our current reality. We don’t have any rocking chairs and it’s usually so messy out there that I would hardly choose it as a spot to relax. Recently, a big part of the reason for the mess dawned on me: we don’t have a garage. The nine of us live in just under 1500 square feet, no basement, no garage. There’s no place to store the kids’ sports equipment, extra shoes, more shoes (did I mention shoes?), and all those other things that people keep in garages. We clean our porch, and it ever so quickly gets cluttered and dirty again. That’s just our life. It’s okay. Our friends have seen it clean, but they have mostly seen it a disaster. Nobody has refused to hang out with us yet because of it.
Sunday afternoon we had a few friends over. I did do some cleaning up to prepare for them, but it wasn’t a crazed cleaning frenzy, just a relaxed, sweep the floors and get the downstairs bath looking good, deal. I was glad the porch was already taken care of. While I was cleaning, I asked myself if I was breaking my Sunday rule, and decided that I wasn’t. I was excited to have friends over and happy to get the house in a reasonable amount of order beforehand. I’m a believer in cleaning for company when you’re able. It’s courteous, and I think it contributes to a more relaxing environment which makes spending time with friends more fun. For many years we only rarely had a guest. It felt too stressful to prepare for company. I think that’s because I was mentally connecting the preparing with avoiding judgement. I was connecting the state of my house with who I am, cleaning up more for myself than for them. The better my house looked, the better my own reflection. It was just too much pressure.
As the time for our friends to arrive drew near on Sunday, I realized that there was no way I was going to be finished with all I would typically do when cleaning for guests. I really needed to start on dinner though, so I had to stop. All three of our guests on Sunday were men, two of them single, and not accustomed to having someone cook for them on a regular basis. I felt completely relaxed about them arriving at our imperfectly kept house, knowing that the meal was more important. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have been a little more anxious were we expecting women. I have a few girlfriends whom I know love me just as I am regardless of the state of my house, but I do think I worry more about looking good for women who fall outside of that “safe friend” zone than I do other people. I called one of my friends this evening, to see if she agreed. To paraphrase her: “Oh, yeah. Definitely.”
Ladies, I wish we could all link hands and promise each other: “I will never judge you because you are behind on laundry, or because I tripped over baseball cleats and power tools on my way into your house. Book and toys scattered across the floor, crayon on the wall, I won’t even notice. I’ll feel special that you let me into your real life, trusting that I want to be your friend not a source of anxiety or even worse someone to compare yourself to. I’ll be thankful that you wiped the bathroom down just for me, and be super thrilled if you put the kettle on and clear a spot at your table for me too.”
I am not my house. My house is a reflection of many things including, but not limited to myself, and an entire host of other things unique to my particular family and our living situation.
For those of you who don’t suffer from this “worried about what the neighbors (ahem, other women) would think” affliction, share your secrets with the rest of us insecure people, worried about what “they” would think if they saw the state of things at 11 a.m. on any given weekday.
p.s. I’m laughing just a little about the fact that my house looks reasonably tidy in the photos in this post. You’ll just have to forgive me for not taking more photos of the messes. You know they’re there, until we clean them up, only to have them return. And on, and on, and on. Otherwise I wouldn’t go on (and on) about them. This is life, but only a small part of it. These messes, they shouldn’t get in the way of relationships because those are what really matter.
p.p.s. Mom, Larkspur is wearing your old Girl Scout uniform!