Some Things Are More Important

I read a post yesterday by Kristen over at Motherese that reminded me of a great lesson I learned years ago before children. My mother was obsessively clean. One day, I came home from a date. We had gone to a basketball game at the local university and when he dropped me off at home my mother was down at the street scrubbing the curb with a scrub brush. I raced past her into the house, knowing my date had noticed but pretending I didn’t know her. When it was safe to venture outside I asked her, “Why are you scrubbing the curb?” She told me that it was dirty. I laughed and said, “That’s what street cleaners (the big trucks – not the people!) are for.”

She said, with a straight face and all honesty, “But they don’t do a good enough job.”

That, my friends, is what I grew up with. Our house always looked like we were expecting royalty. Everything scrubbed. Everything shiny. Anything with the slightest bit of wear was tossed and replaced. I vowed never to be like that.

And then, I moved out on my own.

I lived with roommates during college and it drove me crazy. They would leave dishes in the sink. Never vacuum. The bathroom? Ick.

I could finally afford my own place. Heaven.

I had a place for everything and everything in its place. Before I moved in I scrubbed like I’ve never scrubbed before. From that moment on, every speck of dirt was mine. And I’d would always clean it before it could set up permanent residence.

During my neat freak days I married – another fellow neat freak – and we lived happily. And then I met Erin. We had so much in common. We were like long-lost sisters. We read the same books. We both taught at the same school. We went to movies and school functions together.

One Saturday, our plans changed. Her husband had to go into the office and couldn’t watch the kids. Would I like to come over to her house? Sure. We could visit while the kids played. I had never been to her home before. She had toddler twins and our excuse was always to get her out of the house.

I showed up. Punctual. (That trait came along with my tidiness) I knocked on the door. “Come in!” a voice called from inside. I walked in. The side door that I entered brought me almost immediately into the kitchen. To say I saw a mess would be an understatement. Dishes piled sky-high. Spatters on the wall. I smelled syrup and, sure enough, the mess resembled breakfast made by 3 year olds. I stuck to the floor.

“Over here!” she called from the family room. I tiptoed through the mess. There she was, sitting in the middle of the floor, with two little cherubs on either side of her. They were swimming in a sea of every book they owned. There wasn’t a place for me to step. I stood at the doorway, confused. As I had been gingerly tiptoeing through her home I was thinking, am I here on the wrong day? wrong time? This is the first time I’ve come to your home. You’d think she’s pick up a little.

My thoughts were interrupted. “I’m sorry about the mess, ” Erin said, “But every since these little angels arrived, ” and she kissed them each on top of the head, “I’ve learned that there are some things that are more important.”

From that moment on – I was cured.

(Oops! I almost forgot. Happy Hanukkah to all my friends who celebrate this wonderful holiday!)


Filed under children, Lessons Learned, Motherhood

13 responses to “Some Things Are More Important

  1. Steven Harris

    Cleanliness is not always next to Godliness. Sometimes it is in an entirely different aisle and hard to get to because of the trail of debris made by children.

  2. suzicate

    I used to be OCD about my house…now I enjoy the moment and get to it later. Unfotunately, I was like that while my kids where small…they wish I was more like that now!

  3. My mother was quite the neat freak. I’m no slob, but there are definitely things more important. Unfortunately, growing up like that, I often have to fight the instinct to nag about it and make it more important than it is…
    I love the way you wrote the image of her sitting there with the books and her kids. So sweet.

  4. Having a 15-month-old grandchild living with you can also cause an attitude adjustment in what’s important. We call her Peanut, but her nickname is becoming Destruction, Inc.

  5. unabridgedgirl

    My mom’s a clean-freak, too, and I’ve inherited some of those traits, but she’s always been good about the grandkids. Love this post!

  6. Thank you for this post. For this reminder that a little clutter in the context of a life of love is okay. Your friend’s house? Sounds a lot like mine.

    I do wonder, and often, about the relationship between outer clutter and inner turmoil. Does the disorder in my home, the precarious stacks of dishes, the tangled necklaces, the jumbled toys – say something sinister, or concerning about my inner self? Not so sure. I like to think that I have embraced in living my life, my good life, I have embraced the chaos and clutter that comes with it.

  7. Thanks so much for continuing this conversation, Jane. I love both the anecdotes you provide about your mom and your friend. While I certainly have never taken a scrub brush to the curb, I have confessed to some fairly compulsive organizational tendencies. For now, I think I’ll set my sights on territory somewhere short of bedlam, but far afield from street cleaning!

  8. And it is true, isn’t it, that life breeds clutter? And that once you have children you cannot spend all of your time running around and trying to clean it all up if you ever want to enjoy anything. If you want to enjoy your children. If you want to enjoy your life.

    But the flip side is, of course, that the cleaning still needs to get done. In small bits and pieces. And even it is the bare minimum. Fitting it in between work and kids and a sex life is terrifying. Learning to live with messes is hard. Looking for help is often fruitless. And the often the hardest thing to accept is never being able to do all of it. Knowing that life comes with its ups and downs. That balance is not achievable in a one moment, one day, one week even. That it is the span of our lives that will tell it all. And I just hope I’m getting it all right sometimes.

    Phew. (A post in itself. Sorry!)

  9. My Mom was no neat freak and there are days I look around my house at the mess and wish she had been.

  10. My hubby learned a good lesson the day he worked from home and watched me pick up and tidy for some toddler friends to come over.

    Then he watched me pick up and tidy the HUGE mess after they’d been and gone again.

    Then he saw me pick up and tidy later in the afternoon after nap time and play.

    And he suddenly realised that the mess he saw in the evening when he got home was not the same mess he saw in the morning when he left for work in the morning, but a constant ongoing tidal flow of children’s debris!

  11. I’m not as neat as my mother, but, as the family story goes, when she had three little ones under five, she told my dad she could either clean the house or raise the children; he could choose.

    But I find I prefer an organized mess; while, the husband prefers someone else besides him clean. So there are some rooms I don’t bother with, like the bedroom with five months of his clothes strewn on his side of the room.

  12. I am anal retentive. Sort of explains my attraction to the Monk show. I try to tell myself what you wrote here every day, but it is hard for me to over look the things on the floor, etc. A trip from the backdoor to the front door will take me half an hour because I pick up and put away along the way. Now when my husband needs me, he would add this: “Ignore everything on the way. Just come straight here please.”

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