Care Versus Clutter

Dec 4, 2009

Remember when you were a kid and watched cartoons where the main character had an angel and a devil sitting on his shoulder? Both "shoulder sitters" would whisper things into the character’s ear - the angel encouraging the positive, or the good thing, he should be doing and, naturally, the devil was whispering the bad.

That's how I feel every day of my life since I had children.

Only, the battle isn't over any huge moral dilemma. No. My battle – the one that keeps me up nights with worry and stress - is between keeping my house clean and raising my children.

When I was in college, and majoring in educational fields, I would read that poem, it seemed in every classroom I entered, about how it’s more important to raise your kids than keep your house tidy. Do you not know the poem? Well, in case you’ve never read it, here it is:

Excuse This House

Some houses try to hide the fact
That children shelter there.
Ours boasts of it quite openly,
The signs are everywhere.

For smears are on the windows,
Little smudges on the doors;
I should apologize I guess
For toys strewn on the floor.

But I sat down with the children
And we played and laughed and read,
And if the doorbell doesn't shine,
Their eyes will shine instead.

For when at times I'm forced to choose
The one job or the other,
I want to be a housewife...
But first I'll be a mother.

It’s sweet, isn’t it? Sentimental. When I was an idealistic college student, I thought, “Of course it’s more important for moms to spend time with their kids than clean the house. Why would anyone think otherwise?”

And then I became a mother . . . and I realized, it’s not just as simple as ignoring a few toys on the floor and a dirty doorbell. No, those are the least of my problems.

Because, as I write this post, I am sitting outside my 3-yr-old son’s door with my laptop (my legs and rear end numb from the hard floor) trying to get him to go to bed (our nightly struggle). I know it’s important that I sit here. I know that he needs to feel my presence to relax. I know that I’m giving him a sense of security. I believe all these things, deep in my heart. Truly, I do.

But, in my head. . . well, all I can think about is the dishwasher that needs to be emptied so that the stack of dishes in the sink can be placed in there. I’m thinking about the enormous pile of laundry, not just the one in the laundry room that needs to be cleaned, but the one on the family room couch that needs to be folded, sorted and put away. I’m thinking about the load in the dryer that needs to come out and the one in the washer that needs to be put in the dryer. I’m thinking about the pile of paperwork on the dining room table that needs to be organized and filed. I’m wondering when I’ll get around to putting away the Christmas presents I bought today, somewhere that the kids can’t find them, before they discover them in the bags by the front door. I’m stressing out over the fact that my mother-in-law is coming to spend the night tomorrow and I have no clean sheets for her bed. I’m wondering if I’ll ever get around to sorting through the clutter of pill bottles, old Halloween candy and Sharpie markers that are on top of the refrigerator – the only place high enough for my kids to not reach in this house. I want to just cry when I think about the condition of the interior of my car – the toys, socks, papers, popcorn, sippy cups, coupons . . . all strewn about.

And, that’s what I mean about that little devil on my shoulder. He’s sitting here right now, whispering to me, “Have you seen your house? How can you function in such clutter? Aren’t you embarrassed to even have the babysitter come over?”

“Yes!” I want to scream, because frankly, I am.

But then, just as quickly as that little devil speaks, I also have that angel. She’s saying to me, “Calm down! Look at your kids. They’re happy. They’re well-taken care of and well fed. Isn’t your daughter doing well in school? Didn’t you get all her homework done with her tonight? Didn’t you all have a fun time at the park?”

And then, without missing a beat, I hear, “Have you seen all the crap on the floor of your bedroom? How do you sleep in that room?”

“Didn’t you get the kids to their doctor’s appointments this week? Didn’t you
have their lunch ready for school each day?”

“When are you ever going to sort through that pile of old kids’ clothes that need to be sold or donated? They are taking up a lot of space!”

“Aren’t people always telling you how well-behaved your kids are? Didn’t you
get your daughter to Girl Scouts and piano and Spanish this week?”

“Do you think you’ll ever get around to putting away the tables and folding chairs you used for Thanksgiving dinner? “

“You made cupcakes for your daughter’s class last week and cookies for Girl

“Have you actually seen what your desk looks like? How do you find anything in that mess? And, I’m even not going to mention the stacks of junk in the garage.”

“Isn’t it more important to write down stories, about your kid’s lives, so
they have a record of their childhood and how much you loved them.”

“Don’t get me started on your closet . . .”

And so it goes . . . on . . . and on . . . and on . . a never-ending dialogue in my head. Good versus evil. Care versus cleaning.

I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but I sometimes find myself daydreaming about the day when the kids are grown and out of the house. I long for a time when I can find my keys or my cell phone or my shoes without having to search under the couch or behind the piano for them. I won’t feel that every step I make towards a cleaner house is being thwarted by three little rascals, constantly following me around, making me feel as if for every step of progress I make, I’m being dragged back five more.

And then, I want to cry at the thought because, though I imagine the house will someday be cleaner, it’ll also be a lot emptier . . . a lot lonelier.

So, I keep sitting here by my son’s door. I know the laundry won’t be completely finished by tomorrow because my sons and I have plans. I can’t clean my room tonight because my daughter is sleeping in it while her daddy is away overnight – a special treat for her. (And, quite honestly, for me, too.)

I cannot promise that the dirt and the clutter will no longer embarrass or bother me. It will. But, I’m doing my best to listen to that angel a little bit more often than not.

For, if I’m forced to choose my kids or my clutter, I’m doing my best to make sure those precious babes win most every time.

(Now, having said that, please keep all of this in mind when you enter my home and have to step over the unpacked suitcase, still at the front door, from last weekend’s trip to the beach.)


Erica said...

Kelly, I love this post! I think it's a struggle that most moms go through, and one that I certainly go through, as well. No matter what finds it's way scattered across the floor, baby always win out. Maybe it would be worth it to get a maid service come to your house once or twice a month to help? You are such a hard worker and definitely need a break every now and then.

The Austin ladies should meet up soon! Take care, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Kelly Seiler said...

Yes! We need to get together - maybe over or after the holidays!

How pathetic is it that I DO have a maid service come 2x a month - but they just clean - not do dishes, or laundry or sort crap. I need someone every day! :-)

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