Eating Elephants and Other Unappetizing Things

One of the hardest things about being a Stay At Home Mom, for me, anyway, is that I seem to do a lot but get nowhere fast. I don’t mean that I procrastinate a lot and pass that off as working. (Although, there is that, too.) It’s just that, no matter what I do, it seems as if I have made zero progress. Or if I do make any progress, it is quickly eclipsed and things either go back to the way they were, or worse. (Also, I am sure working moms and parents can equally relate – it’s just that I feel they have a better excuse for the house being a mess or laundry not being done. After all – they’re out working. I’m at home most of the day so shouldn’t I be able to get more done?)

Even though this summer was a lot of fun with our Taiwan Trip, Disneyland, and my Atlanta trip, it threw me off my schedule (okokok, it’s not like I was amazing with keeping this schedule anyway, but it was still passable) and as a result, my house was a disaster. All the detritus from daily living, school, art projects, junk mail, medical bills, etc. would make the flow from outside to our kitchen table to a bag/box swept into the laundry room or hall closet and forgotten about.

Then there was actually cleaning the house so that the bathrooms didn’t resemble a science experiment, the floors and carpets weren’t gravelly from food and crumbs, and the kitchen was not a biohazard waste site. On top of that, apparently my children have to eat and excrete multiple times a day, bathe, and wear reasonably clean clothes. (And what the heck, man? Not only are there diapers to wash, a family of five can generate loads of laundry in a matter of minutes. And then, the laundry does naughty things and spawns babies. Totally irresponsible.)

Then, there are the things that I would like to accomplish outside of maintaining a home. You know, blog, read, be someone other than a professional caretaker to three tyrannical children. Oh, and perhaps Hapa Papa would like some time to be a human, too. (Oh, who are we kidding? We all know the poor man never gets any time to himself unless he’s “on vacation.” Which he is. Right now. Until late tomorrow night. Lucky bastard.)

Yes, yes. There are things I can do to make my life easier. For instance, I could hire help with either the house cleaning or my children. Unfortunately, I used to have a house cleaner and I realized that I hated it. I turned hyper critical and would find fault in everything. Not to the cleaners’ faces. But after they left, I would be annoyed and the smell of all their cleaning products would permeate the house. Even if I gave them organic cleaning materials, I was never sure they used it correctly or at all. Plus, just trying to work everything into my schedules with the kids’ school and classes – AGH. Perhaps it was that particular cleaner, but needless to say, I was much happier when we stopped. Now if something is not to my satisfaction, I only have myself to blame. Plus, it saves me money.

As for hiring someone to watch my children, that seems ridiculous since I’m the one staying at home. After all, that was the whole point of me no longer working. (And truthfully, I don’t want to work anyway so we can save that particular joy for Hapa Papa.) And yes, I know this is totally a first world problem but again, it is still my problem.

Anyhow, my whole point with this rambling post is that at the end of the day, even though I have cooked, cleaned, and kept three small humans alive, it feels as if I’m just treading water. Barely keeping my place and most likely, losing ground.

Last week, I spent at least three or four hours finally digging out my kitchen table from under three feet of stuff. Then I spent a few more hours clearing out my hall closet and laundry room. It has been less than a week. My kitchen table is already half buried again. My laundry room and hall closet are still holding steady, but I don’t expect it to last. Why? I have guests coming over tomorrow and a birthday party at my house Saturday. Everything that is currently on my table will make a quick escape to the laundry room. I would be more bummed, but why get sad over the inevitable?

It is times like these that I am particularly comforted by the book, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work” by Kathleen Norris. I have mentioned this book many times in the past, but it bears repeating.

I am reminded that the daily drudgery of cooking, cleaning, and caring for people is a holy endeavor. That I am not merely Sisyphus, continually rolling a boulder up a mountain only to have it tumble back down before it reaches the peak. That I am actually performing acts of prayer, worship, and transformative love. That what seems dreary and horrible is life-giving and beautiful.

I’m having trouble ending posts lately. We’ll just leave it at that. Be blessed, friends.

Wait, How Is This My Life?

When I was free and unencumbered with children, I would read articles by SAHMs about how they would have to do laundry every single day. I couldn’t fathom it. I only did laundry when I ran out of socks or underwear (my two limiting reagents). As a result, I had at LEAST a month’s worth of socks and underwear just so I only had to do laundry once a month. It’s not like I sweat a lot or was in any way physical so my clothes really didn’t get very dirty.

Fast forward to now and wouldn’t you know it? I do laundry almost every single day. Sometimes, multiple loads. I don’t even understand HOW? I mean, I wash the cloth diapers every day because right now, I have two kids in diapers and use a lot of them as burp cloths. Fine. That’s to be expected. But how do I have multiple loads? My kids have a reasonable amount of clothing. So do Hapa Papa and I. And yet, there it is. ME DOING MULTIPLE LOADS OF LAUNDRY EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Yes, that was CAPSLOCK worthy. Because seriously? WHAT THE HELL AM I WASHING?

And it’s not just the laundry. I am constantly doing dishes. Now, part of that is because I only have so many bowls and plates and utensils that are kid friendly. The other part is that I’m home all day so we use dishes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Occasionally, I’ll use the dishwasher if we have a lot of people over or I’ve been lazy all day and just wait for the end of the day. But usually I hand wash because there’s a much faster turnaround and if I waited until the dishwasher was full, I’d wait forever.

Now that I think about it, I am doing more dishes now because I am finally forcing my kids to feed themselves so instead of a communal bowl from which I shovel food into my kids’ mouths (and mine), we now all behave like semi-civilized people and all have our own bowls, cups, and utensils. I may have to rethink this strategy since it causes me more work. I just have to decide whether it is more work to wash dishes or to feed my children (who have perfectly functioning hands) while holding a two month old. *sigh*

Don’t get me started on vacuuming! Thankfully, I have a handheld vacuum that I can use to hoover up the endless supply of crumbs (I cheat and vacuum the table) that find themselves over EVERYTHING. And it’s not just because of the kids. I seriously can’t tell whether Hapa Papa or one of my kids ate somewhere because they ALL leave crumbs. I get why my babies do. It’s Hapa Papa that I’m having trouble accepting. Of course, I’m spotless and crumbs never fall from my lips. I am a swarm of locusts and all food is efficiently consumed with no waste whatsoever.

I know I tell the kids to pick up their toys (I’ve gotten a little slack with this since it’s hard to enforce while nursing), but lately, Cookie Monster and Gamera think it’s hilarious to launch their cars and planes and trains into the air and smash and crash them into EVERYTHING so they’re all over the floor, in couch cushions, under the couch, under the table, etc. Then, they’re obsessed with “Eggy prizes” (basically, stuff in Easter eggs) so now I have a bunch of old Easter egg halves and teeny tiny toys all over my carpet. WHY DID I KEEP THESE STUPID EGGS? Oh yes, because I’m cheap and intend to use them for next Easter.

I would read articles of mothers eating their children’s leftovers as their only sustenance and think, “That’s insane! I LOVE food! This will never happen to me.” And yet, now, I have their leftovers for lunch because they rarely finish everything on their plates and it seems wasteful to throw it away but stupid to keep because it’s not really enough for another meal. When my kids spit something out or drop something on the floor, I don’t even think twice about shoving whatever it was into my mouth because it is faster and easier than getting up to throw it away in the garbage. (Ugh. I want to gag just thinking about this, but yet, it doesn’t bother me while it’s happening. Laziness trumps yickiness.)

I’m not really complaining (I don’t think). I don’t really mind doing these things because I prefer an ant-free house that is reasonably tidy and clean and non-sticky. I also like clean dishes, diapers and clothes and not stepping on a toy in the middle of walking across my home. I see doing these activities as a holy thing (when I really think about it, not while I’m in the middle of wiping up another mess) because it is a way to love and serve my family.

It’s just that when I stop and actually examine my daily activities, I’m a bit bewildered. I went to college for this?

Two years ago, I was reading Christianity Today’s Hermeneutics blog and one of the writers referenced a book called, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work,” by Kathleen Norris (note: Amazon affiliate link). It changed my life and perspective forever about what I and millions of other women (and let’s be fair, men, too) do on a daily basis.

Norris calls all the cooking and cleaning “Women’s Work” because that is historically what it is called. What she addresses is that because this type of work has been historically performed by women, it is thus looked upon with contempt and deemed worthless. Norris posits that our daily work of laundry, cooking, cleaning is actually worship and holy. That what we do to take care of ourselves and others can be both an act of indifference or an act of supreme love. That the work which is looked down upon in the eyes of society is actually a beautiful and vital thing.

Our society values the grand, big gestures. The sweeping acts of bravery and heroism. But there is a heroism in the small, every day acts, too. In fact, I would argue (as does Norris) that these small, daily acts of cooking and cleaning are in fact, more necessary than the big acts of history-making. After all, whether or not you are doing something epic or mundane, you need sustenance, clean clothes, and clean living spaces.

I cannot tell you how happy and joyful this book made me. After all, who wants 90% of what they do all day to be deemed as lowly or simple? Now, to be honest, I’m not cleaning a toilet and thinking to myself, “OH JOY!! What wonders this be!” However, I do feel as if I am contributing something of worth to our household even if I’m not the one making the big bucks. After all, I may use Hapa Papa’s paycheck every day, but he damn well uses the toilet every day, too.

Anyhow, the beauty of these small, daily activities is that it is not limited to just SAHM or parents. Most people (unless you are so rich you have a housekeeper, chef, and someone to wipe your ass) have to do some measure of tasks that can feel like drudgery. Be encouraged. You are doing something important and nurturing, if for no one other than yourself.