I can distinctly remember two episodes of being told, “just wait,” and I very clearly remember thinking in response, “uh, nope.”
The first was when I had been married only a short while. It was Thanksgiving and my entire family was together, a rare thing due to the fact that my brother and I lived in different cities, hundreds of miles from our parents.
My brother, his wife, and their two daughters lived in Raleigh, NC. The girls were in early elementary school, maybe 2nd grade and kindergarten. My new husband and I were living in South Alabama, no children of our own yet. But somehow the stars aligned that year and we all converged to celebrate the holiday with my parents and my aunt’s family in Birmingham, my hometown.
We had the big holiday meal at my aunt’s house. It was loud and chaotic and so. much. fun. It’s always fun when we all get together at her house. Both of my cousins were there with their families and it was just….loud. After dinner was over, dessert was done, the last of the wine drained from its bottle, and the dishes washed and put away, someone suggested that we all go see my youngest cousin’s new house. She and her husband had just closed the week before and had not moved in yet. It was just up the street, so we all piled into our vehicles and caravanned up there. I jumped into my brother’s family van for the quick trip.
Y’all. It was my first experience of feeling like a bomb had gone off. Granted, it was dark because it was at nighttime, but even as we climbed in, by the dim interior light, I could see that the floor was covered with crap strewn everywhere. I didn’t know where to put my feet for fear I’d mess something up, or worse, step in something that might stick to the bottom of my shoe.
My brother and I were raised in a very strict home, aesthetically speaking. We were not allowed to leave any toys out anywhere; actually we weren’t technically allowed to play with our toys outside of our bedrooms. If we tried to take our shoes off anywhere in the house, Mom’s bat radar kicked in and hollered for us to put them up in our closets. In our closets (gasp!). We couldn’t even leave our shoes out in our own rooms! Beds had to be made every morning almost as soon as we rolled out of them. Homework was to be completed at our desk in our bedroom and packed away immediately into our backpacks that were kept inconspicuously in a corner of our room.
Furthermore, the living room was off limits. Don’t even think about going in there. The basement was directly underneath the living room so - and I’m guessing here - there was enough space under the floorboards that it allowed for an echo when walking through the living room. Mom had an antique silver tray on the coffee table in there with 4 cut glass sherry glasses on it. Every step you took made the coffee table shake just a bit, just enough for the glasses to tinkle against each other on the silver tray. As soon as the first clink of glass was heard anywhere else in the house, you could expect to immediately hear Mom holler out, “Get outta that living room!”
Closets were regularly cleaned out, purged of anything deemed unnecessary, and reorganized. Yes, it bordered on all the cans evenly spaced and facing the same way in Sleeping with the Enemy. In high school once, beyond frustrated at the suffocating way everything had to always be “just so”, I yelled out, “this isn’t a home; it’s a museum!!” It didn’t change anything, but it sure felt good to release that into the world.
So, back to Thanksgiving night and the abomination inside my brother’s van. I climbed in, looked down at the floor and slowly looked up at him, my eyes wide with disbelief, shock, and a little bit of fear. “What happened to you?” I slowly whispered.
“Ha,” came the snarky response. “Just wait til you have kids.”
No way, dude. Tidiness was so deeply ingrained me that I knew I would NEVER let my car devolve into such absolute, abject, squalor.
The second incidence I remember happened at work one day. At the time, I served at a large church with a large staff. The Children’s Director and I had become good friends and we often spent a lot of time in each others’ offices.
She was in my office one day as I was lamenting the state of my house. My husband, also a pastor, and I worked long hours and were usually tired when we got home. We had lots of ideas about what we wanted to do around the house - landscaping, decorating, etc. We just didn’t have a lot of energy to make those things happen.
This mentality flew directly in the face of the way I had been raised. It didn’t matter if you were tired or not. The house must be kept neat and tidy at all times. I felt compelled to clean up at the end of each day. I actually felt guilty if the bed had not been made that morning, or I left dirty dishes (again, gasp!) in the sink until the next morning.
So there I am, lamenting these things with my friend. I was about 6 months pregnant with our first son. I was physically tired from carrying him around, but also so, so tired of feeling like I had to do every little thing when I got home each day.
I was unloading about how hard it was to keep the house clean and tidy and have a presentable front yard. And she just smiled. She had two middle schoolers of her own and she’d been where I was.
“Oh Dana, just wait.” There it was again. That maddening piece of advice. Just wait. “You need to relieve yourself of the notion that your house has to be perfect. You need to get rid of it now because just wait until your baby gets here. Then things will really get messy. Just wait.”
I didn’t want to hear that. From my brother, whom I adore, or from my dear friend. I just knew that I would never let my convictions about a tidy house slide. I’d never let things go. I’d seen my mom clean our house from top to bottom every Saturday morning for my entire life. I’d seen her get down on her hands and knees every single night after she finished doing the dishes and wipe the baseboards in the kitchen with a wet paper towel to catch any stray crumbs that had landed there. She did laundry every day, people. She mopped the kitchen floor every Saturday morning. She changed the sheets on our beds once a week. She IRONED freshly laundered sheets, y’all, before she put them back on the bed. She cooked dinner every single night. She dusted and vacuumed. My Lord, it was like a one woman cleaning crew doing a deep clean every single week. AND, she worked full time! I didn’t know it back then because it was just what happened at our house on Saturdays. Today, I know better. That was insane!!
How the tides do turn, though. I’d be embarrassed for you to see the state of my car right now. School papers, empty plastic water bottles, random crayons and superhero figures. Dried out french fries here and there. Dirt from the ballpark. A film of I don’t even know what over the backseat, the back doors, the back of the front seats. I might be even more embarrassed for you to come in my house. The picture shown here is not staged. It seems I have sunk so very low.
Or, maybe, I’m just living in a reality I never knew existed. And maybe that's perfectly okay. The kids are happy. We’re well fed and secure. I'm working on letting go of the guilt I feel when the house isn't "just so." I wish my mom had been able to let some of that go as well, and relax a little bit more. But she and I are different, and I wouldn't begrudge her something that made her feel content and secure.
How many times in your life have you thought, or even spoken aloud, the words, “I’ll never do_________.” And if you haven’t had occasion to utter those words, well…….just wait.
There’s laundry on the line (of course, it’s always there), but let me know what you’re doing now that you never thought you’d do.