Living Within the Tension

You can stay on top of the mess -- keeping things sanitary, straightening shelves, sorting toys, and wiping up spills.  You can organize during naptime and clean after bedtime.  You can teach your children responsibility for their belongings and enlist their help.

Even so, one day the house will explode in chaos and disarray.  You'll enter the bathroom and discover a half-eaten piece of pizza on the floor.  You'll search your purse for your cell phone and discover a collection of rocks, a chewed lollipop stick, or a plastic figurine instead. 

The bathroom sink you cleaned earlier in the morning will be smeared with toothpaste and littered with who-knows-what by afternoon.

Your roll of toilet paper will become unwound. 

Your kitchen table and floor will be both sticky and gritty, as if your kids had daily access to glue sticks and sand.  Dirt will infiltrate your minivan during the summer, jackets will brush against its filthy exterior during the winter, and toys and wrappers will be dropped and forgotten on its floor regardless of the season.

One piece of chocolate will somehow result in this:

At least, these descriptions are true for me and my household, and I consider myself to be a relatively-organized, type-A, moderately obsessive-compulsive kind of a person.

Motherhood is messy.  Sometimes I hate this.  I want my life and space to be orderly and controlled, and so often it's not.  Three mess-making little people work against my efforts daily, undoing my work while they're busy with their own work: being kids.

I knew that kids were messy the first time my daughter spit up on my shirt collar.  It was reinforced when she sneezed mashed carrots on me while I spoon-fed her, and confirmed again when she first wiped her snotty nose on my pants leg.  Once she became mobile -- and especially once there was more than one of them -- Lord, I knew that I had met my match.

These messes that we war with daily in motherhood -- these burp cloths on the end tables, slush puddles at the doorway, jackets over the railing, shoes that you trip over, kernels of corn under the kitchen table, hand prints on the window -- these aren't indicators that we're failing as mothers.

They're indicators that we are mothers.

I'm reminding myself that the mess -- and even my frustration toward it -- is normal. 

Today, I'm attempting not to straighten every item before I sit down to play with my kids.  I'm like the band on the Titanic who forged ahead and made music in spite of the surrounding chaos.

Today, I'm reminding myself that it's not selfish to desire a quiet, calm space -- a space without toys on the floor or Curious George playing on the TV -- to claim a moment's peace.

Today, I'm living within the tension.  I'm accepting that contradictions crop up in motherhood -- how any given day can be both glorious and mind-numbing, how I want to get past certain stages while knowing that I'll miss those stages once they're done, how I can love my children desperately and still want a break from them, how I can be annoyed by the mess and still thankful for who's behind it.

Today, I'm aware how privileged I am to have healthy, active children under my roof.  And today, most likely, I'm still going to vacuum because, man, my floor is a mess.

Today, I am a mother.  This is what we do.

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  1. Amen, bravo, hear hear, and all that!

  2. Such an incredibly timely post for me to read today, Robin!! Thanks!

  3. smoothstonesMarch 18, 2013

    Just beat it back. That's all you can do: beat it back. Don't try to conquer it or take control of it.

  4. Hilary @ PeanutButterSpoonfulsMarch 20, 2013

    Sometimes I find it's better to just not do anything at all. It's like once you reach mess saturation point there is only so much more that can happen. Of course this ends in me snapping and going on a cleaning binge and I only have one little on so far so it isn't that bad I guess. Eek.

  5. You've issued this advice before, I recall, and it's so wise that I find myself repeating its strains in my head, "Beat it back... beat it back.... just beat it back...." ;)

  6. I've reached that breaking point, too! It's kind of remarkable that a breaking point can result in a productive binge, but it's the truth!

  7. As a new mom, I struggle so much with not being able to clean all of the things I want to. Motherhood is definitely a challenge in prioritizing and it's just nice to know that I'm not the only one who feels the tension!

  8. This was very timely for me as I'm watching a toddler for a couple days. Good grief, I had forgotten they are like little tornadoes, leaving a wake of debris, scattered shoes.
    Deep breath in, deep breath out.

  9. Does this mean that in a few years my children no longer will act as agents of mass chaos? Have you really noticed that your kids have grown out of this in the somewhat-near future? (My hopes are rising as I type this.)

  10. They still create complete and utter chaos, but they're more able to clean it up afterwards.


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