"This place is a disaster."
I probably say that phrase both out loud and in my head about a hundred times a week. I say it when I walk in the door from work. I say it when I walk through the house on my way to the kitchen for breakfast. I say it to the kids before they go to bed and I whisper it to Jones when I'm up feeding him at 3 a.m.
There is always, always, always a mess in my home. Not a "Somebody call TLC and get this family on Hoarders" kind of mess, but the kind of mess that I am almost certain (if not genuinely hopeful) occupies almost every mother's home.
There is blue toothpaste all over my kids' sink. Sticking to that toothpaste are my husband's whiskers from when he shaved this morning. My daughter's headbands and hair ties are strewn throughout the bathroom and I'm pretty sure I saw one in the toilet, but I don't want to look twice. My living room is covered in baby toys. There are bumbos and boppies and rattles oh my. If I walk through the whole room without awakening a sleeping light up monkey by stepping on its face, wait...no I pretty much do that every time.
There is always a clean basket of laundry sitting by the couch begging to be folded, but more often than not it just eventually dwindles down to a few rifled through pieces of clothing that I throw into the kids' rooms, only to be replaced by another load I will never get to. Video games litter the shelves and floor while the box specifically labeled "video games" sits empty.
There are dishes in the sink, dishes on the counter, dishes under the bed (probably, but I don't care to find out for sure). Bills and homework and sticky note reminders cover every square inch of the desk and counter top. Someone spilled salt under the dining room table and apparently salt is the one thing our dog won't lick up (poop she eats, but nooooo, helping me out by licking up a salt spill is apparently beneath her). There is a lingering smell of dirty diapers, even though I've taken the diaper trash out four times already.
My couch cushions and carpet are stained with baby spit and boogers. There is dust hiding in every nook and cranny of my home, and the light switch in my son's room has his actual fingerprints outlined in little boy dirt. I cannot even bear to open the door to the playroom for fear I will have a nervous breakdown.
There is playdough ground into my carpet. There are barbie shoes and legos hiding stealthily around the house, never to be found, until you step on one barefoot in the middle of the night. There are binkies everywhere, until I need one immediately, then they are nowhere.
The floors need mopped (but first they need swept). Everything needs dusted. A run through with the vacuum wouldn't hurt, but I'm pretty sure the vacuum is acting as a gift bag holder in my hall closet, so that's obviously out.
This place is a disaster.
The disaster seems to taunt me the most at times when there is simply nothing I can do about it. The debris screams out at me while I sit, tied to the rocking chair while I feed the baby. It whispers in my ear, "You are such a failure" while I rush the kids over the laundry and out the door to school in the morning. It hits me like a punch in the face when I arrive home from a fourteen hour day and all I have the energy to do is shower and lie down.
And in case my family doesn't seem to notice the disaster (and they never do seem to notice it as much as I do), I make sure to tell them. All the time. I remember one specific time I was stressing about the mess, out loud, to my children, the ones who are most responsible for it (or at least the easiest to blame). I was frantically trying to clean up the living room before their grandparents came over for a visit (what will my mother-in-law think!? She cleans houses professionally!! It's like inviting a professional chef over for a dinner of cold hot dogs and boxed macaroni!).
I remember scolding them, "This place is such a disaster! Why are none of you bothered by this? How can you just sit there and read your book and play with your dolls while there is a DISASTER around you!!??" And I will never forget what my daughter said to me.
"Mommy, children live here!"
I looked down at the game of UNO I was gathering up for the nineteenth time that week. One minute ago I was tempted to throw it in the trash after being sick of seeing it on my coffee table, while my husband had started using the cards as coasters.
Children live here.
But what if they didn't?
If children didn't live here, my house would be clean, at least most of the time. Because when I cleaned it, I wouldn't be immediately followed around by little walking tornados, who see an empty, tidy, freshly vacuumed floor as the perfect place to dump out nine thousand action figures and set up a battlefield or perhaps lay out a giant blanket and set up the world's biggest tea party.
If children didn't live here, my guest bathroom would be just that, for guests, or at least suitable for them. The counters would be clean and there would never be toothpaste staining my sink, because there would be no little mouths to do it. There would be no hair ties in the toilet, because there would be no perfect brown curls to need them.
I would never trip on any toys or step on any light up jungle animals, because I would never have had reason to buy these toys and light up my children's faces. There would be no baby swing, baby boppy, baby bumbo or baby blankets lining my floors, because there would be no baby to use them.
My couch cushions and carpet would still be white. There would be half the laundry to do, and half the dishes, so I'm sure I'd be able to stay on top of those. When I got home from my long days at work, I'd be greeted with a clean house, but nothing else. I'd have time on my days off to tidy up, because there would be no baby to care for or children to rush off to activities.
My house would be clean. And quiet.
I thought about that for a few days. I laid in bed and let my mind wander, and as mothers sometimes do, I let it wander to the worst. What if children didn't live here? What if they never had? Or what if they did, but then they stopped? I wondered what it would be like to lose my children in an accident. I wondered what it would be like to come home for the first time, knowing they would never come back, and see the mess they left behind. Wouldn't I break down, clenching the action figures and rattles and baby dolls while I wept? Wouldn't I pray to God that He would bring back the cause of this so-called disaster?
I wondered if I would ever be able to clean any of it up. What would I do with all their toys? All their clothes? Every piece of the untidy mess of laundry and legos would be the only evidence I had that children had lived there. Would I ever want it to go? Could I bring myself to sweep up the crumbs they left on their chairs from the last peanut butter and jelly sandwhich they ate there? Would I ever be able to wipe away the toothpaste they left in the sink that morning? Or the dirty fingerprints on my son's light switch? Could I ever bring myself to make their unmade beds, or would I simply lie in them, tracing the outline of their heads on their pillows?
What would the mess look like to a mother who would never have to clean up another mess again?
I think it would look like treasure.
To a mother in the midst of the stresses and chaos of everyday life, those messes can look like failures. Like evidence of her inability to be the perfect housewife, the perfect mother, the perfect woman. But a simple change in perspective, and suddenly those messes are not evidence of failures, but evidence of all she holds most dear, of everything she cherishes, of moments in time she will not get back again once they are gone.
I thought about the women I know who are struggling, praying, wishing to one day have messes of toys and books and baby things all over their house. Who wonder if they will ever get the chance to step on a lego or wipe crayon off the walls. Who look at those of us with ragged hair and baby food on our cheeks with envy, wondering, "When will it be my turn to look like that?" Who listen to us complain about our messy messes and wonder if we have forgotten what a blessing and a privilege it is to have such messy messes in the first place.
I thought about how in thirty years, when my kids are grown and gone, when I am looking around at my clean house and missing the disaster of when my children were children, what would happen if I could go back in time and visit the house I have today. I know what I wouldn't do. I would not say, "Ugh. What a terrible time in life. What a disaster my house always was then! I'm so glad my house is always clean now!"
No. I would walk around my former home, exploring every room and crying happy tears about the memories they brought. I would pick up the baby blankets and burp rags, and smell them to see if they still smelled like Jones. I would study Eisley's handwriting on the papers she left all over the table, and touch each letter, remembering how very little she was. I would pick up Jake's action figures, and wish I had saved them for my grandson. I would sort through the pile of laundry on the floor and marvel at how little my children once were. I would run my hand over the dirty fingerprints on the light switches and walls and mirrors, and remember when my children had fingers that tiny. I would look at the toys on the floor and the games that weren't put away and remember how much fun we had playing with them together.
I would look at the disaster, and I would think, "Children live here."
And I would think it was beautiful.
My house is a disaster sometimes. When I have the energy and the time, I clean it up as best I can. I ask my children and husband to help me keep the house in a way that we can function and have company once in awhile. But when the mess starts eating at me, when it starts whispering "failure" in my ear and begins to eat away at the joy in my heart, I try (and sometimes, I have to try really, really hard) to see the beauty in the disaster. And I repeat that phrase to myself, the one Eisley reminded me of, the one I forget sometimes.
"Children live here."
And I am so, so thankful they do.