I admit I’m not a meticulous housekeeper. I like things neat but do not live by pristine standards. Dusting really only gets done when I expect company or risk a visit from the health department. After I moved out of my parents’ home, there was an 8 year period in my life when I had a very tidy lifestyle. Those were the days when everything had a place and everything was in its well dusted place. Then came our first child.
With one child, it wasn’t too hard to keep up on housework, especially because I worked from home. I remember when my daughter’s nursery was kept neat with toys picked up, laundry folded, and a carpet that was regularly vacuumed. As she became more “mobile,” toys and books might stay out until the end of the evening, but there was always tidiness in my home before I crawled into bed. I had successfully balanced the load between baby, work and dust.
Almost a month after my daughter turned three, we brought home her sister. My standards of housekeeping changed when I became outnumbered. It wasn’t obvious; it was a gradual process. It started with an evening here or there when my husband and I were too tired to put away toys. Picture books lay abandoned on the couch until morning. Diapers were left in the bag, no longer stacked neatly in the changing table. Laundry waited until weekends, and the dust in corners gave birth to bunnies. I fought the wave of decline. I struggled against my self-imposed and unrealistic expectations .
A year later, relief arrived in two unlikely forms–a fax and a trip down memory lane. The fax, from a friend and new mom, included this excerpt from a poem written by Ruth Hulbert Hamilton called “Babies Don’t Keep”:
The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
It has been posted continually in my home ever since. (For the entire poem, click the link at the end of this post.)
However, real emancipation came when I complained to my mom about my messy home. I asked her how, with 9 kids under the age of 11, had she kept ahead of the housework. She laughed and directed me to check my memory. She said she realized early on that she could choose to have a spotless home, or she could choose to create memories with her children. Because of her choice, I have some wonderful memories, including learning to sew, tending roses together, and a closed-door on the disaster that was my teenage bedroom.
Today, I bide my time until every room in my house might once again be a temple of order. Until then, our teens’ bedrooms remain a refection of their messy childhood playroom with scattered books and piled clothing. Occasionally, when we walk past their rooms, their father or I might comment about “potential fire hazards.” However, it is only when the piles threaten encroachment on the hallway do we make cleaning demands.
With older children, it becomes easier to dismiss regular “play”. Our lives fill with “to-do lists,” school, jobs, and activities. Rare is the day I don’t robotically respond “later” to a request for play. Game night, movie time, or crafting together is often sacrificed to my own “to-do’s.” I could transfer fault to my kids, say there is no time for me in their busy lives. “They have their friends…their jobs….their homework…their____________.” But, outside of the chores, homework, and chauffeuring, am I making the time to create memories with them?
The other day, I plucked a framed photo from my dusty dresser and drifted down memory lane. My husband and 2 daughters, caught in a moment of time 12 years earlier, smiled back at me. I sat on the bed, studying the photo, recalling unseen details. We were taking Christmas card pictures that day. It was fall in California with the grass still green and the sky a bright blue. I wanted a father/daughter snapshot for my dresser. That afternoon, there were giggles-lots of giggles. Their smiles echoed the fun of that day and a time in our lives when making memories was paramount.
I’ve wondered exactly when and why it becomes OK to let play fall off our overbooked schedules. Is play not essential to both a happy childhood and adulthood? Happy memories are treasured gifts we re-open with every retelling. We give them to ourselves, our children and our children’s children. I believe the best memories are created when we say “yes”–yes to a game, a movie, a consuming mess of Legos. “So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!” I am making new memories, and the teen years won’t keep.
Won’t you join me?
(The complete poem can be found here: http://organicallyinclined.org/2010/07/26/babies-dont-keepthe-poem-has-an-author/ )