Kids Live Here
Two Ways to Look at a Mess
by Danielle Bean in Homemaking on Monday, January 31, 2011 6:00 AM
We are a bunch of whiny babies.
Whiny babies can be loosely defined as — persons who refuse to accept reality quietly.
By refusing to accept housework, we are refusing to accept reality. Scientifically verifiable reality.
Every mother knows that keeping house is a never-ending, never-won battle against the invisible forces of disorder. In fact, I would argue that a house containing small children is the clearest example you could ever hope to find of the scientific principle of entropy.
Entropy is the single thing I learned in physics that still sticks with me after all these years. It’s the second law of thermodynamics: Systems tend to go from a state of order to a state of maximum disorder.
Take my house. Despite continual cleaning, the kids’ bedroom closets erupt daily in a sea of dirty sweat socks, unpeeled baseballs, lumps of petrified Play-Doh, abandoned crochet projects, and fuzzy, giggling Elmos. The ability of my kitchen counters to gather and grow paper airplanes, houseplants, granola bar crumbles, telephone directories, and Spaghettio-ed melamine bowls never ceases to amaze me. And once a week, when I give my bathroom a thorough going-over, I am always astounded by the fact that, despite daily maintenance, the mirror once again is spattered with soap, the sink and shower stall once again are coated with calcium, and the toilet once again … well, use your imagination.
Better than any physicist, a mother knows that if she doesn’t work constantly at returning things to a state of order, her house will always end in a state of maximum disorder. She knows that an irresistible attractive force unites a freshly bathed toddler with the nearest mud puddle. She knows that finishing the laundry sets off an inevitable chain reaction that leads to one child vomiting in his sheets while another falls prey to a vicious attack of the ketchup bottle. She alone appreciates the fact that having the house look approximately the same in the evening as it did in the morning is a major accomplishment.
But Modern Man (and that includes Modern Mom) has a hard time accepting some aspects of reality. We refuse to accept household entropy. And we are looking for some way to not have to clean it up. Or we are unhappy because we feel like nobody should be expecting us to clean it up.
I have to wonder if it’s a generational thing.
Housework has never been fun, but I don’t think our mothers or grandmothers whined the way some of us do. They accepted reality.
An older mom helped me face facts when she told me that once her kids were grown and moved out she was thrilled to finally clean her house thoroughly and have it stay clean. But when she was done, she looked at it and wondered: What’s it for now? The house was no longer being used like it was, and she realized how much the messes don’t matter.
So, after dinner tonight, I faced reality and refused to blink.
I wiped a mystery puddle from the stairs. I found a completed fractions worksheet in the bathtub. I discovered a gutted bathroom cabinet and a half dozen or so freshly washed towels strewn across a muddy paw-printed floor. I found hundreds of eensy-weensy, teeny-weeny bits of paper scattered on the dining room floor and the offending pair of scissors on a nearby chair nestled beneath an abandoned pair of sweaty socks.
Family life is a decidedly messy business. Sometimes the messes do threaten to overwhelm me. But that’s only when I look at Reality the wrong way.
After throwing towels into the hamper and sweeping up scraps of paper tonight, I washed Daniel’s fat face. I dipped his baby toes into the sink and he splashed. I wrapped him in a towel, changed him into pajamas, and smooched his neck to make him laugh.
When I carried him upstairs for bed, I found … piles and piles of picture books that had been removed from the bookcases in his bedroom and left on the floor. Cracker crumbs and a dripping sippy cup lay on the small rug beside his bed.
On a bad day, I might happen upon a scene like this one and think it says that I am a bad housekeeper. Or that my life is spinning out of control.
But tonight the books and cracker crumbs didn’t say those things to me. They said only this: Children live here.
They live here, read here, play here, eat here, and sleep here. Small children call this living, breathing place their home. And thank God for that.