First article I ever wrote for the Cambridge Times. Originally written with the title “What Makes Home”, it ran in September of 2004.
What makes home (Happy Home is My Loving Mess)
The other day I was walking the dog down the street, admiring (as I tend to do) all the summer improvements that the various neighbors have made to their houses. Some had beautified their grass and made gardens. Some had added new fences or stones. One neighbor had put a pretty swing out front for him and his wife with a fort in the tree for his kids. It made me feel so warm to know that in my neighborhood, the houses look so nice, like they could be on the pages of a magazine for one of those neighborhoods that is a great place to visit and stroll around. When I got home, I looked up for a moment at the front of my house. Four bikes lay on the lawn next to the bike rack that my husband built last summer for the kids. The tasteful green garbage bin that we had put out to hide our ugly black bags had a bag of garbage, five pizza flyers and a wet pair of socks on it. I chuckled to myself. Maybe not quite magazine material. We had just spent a few dollars ourselves on some beautiful wood work to go around the front windows, but it was hard to notice with two naked toddlers smiling at me through the window with a bunch of curtains in their juice stained hands.
I went inside and looked around the house some more. It didn’t so much resemble the sort of modern eclectic look that I was originally going for. There was some laundry on a chair in the living room, books haphazardly strewn across the shelves of the neat book shelf in the hall. Toys scattered gaily around the floor which was itself, decorated with the various stains of juice, wine or toilet training mishaps. The dining room had a surprisingly clean table, but the walls contained spackle made of spaghetti sauce and peanut butter. I think the paint was blue….
I went into the kitchen where I had spent a good deal of the morning doing dishes and some small prep work for that evenings’ dinner. My five precious children were crowded around the same section of counter. They had bread, margarine, cold cuts, cheese, peanut butter, ketchup and pickles on the counter. They had made juice in the jug, and water was hovering near the edge of the counter where it run from over the top of the jug. The fruits of their labors were piled precariously on plates with smears of the occasional butter knife swipes spread directly onto the counter. They had used about fourteen dishes, three butter knives, six cups and all of the ingredients.
Sensing a parental presence, the turned around in eerie unison to greet my surprised face.
“hi mom, we made you lunch! Surprise!”
I didn’t know what to say. I looked past the mess and at the faces of my kids, so proud of their accomplishment. I thanked them for the lunch, choked down a bite in front of them and said I would eat the rest in the office while I did some work. The kids were triumphant. They were so happy that they had made the lunch for that day themselves, and that it had a favorite of each one of them included in the sandwich. I watched them for a few minutes, talking animatedly about their conquest of a meal. What they would like to do next. My oldest, who is ten and a half, saw me watching them. He looked at me and said “don’t worry mom, we’ll clean up”. I thanked him and made my way down stairs to the makeshift “office” we have in our basement. I wondered, am I really such a stickler for cleanliness? I guess I did spend a lot of time talking about the lack of it, but in a house with five kids, two parents, a dog and a hamster, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed some days about the amazing, never-ending, amount of cleaning there is to be done…especially when you don’t have a dishwasher. (I don’t count, it’s not my official title) But yes, I was guilty of the obsessive over dirt problem. I spent a lot of time complaining about rooms, dishes, laundry and the general bodily state of the kids. I kept trying to make my house look like we were about to have a tour walk through it at any moment. I sat for a while in the office, my gross and yet touching lunch wafting various smells in my direction, just pondering the state of the house and the manner in which I approach it. And then I realized that it did not matter that my house is not always perfectly clean and magazine-esque. It did not matter that laundry had to be done and the walls were never clean. My house is a home. Not a museum. My kids can get messy and make a lunch, or a painting or cookies. And they did it all together. Two boys, three girls, ages ten to two. They worked together, and they had fun.
But next time I eat lunch with them, my kids can be the ones to walk the dog…