When I first dreamed of what my home would be like once children were living within it, I never actually dreamed of clean counters and spotless floors. I didn’t picture little ones in perfectly matching clothes with combed hair and hands free of marker. I never deluded myself that the sink would always be free of dishes or the table tops free of crumbs or the laundry always clean and folded.
I saw organized boxes of toys, of course, and nice, neatly stocked shelves of books. I am, after all, quite a bit Type A with a touch of OCD. But I always imagined there’d be a little chaos.
In fact, some days I orchestrate things just to create the chaos. And then I smile when, at noon on a Saturday, my daughter answers the door to greet our neighbors, still wearing her ballet clothes from the morning, accessorized by ladybug wings and antennae, her breakfast still sitting on the coffee table as we prepare her lunch.
“Is it wrong that I love that this just happened?” I ask M after the neighbors have left.
And he laughs and replies, “No, not at all. I love it too”
Like all parents, I want my children to know and appreciate order. I want them to put their toys away when they are done with them and before they take out something new. I want them to understand routine and the importance of being on time. I want them to know that structure and a plan can really be their friend.
But I also want to instill in them a sense of spontaneity that I still struggle to achieve. I want my girl to strut confidently out of the house wearing leg warmers under her shorts in the middle of a July heat wave because that is just what she felt like wearing when she woke up. Or layer multiple tutus over her mismatched outfit. I want her to paint and create and get messy and I don’t mind taking her to lunch with a smear of dark blue across her cheek and purple paint caked in her hair that has fallen into floppy pigtails. I love looking at flour-covered counters, sticky with batter and spilled butter and melted chocolate. To me, that just means that we got caught up in the moment, creating and not worrying.
Creating memories and not worrying. That is what I want for my children’s childhood. It is, I believe, one of the most important gifts I can give to them. One of the most important skills. The ability to get lost in a moment, knowing that paint can be washed off later and order restored once we’re done.
As adults, and especially parents, we all struggle with this. We hold ourselves to an ideal of a perfect house and shudder to think of a neighbor stopping by to see us all in a state of disarray. We all want to project an image of being perfect, whether we admit this to ourselves or not.
Four years ago, letting anything but a perfectly clean and organized house fall under the gaze of even the pizza delivery man would have sent shivers of embarrassment up and down my spine.
But today? Today I’ll welcome you into my home whenever you stop by. And I’ll caution you to weave around the plastic shopping cart smack dab in the middle of the living room and I’ll advise that you look before you rest your phone on my counter or watch before you sit on the couch where just minutes ago Elmo was set down for a nap. And then I’ll offer you a freshly baked cupcake while my girl dances around in butterfly wings and her chef’s hat to show you her latest painting and then invites you to her cardboard-box-turned-hideaway.
And all of these things will tell you that here, creating and not worrying is what makes our house perfect.
And I’ll know you agree. I’ll see it in your smile.