I call truce. Seriously, I do. I can’t totally surrender, and I can’t keep going like this, so we need to make a deal. I’ll keep you functional, but I get to stop obsessing about maintaining you at the standard to which I was accustomed pre-kids. I get to stop seeing every fingerprinted window and sticky-for-more-than-three-minutes surface as incarnations of my inadequacies as a mother. I get to stop mopping at 10 pm because that’s my “free time.” Let me know what you think. Text or email work best. Kthxbye, Shauna“
This is the letter I need to write to my house.
I am a mother of 19 month old twins who works full-time outside the home in a job with a lot of responsibility. My wife is, too. We live in a big, old, needs-work Colonial rental house with an unusual amount of windows, expansive and dusty hardwoods, linoleum that is limping towards its own death and lots of extra living space in which toy debris and cat puke make themselves comfortable.
We also have mountains of laundry in various stages of the laundry cycle: clean, sort-of clean, dirty-ish, dirty, waiting-to-be-washed, sitting & mildewing in the washer, wrinkled in the dryer, waiting-to-be-folded-but-what’s-the-point, and missing. This laundry is a black hole of time suck for both of us but we do our best to keep work clothes available and the kids out of their reject pile “poop clothes.” Additionally, I am the only cook and do all the shopping and food prep for the family, a job that alone takes about 12-14 hours per week.
All this is to say, I AM EXHAUSTED 100% of the time.
It’s often a fun and deeply content exhaustion, but it needs to be stated out loud sometimes that parenting, and certainly parenting while working outside the home, is a relentless marathon of tasks and other energy expenditures for which there is no pause button and no opportunity to phone it in. I am with my kids from 6:00 am when they wake until 7:30 when they leave for daycare and I race to the shower to be ready to leave for work by 8:00. I pick them up at 4:30 (4:45 if I have to grab something at the store) and try to be present and fun and loving for the next 3 hours while making dinner, digging for clean bibs in the laundry mountain, prepping baths, collecting strewn sippie cups and random household accoutrements that the twins distribute (meat thermometer, diaper cream, vacuum cleaner attachments, my entire book collection) widely. This three hours is intense and busy and when 7:30 rolls around and we shut the door to their room, all I want to do is lay down on the floor and fall asleep in the hallway.
But I can’t. Ang heads to the kitchen to start the dishes and I hit the living room and playroom for clean-up and vacuuming if the rug looks sketchy. I sort the daycare bag and stock diapers and do some of that blasted laundry. Ang takes out garbage and recycling while I change sheets or scrub a toilet. It’s often well past 9 before either of us come up for air. I have actually mopped at 10 pm or later on several occasions.
Since going back to work, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends trying to achieve a vision of what our house “should” look like. What I want it to look like. I love a tidy house. It makes me feel relaxed, elevates my mood, and gives me energy to have made beds, clean tables and shiny sinks. In my life before kids, my house looked awesome and I worked hard to make it that way. Today, there just are not enough minutes in the day (or week) for me to be the parent I choose to be and keep a consistently tidy house. I have tried, and I literally cannot do it. I already mentioned the hectic schedule and the omg-I’m-so-tiredness, but the other thing that’s changed is that there are two additional staggeringly messy people living in my house these days. These people are sticky, have no boundaries, generate a ton of linens to be washed, and come with about one hundred million pieces of clothing, gear, and toys that just seem to tornado about the home.
During the week, I have three main priorities: clothes, kitchen, and every piece of furniture can be used for its intended purpose…ish. We pull this off most of the time. But as I fall into bed at night, that nagging voice in my head (the one that was raised by a lineage of early-rising Vermonters who scrub their bathroom grout with toothbrushes on Saturday mornings) makes a list of all the things I “have to do” tomorrow: unpack the beach bag, mop the floors, sort that pile of papers that looks messy, get ______ out of the living room, etc. The list is self-populating and never ending.