There was a time - in the not too distant past - when I used to host playdates and get-togethers at my house. It was a fairly regular occurrence to have three or four Moms with kids in tow at my house. We'd sit and chat while the kids played. It was always a wonderful time.
The hours before they arrived, however, were not always so wonderful. There was a flurry of washing, sweeping, and mopping, and an attempt to stow (i.e. hide) six people's worth of stuff somewhere in a house that was built for two (literally) with no closets, no attic, no basement, no garage, and no general storage areas. Heck, there aren't even any drawers in the kitchen.
I always thought that I did a good job of cleaning things up.
And then, one day, we had one of the kids over, because his mom needed to work for a few hours and needed a babysitter. This four year old boy walked into my house and said, "Your house is messy." The kid's mom was a housekeeper, and so I assumed that she must, just, keep their house very spotless, as it was her vocation to clean houses, and that his observation was more to do with the way he lived than any failing on my part. I mean, it's like the child of a master chef telling me that my cooking is bad. When he is accustomed to gourmet foods, of course my over-salted culinary foibles are going to pale by comparison.
My logic mind told me that I couldn't compete and that I wasn't a bad housekeeper, but his comment still weighed heavily. I worried, because if this five year old is saying this stuff outloud, what must his mother ... or the other women in the Mom's Group ... be thinking? No, I don't have a clutter-free, Better-Homes-And-Gardens house (or yard). I live here. I work here. I'm here twenty hours per day, seven days per week. But I had (apparently, mistakenly) thought that my house was passably clean and tidy.
Whether by design or accident, it wasn't long after that incident that I stopped having regular get-togethers at my house. Mostly, I think, it was that the kids were getting older. Deus Ex Machina and I had chosen to homeschool, but most of the other kids in the playgroup were heading to preschool or kindergarten, and so we, Moms, just found less and less opportunity (or need?) to have playdates.
But it's not one of those things that lets go - that idea that one needs to live in a showplace for when guests arrive, and while I stopped having weekly get-togethers at my house, I still, occasionally, entertained friends and family. The hours (sometimes DAYS) leading up to a party at our house would be a flurry of activity, occasionally accompanied by some yelling and cursing.
It's not that I didn't try (with some varying degree of success) to keep the house in some semblance of order all of the time, but rather that we live here, and because we homeschool, and I work from home, we LIVE here in a way that many Americans do not. That is, for twenty hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year, there is someone IN my house. We are home - more often than we are not. And with three dogs and a cat, who live inside and have free rein, even when we aren't here, there's often a party happening.
Contrary to that young boy's off-the-cuff remark, my house is not messy, but it is, most definitely, and without an argument, lived-in.
At some point, the commentary in my head changed to accommodate that fact, and I stopped worrying about a four-year-old's opinion of my (lack of) housekeeping skill. The new commentary said, "I live on a working farm," which meant that some degree of (what some might consider) messiness had to, by necessity, be acceptable. There would be a bushel of apples in a box on the kitchen floor waiting to be processed into sauce or cider. There would be various brews in buckets and carboys and gallon-sized jars fermenting. In the spring, there would be baby chicks in a brooder in my living room. There are bookshelves lining every wall and overflowing with stories and how-to's. There are clothes, fresh from the line outside, that need to be folded and put away. There are musical instruments hanging on walls. We live here, and life is messy.
I was so thrilled, in reading Sharon Astyk's new book, Making Home, to note that she says the same thing. She says that she used to worry about the way her house looked to visitors, because, while it wasn't something one might see in some glitzy magazine layout of what we believe is the perfect home, it had its beauty, and the beauty was in the functionality. The beauty was the fact that a real, breathing, playing, laughing, loving, LIVING family lived there ... really, honestly, and completely lived in that space.
It's nice to be validated.
And, Sharon, if you ever do decide to put together Better Homes and Ratholes, I have one of the latter, in the suburbs of Southern Maine that would be a perfect show place ;).