Sunday mornings aren’t always the best around here. What usually happens is that Jeremy and I lie in bed for as long as possible (usually until we start to worry that one of the kids is going to pee in the bed if we don’t get them up and take them to the bathroom). Then we start the mad dash to get everyone up, fed, cleaned and dressed (ourselves included) which usually means we end up grabbing donuts and gas station coffee on the way to church, where we walk in miserably late.
And usually I’m a mess of nerves, not very fun to be around, and generally snappish. It’s a horrible way to start the day, but for some reason we let the same scenario play out every single Sunday without trying to change much.
This morning was different, though.
I woke up early because I’m trying to start our lunch preparation before we leave for church, so that we have a relatively fast but “real” meal almost ready when we come back home. We live almost forty minutes from our church, and with little ones that need naps (not to mention the big one that needs a nap…that’s me) getting food on the table quickly is a priority. It was 6:30 this morning when I came downstairs to start our coffee and start chopping up vegetables while it brewed. Jeremy came downstairs around seven, and we spent the next hour before the boys got up talking over coffee. Then I started breakfast while he got up the boys, he fed them while I got ready, and I dressed them while he got ready. And we pulled into church five minutes early for once, without one snappish word being flung or without someone having to ask Mama if she was angry.(Jeremy took this picture this morning of all of our littles, sitting on the step, ready to head to the car, and we were about ten minutes ahead of when we’re “supposed” to leave for church. Clive is not smiling because he is saying “I caaaaaaaaan’t!” He can’t smile, he means.)
There is a point to this, and it does relate to the title of this post, so bear with me.
While we drove I thought back over the morning, about expectations and priorities. I think about expectations a lot, because as a mother of three boys four-and-under assessing my expectations has become something of a unceasing pastime. I am always examining whether something I’ve expected is fair, whether it’s futile, whether I’m setting myself up for failure, etc. Sometimes things I expect are just dumb, and I’ve had to throw those expectations out the proverbial window. Other things I expect are just difficult because they take self-discipline and self-discipline is hard. Other expectations are even more difficult because they require me to teach self-discipline to my children and teaching self-discipline to my children, while not necessarily harder than requiring it in myself, is a much longer and arduous process because the progress is very slow. It takes perseverance and dedication, and frankly it is much easier in the short run to just not do it (though in the long run, you’ve shot yourself in the foot.) Anyone who has ever tried to teach a small child how to sweep a floor or to sit still in church knows what I am talking about.
Then there are the expectations that are not working out because you are actively working against yourself while refusing to give them up. My Sunday mornings fell into this category. I generally expect Sundays to be peaceful, for us to arrive to church on time, and me to not be a ball of nerves and irritation for most of the day.
Now, it would be really easy for me to say, “I have three small children, and being on time to church is just not going to happen.” Or, “I’m highly sensitive and the noise and crowd at church overwhelms me.” Or “I just really love the excuse to always get donuts on the way to church.” All of these lowered or destroyed my expectations, and would have enabled me to continue on my path of donut-filled yet harrowing, frantic Sunday mornings. And I would have continued to act like a harpy to my family and generally make Sundays miserable.
Since it’s extremely unlikely that my reaction to Sunday Morning Chaos would change, the sensible thing for me to do is not to lower my expectations for peace and punctuality, no matter how many kids I have, and no matter how much I like donuts. A better solution–as I saw this morning–was to take the necessary action to make sure that peace and punctuality was even possible. Because really, these are not bad expectations. They’re not even set too high. They’re perfectly attainable.
Now, the point of all of this is that there is another expectation I have that I believe I’m working against myself on. It’s my house. I have this thing where if the house is messy, my head feels like it’s going to explode. Now, when I say “messy”, I don’t mean that that one little thing over there is not where it’s supposed to be and so now I want to yell and break things. I have (say it with me!) three boys ages four-and-under, so just go ahead and imagine what kind of messes they could dream up, then add that to the messes that two adults make just by living in a space, and there you go. That’s what I’m talking about. Mess.
Clutter kills me. If my house is cluttered, my mind doesn’t work. I don’t think I’m alone in this–I think most people function this way. Oh, you’d think that four, almost five years into the mom thing, I would have abandoned my expectations for a tidy house. That’s the last thing you can have when you have little kids, right? Wrong. Clutter and mess still kill me. They still make me irritable and uneasy.
Now, I’m not a fan of saying things like “You can’t change who you are!” or “I can’t help the way I am.” But neither am I keen on thrusting myself into a situation over and over that brings out the absolute worst in me.
I remember several years ago reading a how-to process for keeping your house clean with kids. The first step was to lower your standards, and the second step was to lower them again. I hated it then, and I hate it now. I’ve lowered my standards, ok, and my house is a wreck, and I’m an irritable mess. So, now what? Is this how it’s supposed to end up? I am not convinced that lowering your standards is actually going to change your personality. Maybe I’m doing it wrong.
If lowering my standards means I’m perpetually grouchy and waspish, then maybe I ought to start looking for other solutions.
Like my Sunday mornings: how about I stop working against myself and start taking steps to meet those expectations, which are not evil nor too high; I’m not talking about Better Homes and Gardens, here, but I would really like to not feel like I have to clean ALL THE TIME only to have one area of the home fall into chaos while I focus on another.
There are two ways in which I believe I’m working against myself where the house is concerned.
The first is very unpopular. I think we have too much house. I had trouble keeping up with this size house when it was just the two of us. Our house is not huge, it’s pretty average for today, but it’s twice the size of the average house of fifty years ago. That’s no small thing (no pun intended.) Really, back in the day, someone who could afford this size of a house likely also could afford a maid to take care of it. So, downsizing is something that’s on the agenda for the coming year. And I’m SO EXCITED.
The second is something that’s more openly talked about: we have too much stuff in our too-much-house. It is a simple fact of life that the more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to take care of. The more stuff you have to put away. The more clothes you have, the more laundry you have to do. And so on. A sizable portion of this year I spent living out of a suitcase for one reason or another. And let me tell you, it was great. There were less toys for the kids, less laundry for me to fold and put away, less time spent finding things, less time spent tidying up what we had. It was magical. It was a whole lot more peaceful for me.
Now, I haven’t read a lot of decluttering books, though I’ve heard of a ton that are popular now. I’ve been browsing Pinterest for inspiration but to be honest, I don’t think there is much I can do here to get inspired other than to just be fed up with stuff, and then, you know, channel that hatred into a decluttering frenzy. That’s my plan, anyway. The Emperor would be proud. In other words, I have to just do it.
If I were a good blogger, I’d cook up some special hashtag and a whole list for which parts of the house I’m going to tackle and when and invite people to participate and then do blog updates of my progress. Well, I might do that last one, but the more I try to plan this thing, the more I feel time and resolve slipping away, and I think I have to just do it.
That’s how I feel about this right now.