I recently remembered an unpleasant experience I had when I was a young wife. My husband and I were attending a conference. As was usual for us, we were acting very much like newlyweds. Another wife, ten to fifteen years older than I was, asked, "How long have you been married?" When she found out that we'd only been married for seven months, she assumed a superior air and said, "Well, you may feel that way now, but just wait until you've been married for seven years." Her tone and facial expression made it clear that she didn't expect the joy and tenderness to last.
This post is about housekeeping. Now, I've admitted several times that I'm not the best housekeeper. (Here and here, specifically, if you're interested.) So, if you're one of those moms whose floors are never sticky, whose bathroom fixtures are always gleaming, whose windows and mirrors never look dingy, and whose laundry never sits in an unfolded pile on the couch for a day and a half before finally finding its way into the appropriate drawers and closets, then this post is not for you. You might want to stop reading right now and just go read this post. Or this one. (By the way, you have my deepest admiration. I really don't know how you manage it!)
For the rest of you, I wanted to share something that has helped me maintain my home (and my sanity) in the hectic months since the birth of our third child.
I just had an epiphany. Why is it that it bothers me when guests drop by unexpectedly, and I haven't had a chance to clean the apartment beforehand? I've never questioned the embarrassment that fills me as I hastily move piles of unfolded laundry to make room on the couch, while clearing toys off the floor by kicking them toward the wall, before I run to the bathroom to make sure that no one has peed on the floor or left traces of poop in the toilet bowl since the last time I was in there. I've never questioned that embarrassment, until today. After all, what in the world have I got to be embarrassed about? I have three preschool boys at home, for crying out loud! Of course my home is a perpetual mess! Who am I trying to fool?
And that's when I had my epiphany.
I remember one evening when my sister and I were young. We were staying with our grandparents for the summer, and Grandpa was to put us to bed while Grandma was out at a church function. But after we got ready for bed and had climbed the stairs to the loft where we slept, instead of tucking us in, praying with us, and rubbing our backs as he usually did, Grandpa said, "Let's make a memory." I asked what that meant, and he explained that it meant doing something with people you love so that you could look back and remember it later.
My mother-in-law, who is mom to nine children and one of the wisest women I know, is fond of saying that since God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, she wants to be a humble person, because she knows just how much she needs God's grace. I'm with her 100% on that one . . . except that I'm not naturally a humble person.
It’s a beautiful spring day here in Western Ukraine. Nevermind that the temperature is hovering right around freezing–the sky is blue, and the sun is bright. It seems appropriate, as here in the Eastern Orthodox world, we’ll be celebrating Easter this coming Sunday, April 15. But as much as I love the celebration of Christ’s victory over death, this week always has the capacity to fill me with guilt. That’s because this Thursday is Chystyy Chetver, or “Clean Thursday,” in English. You see, at some point in the history of the Orthodox Church, someone decided that it was a sin to have a dirty home on the day of Christ’s crucifixion, and the tradition of Clean Thursday was born. This week Ukrainian women will labor feverishly to ensure that their homes are spotless by Good Friday, with the majority of this spring cleaning taking place on Thursday. If you took a walk in our neighborhood this Thursday, I guarantee that you’d see many people busy washing their windows. In fact, as I sit here typing, I can see one industrious neighbor already hard at work on hers, and it’s only Tuesday.
To help you understand my guilt, I have to let you in on a secret. I don’t do windows. I don’t mean that I dislike window washing or that I’m too lazy to do it or even that I’m too busy to make it a priority, although perhaps all those statements have an element of truth. No, what I mean is that at some point after having children, I made a calculated decision to stop washing windows. I still clean up the little fingerprints and wet nose art that appear on the inside of our windows, but I only wash the outsides of windows that open into our apartment or give onto a balcony, and in our current living situation, those surfaces comprise only about 50% of the total area of windowpanes. As for the other 50%? Well, I guess I just count on summer thunderstorms to keep them clean enough that they won’t become a complete eyesore.
Why do I do this?
Sometimes I don't think that I can take the rampant testosterone flying about our apartment. On most days it seems like if someone isn't screaming, yelling, growling, or roaring, then something is being broken or hurled through the air.
Rather than being the serene and gentle mother I would like to be, I just feel vexed and grouchy as I scurry from one disaster-waiting-to-happen to the next, all while trying to cook meals, keep house, and manage to maintain a semblance of personal hygiene. I find a bit of consolation in the fact that none of our boys has figured out how to throw things out the window . . . yet. That's a good thing, because much of the time, my patience is about ready to exit by that route. I always considered myself a patient person―until I had kids. It's humbling, which is probably good for me, and it's forcing me to rely moment by moment on Jesus, and as far as I'm concerned, nothing could be better than that.
I take care of my children because I'm their mother. I want the best for them. When the baby is hungry, I nurse him or give him some age-appropriate food. When his diaper is dirty, I change it. When my 2-year-old is done with his business on the toilet, I wipe him. When his older brother picks on him, I intervene. When my 4-year-old finishes brushing his teeth in 5.6 seconds flat and rinses out his toothbrush, even though I have told him repeatedly not to do this, I put more toothpaste on it and painstakingly coach him (for the 82nd time) on how to brush all the surfaces of his teeth. (Sometimes I do this patiently . . . and sometimes not.) When the same 4-year-old asks me a question, and then another, and then another, and then another . . . I answer each and every one of them as thoughtfully as I can. I am Mommy. This is my job. I do it out of love for my children, not for reward or recognition. (And it's a good thing too, because some days there doesn't seem to be much of either!)
I recently found out that a friend whom I haven't seen in well over a year is a fan of my blog. I found this out because I was talking with her husband, and he said that she loves to read my blog. Then he said something that I'm still contemplating several days later. He said that his wife is really impressed by me . . . because I have three small kids AND I still manage to brush my hair. I don't know how she can be so certain that I brush my hair, since she never sees me, but she's right: I do, usually at least once a day.
I know, it's amazing, isn't it?
Just prior to our recent move, I wrote a guest post for Sprouts en Route, a blog by Kristin Spencer, another mom and missionary who writes about how to travel with kids and still enjoy the journey. It was part of her Ultimate Family Road Trip series. I wrote about how to keep order in the car. I mean, let's face it, keeping your kids in order when you're at home can be difficult enough. The mere thought of trying to do it on a road trip makes many parents cringe. But it doesn't have to be that way. Our family's lifestyle necessitates regular road trips where we spend ten or more hours in the car in a single day. But we enjoy it! Road trips can be fun for the whole family. You can read my tips and ideas for car travel with kids here.
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