“Does your house always look like this? Like, so messy?”
My daughter’s friend asked innocently enough. I’ve pondered this question in the months since it was asked during that one-and-only sleepover we hosted. I was knee-jerk offended in the moment, of course, especially because the mess at hand was from the girls pulling out loads of toys to play with.
But the more I sat with the question, I realized part of what she meant was: “Do you always keep toys out and easily accessible?” And the answer is yes, we do, and our house does always look like this: messy and overflowing with kid ephemera! That isn’t to say I don’t make an effort to corral the mess; I just know my family’s limitations and lifestyle.
During this time of home-centered social isolation, I’m grateful for my “messy” ways. We have lots of art supplies, toys, games, puzzles and books–enough to fill a small library. There are dolls and small figures, LEGO bricks and Duplo bricks, blocks, play food, an Elsa & Anna castle (thanks to generous grandparents), and so much more.
If anyone should be able to manage being home with their children 24-7 for days and weeks and months on end, it’s a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom, especially one who is extra like me, right? RIGHT?!
Frankly, on paper, I seem designed to not just survive but to thrive in this type of existence. My life was already oriented around my daughters’ schedules–carpool, activities, play dates. Our family’s income has stayed steady so far during the pandemic, and my husband’s job translates to working from home. I’ve always written from home, so I already have a pretty nice desk setup–no uncomfortable dining table working for me. I’m an introvert, so I gravitate to solitude and home life.
I am definitely not thriving. Solitude is in short supply around here, as parents everywhere can attest. I have come to realize that despite being a “stay-at-home” mom I’m really an “on-the-go” mom with my children. Yes, we have a lot of stuff at our house, but the way I truly entertained and enriched them through these years has been getting out of the house with regular trips to the library, the zoo, children’s museums, play areas, parks, athletic events, and more. Having those options off the table has put me off kilter.
Adjusting expectations has helped me these first couple months. As my daughter’s friend pointed out, I am not a great housekeeper. Although we are wiping surfaces more frequently, I know I’m not going to get every toy put away each night or all the dust swept up every week, and I’m OK with that. I’ve also tried to make peace with the fact we are all using screens more often. This spring’s weather has been the best I’ve ever experienced in Baton Rouge so we’ve also been outside more, walking, biking and enjoying our new hammock.
I have found that, despite being “pandemic perfect” in theory, I find new ways to screw up daily with my family. I’m doing my best to offer grace–both to them and myself–enough to get us through to the other side. I know that the other side will come eventually, and that with enough Disney+ and Harry Potter audio books, we will make it through however long it’s prudent to remain socially distant.