I’ll never forget the day a group of us moms stood outside of preschool, trying to decide where we’d go to play that day. I had hosted before, but only after I had had a week’s notice, thus I had wiped every crumb off of the table, put every dish in the dishwasher, wiped toothpaste off the sink, made beds, emptied trash cans, bleached toilets, and had screamed at my kids the morning before that they mustn’t even think about getting toys out if they wanted to be fed that day. Then, when the moms and kids arrived, I had put up a front that my house was always in order; that it had been effortless and that my two young boys were content to sit twiddling their thumbs while their games and toys sat high on a shelf in their closet.
I hadn’t always been that way. Before my oldest started preschool, I hadn’t seen the other moms’ houses. I hadn’t felt the shock of walking into the home of a mom with two toddlers and a newborn who didn’t have a sticky floor or a speck on the counter. Not a stack of preschool artwork and bills mixed together, a booger on the wall or a puddle near the toilet. I had lived in my own little world with two babies who scattered cheerios throughout my living room, and I fell into bed so exhausted at night that I had hoped they’d just wake up hungry enough to eat them for breakfast.
I hadn’t known that there was a different standard expected of moms who stayed home with tiny children. But once we started school, I saw it and I stressed about it — constantly. I tried to sit and pretend to enjoy a game of Candy Land, but all the while I was glancing around thinking of how long it was going to take me to pick up all the Legos and puzzle pieces scattered around. Or I was yelling at them not to get out one more toy or pull another book off their shelves. Worrying about whether or not one of my new friends would stop by and see me – and my mess – was exhausting.
So that day after preschool, we hadn’t made a plan and it was too cold for the park, but the kids were asking to play together. Each mom was saying the same thing: “We can’t go to my house – it’s a mess.” As we started to part and walk slowly to our cars, I paused. I didn’t really want to go home alone. My husband worked out of town a lot and I NEEDED adult interaction.
I swallowed hard, turned around and blurted out “It’s a disaster, but we can go to mine.” Everyone turned quickly and with relieved smiles, said “Okay!”
I probably sweated all the way home, wondering what kind of smell was lingering in my trash can. When had I last vacuumed? Did I remember to dump out that cup of milk that was left by the couch two days ago? We all walked in together, and I immediately started apologizing. “Oh, I’m sorry. My house is so disgusting.” But instead of staring critically at my mess, they started scooping up the cereal bowls left on the table and dumping them into the sink.
“Please,” I heard. “This is nothing compared to mine.”
Everyone started confessing about the tricks they used to make their houses seem clean.
“I stack everything up in my room and close the door.”
“You haven’t seen my closets.” “I was up until midnight cleaning the last time you guys came over.”
I breathed a sigh of relief and let my worries go. I brought some toys up from their hiding spots in the basement, and the kids ended up having a great time.
After that day, those moms became some of my best friends. We ended up ranting daily to each other about the hardships of living with little tornadoes when our husbands were hardly ever home. Finding out that they didn’t judge me because I couldn’t keep up with it all, and more importantly that perfection wasn’t actually attainable, took a big weight off my shoulders (I’ll admit there were a few who had impeccable homes even when I did drop by unannounced, but I’m convinced they were aliens so they don’t really count).
I relaxed about my house, although I still blew up at my kids now and then when I stepped on a lego or couldn’t even see the floor. But now, 7 years later, I have a 10 and 8 year old who don’t even want to play with toys or puzzles any more – and I regret any time I spent worrying about such silly things. I look at videos or pictures of them and I don’t focus on the filth in the background – I see two tiny boys who grew up really fast.
Today, I also have a three year old daughter – and man can she make a mess. She pulls clothes out of her drawers and tries everything on and never puts it away. She dumps out her games and pretends the pieces are people and scatters them everywhere. She’s a hurricane – but I’m easier on her because I know how soon she’ll stop doing it. Before long, she’ll want nothing but an iPod or iPad or whatever else comes out in the next couple years. So even though she drives me crazy at times, I want her to play and use her imagination as much as she can while she wants to. I still keep in touch with those preschool moms whom I bonded with years ago, but we’re all busy with sports and all the other craziness that having older kids brings, plus now I have a younger one to make playdates for.
Recently, I started hanging out with a mom who has a three year old daughter and several other kids. One day while watching our older sons at the baseball field, she asked if she could stop by after the game. I briefly reverted back to seven years ago and freaked about the condition of my home. We all walked in and I said “Oh, it’s such a mess.” Then I heard, “Mooomm I have to pee!!!” I ran to the bathroom and saw my daughter peeing ALL over the floor. At the same time, my oldest son was yelling “Mooommm! There’s a giant puddle in the hallway and I don’t know what it is!” The other mom sat her baby down on my filthy carpet full of doggie pawprints (yes we’ve also added a puppy to our circus), grabbed a roll of paper towels, got down on her knees and started not only wiping but sniffing the puddle. “I don’t think it’s pee….I think it’s water,” she said
It may be too early to tell, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be friends for life.