For the longest time, Luke and I believed we were the only people in the world, or at least our circle of friends, who had Tazmanian devils for children. No matter how hard we tried, ad nauseum, incessantly, with Sisyphean effort, our house perpetually resisted order with the vehemence of a three-year-old resisting transition. It still does, as does the now five-year-old, still, with respect to transitions.
Every time we’d go to a friend’s house for brunch (parents of small children don't do dinner parties), their houses would be perfectly tidy as if they were preparing to list it for sale the next day. Countertops devoid of crumbs, the sink an empty chasm waiting patiently for a dirty dish, toys hidden away in quaint cubbies that would make Real Simple proud. And you could walk on the floors without playing the what-did-I-just-step-in game.
There is only one moment when our entire house looks pristine: the moment I close the door behind the wonderful woman who cleans our house every few weeks. The latch clicks, I turn around, and take a mental picture of the beauty that lay beneath the mayhem. Usually by the time I blink, there’s a bowl of yoghurt embracing gravity or an art project underway involving scissors and many tiny pieces of paper.
The disorder has sparked many an argument. I don’t like chaos. Luke doesn’t like chaos. But there are only so many hours in a day and sometimes breakfast dishes just don’t fit into them. There’s been resentment and assumptions, swearing and tears. All because our house is, for the most part, unkempt.
But you see, we’ve all been fooled. Worst of all, we do it to each other. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve warned an imminently arriving friend of the disastrous state of my house, only to perform an emergency high-speed restoration of order in the rooms said friend is mostly likely to use. I answer the door praying I haven’t missed anything, like a certain someone’s remarkable inability to remember toilet flushing (not Luke).
“Your house doesn’t look like a disaster,” friend will say as I wipe the sweat from my brow.
“It was five minutes ago,” I say jauntily as the kids race past to unleash a new form of destruction.
There was one time I let my guard down. It was a ridiculously cold, rainy morning in August. A bunch of us had our kids in swim classes at the outdoor community pool a couple of blocks from our house. All available overhangs were occupied by shivering parents and siblings waiting for the swimmers to emerge from the steaming water.
A relatively new friend of mine was there with his two boys whose swim classes were something like two hours apart. Normally, they’d spend that time at the adjacent playground. That day, their prospects were diminished to hanging out in the change room or sitting in the car, playing tic tac toe on the fogged windows.
“You should come hang out at our place in-between lessons,” I suggested as I was leaving, my child’s lips starting to turn blue. “But I’m warning you, our house is a disaster.”
This time, there was nothing I could do about it. There were toys all over the place, clothing on the banister, dishes piled on either side of the sink. There was even a kitchen cupboard open for some inexplicable reason and not one I could easily blame on the baby.
I remember his face when I opened the door.
“Wow,” he said. “You weren’t kidding.”
He stood there looking stunned for what seemed like an unusually long time, almost hesitant to sit down for fear the movement of the stool might cause a domino like cascade of tupperware from across the room. I swallowed my pride and offered to make coffee.
Later, perhaps after he’d sat down, he told me he was honoured I felt comfortable enough to invite him over when my house was in such a comical state. It killed me to have someone see the house like that. It was as if I’d opened the door in my underwear. But seriously, who’s going to choose ego over letting a friend and his kids freeze their asses off in the rain?
I guess the lesson there—other than to close the kitchen cupboards before I leave the house—is that people appreciate authenticity. Real life doesn't come open house ready. Real life involves smoothie on the ceiling and hand prints on the fridge. At least, it does in our house. How about yours?