I had something of an epiphany the other day. Actually, epiphany is a bit strong, as I don't really think this was a lightning bolt of life-changing revelation, maybe more like a cartoon light bulb going on above a cartoon head in, you know, a cartoon. But I do like the word epiphany, and they say that if you don't use your vocabulary, you lose it. It terrifies me to think of all the words I used to know that I have already lost command of through simple disuse. So I will sprinkle the ones I still have left over this blog. Take that, impending Alzheimer's!
Anyway... the light bulb went on this past Sunday afternoon, when my brother in law dropped by unexpectedly to bring something for the girls. Delia was recovering from a cold, and was still in her pajamas, even though it was about three thirty in the afternoon. She was wearing a pair of my high heels though, as was Fiona, because there was some kind of stuffed animal fashion show about to begin, and, as everyone knows, that is the perfect occasion for the high-low mix of heels and fleece pjs. Mike and I had thrown on "casual" clothing early, because we knew the day would be full of laundry and chores and coffee and newspaper-reading. So we all looked kind of sloppy, except for Fee, who had put on a fresh set of school clothes, because she had tired of the first set by noon. (Clearly, that's why I do so much laundry.) I don't believe any of us had combed our hair, though we had all brushed our teeth, because we're all mouth-breathing sleepers, and that means it's just icky to do anything but brush your teeth the second you get out of bed, before you even talk to anybody. It's like a public service, you know?
So Tim drops by, and in addition to the fact that we all looked kind of crappy, the house was a mess. A real mess, because the girls set up a tea party on the table in the dining area, then built blanket forts in the space between the dining area and living room, then started art projects on the living room floor, getting out all the paper and drawing utensils. You could see some of the floor, but most of it was pretty well covered by... stuff. The girls' room was the scene of the pretend fashion show, so all the Barbies, dolls and animals were out, littering the hall, all over the floor and dresser, and lined up on the bed that I'd made before ten a.m., but which had somehow been unmade in the process of setting up the fashion show "runway." There were dishes from lunch in the kitchen sink, and, though the bathrooms were on my list of chores, I had not yet approached them for the day. Oy! I was suddenly ashamed to be reading the newspaper in my own house. I looked around in a panic, but there was nowhere to hide.
Mike said, "Come on in," and Tim proceeded to pick his way through the clutter, saying "Hi" to the girls and commenting favorably on their high heels when they ran out to see him. And then it happened. Mike cleared some of the Times off the sofa, and Tim sat down, like there was nothing wrong with our living room. As of my writing this, the world still has not yet exploded. I have not been hit by a lightning bolt of judgmental wrath for the state of the house. In case you missed the importance of this, let me spell it out for you: I had a guest at my house while it was a crazy mess, and nothing in the universe has changed.
While I'm certainly glad that my wretched slovenliness hasn't caused a rip in the time-space continuum or a nuclear implosion, I am kind of perplexed. (Did you catch all the vocabulary I stuffed into that sentence? Just saying...) This threatens the very foundation of my being, because I have always thought that if someone saw that my house was a mess, the world would end, or at least I would feel like it had because of the shameful judgment that would rain down upon my bowed head. Now I'm beginning to question a lot of my dearly held assumptions, like, for instance, what if I step on a crack-- will my mother's back be okay? What about the need to wear nice underwear in case I'm in an accident?* What if one of the girls wears something two days in a row? How fast will child protective services come to get me-- or will they come at all?
See, here's the thing: I like to think that I'm not all that concerned about what other people think and that I don't really worry much, but apparently I do care, and I do worry. I don't want to anymore-- I want to be the relaxed person I am in my self-concept. Will I still keep my house clean? Well, yeah, because I still want it to be clean. What I'm going to try to avoid is keeping it clean because someone might judge me if it's a mess or it's cluttered because kids leave their things out. I'm going to try not to feel guilty reading the Sunday paper on Sunday, even if the house is a mess. Because, really, nothing bad is going to happen...but I'm going to try to wear nice underwear anyway, just in case...
*This has already been questioned by several people I know in a lively debate, in which some people took the position that if a person was in a serious accident, their underwear might not remain clean anyway, relieving the victim of the responsibility for nice underwear in the first place. But still, what if onlookers deemed the accident "not that serious" and then got all judgmental about the state of my undergarments?
Light bulb from here. Woman in cluttered room picture from here. Cluttered room illustration from here.