Given everything, given how busy I am, and how much I have been through (pain, emergency surgery, recovery, heavy winter workload, constant demands of motherhood), why do I care if the house is really clean for my partner’s parents? For sure I want them to have a good time and to feel special and cared for in our home and I have no problem with that, but what I have a problem with is, if he doesn’t care about dustbunnies and smears of toothpaste on the sink and a slight smell of too much dust and the salt and stones from the whole winter gracing our stairs, then why the farg do I care?
I care because it will say something about me, and I fear it will lead to judgement: I am not a good woman, a well-trained woman, an effective woman. It does not occur to me that it would lead to judgement that I am a bit selfish, or concerned with other things, or in recovery/tired, or too interesting to do lots of housework, or a creative expansive person who does not prioritize housework. The judgement that I am too creative to get rid of all the dust would be OK. I think I could handle that.
What I fear really is just a feeling that I am somehow wrong, disgusting or poorly trained in etiquette. After all to it is my job to be well trained in etiquette and to pass that on to my children. I have told my kids that when guests come you take care of them. One of the ways you do this is by showing that their presence is important by cleaning yourself, your clothes, making delicious food and cleaning your house. If you do not do this it might look as though you actually did not have real time or space for them.
But what if you have some dustbunnies and you take all the time and space to really sit with your guests, and enjoy them and be with them, and listen and share and talk? Then that might be ok. A dustbunny is that thing which reminds you of all of the activity and life and shedding that has occurred in space and time. It also shows you that you are making other choices about how to live your life, that you are not afraid of some mess, that you do not have to have control, and that you have a body which is not just always clean and immaculate and fresh-smelling. My fear is that my house will smell musty or dirty or stinky with remnants of food and that will be disgusting and then I will somehow be disgusting. I will be the focus of the disgust–not my home, or my boyfriend, or my children, or the very nature of life, but me. I will be the disgusting one because it is “actually” my job to take care of these things, to clear them away and to restore cleanliness and freshness.
I remember, a few days after Ben was born, and I was 24, I had people over for tea and I was completely overwhelmed by the task of gathering and presenting all the accoutrements–the creamer, and sugar bowl, enough teaspoons and remembering the saucers. Auntie Val laughed at me and my awkwardness. I felt shame. Like I was really not ready to be a proper woman in the world. What business did I have having a baby already if I could not properly serve tea to my guests? I remember the horror of Auntie Janice when she found out that I only cleaned the toilet once a week (she did it every day), and I secretly knew that actually it was more like every two weeks…I remember terrible shame when Aunt Mary dropped into the house with no warning which was not only run down and unattractive but also really really messy and dirty–in the hardest days of being on my own with the kids. The shame was intense. I also felt some version of it every time I hosted Tuesday supper—my house never measured up, and so it was me who did not measure up. Wow. And the shame just a few days ago when the empty rat cage was dirty for Diane who was picking it up for her adopted pigeon.
So my question for myself is: can I handle it? Can I deal with the image of me and my home having some dust, dirt and toothpaste smears? After all, I can put on incense and candles and make the atmosphere feel cozy and smell good. I can enjoy my guests and show that I care a great deal about them by being with them. Can I actually handle it and take responsibility for making other choices, for sitting here and writing right now instead of using every spare moment to clean before tomorrow night?
It is actually a revolutionary act for me, right now, to be writing instead of dusting. It is an act of resistance. It is a good sign.
Who will I be? Ruth or Sarah (from Six Feet Under)? Martha or Mary (from the New Testament)? Dorothy or Marnie (my gran and great aunt)? Lily or Grace (my grandma or her sister)? I definitely still want more Sarah, Mary, Marnie and Grace. I still feel enslaved and resentful with too much Ruth, Martha, Dorothy and Lily. So come on—enjoy. Enjoy what you are doing Alison. Be in every moment. Feel good and right about your choices. Acknowledge and accept the consequences.
Right now, I accept that, because I wrote this piece: the stairs will be full of salt, stones and dust.