Published first on The Motherload 19.12.17
I'm lucky to have good friends; we're in and out of each others' homes. Our homes vary greatly in size, noise and tidiness. In early motherhood, I used to apologise for the mess and do a quick clean up when backs were turned. Three years in, and I realise that I'm not sorry at all; i wouldn't do anything any differently at all.
It’s 1pm. I’m back from the afternoon pre-school drop off. My three-year-old is happily at his nursery and my 18month is snoozing in the buggy after a pretty precarious journey over ice sheets and puddles, over looked by tenacious zombie snowmen with gouged out eyes, their disembodied carrot-noses sinking in the slush. After an elaborate role-play of pretending to be various Arctic animals, we successfully made it out this morning to our toddler music class and returned for lunch and more play. I survey the house.
To a stranger, our house may look as though it’s been recently robbed, its people abducted. Every toy box has been emptied; the cushions are scattered across the floor; there’s the remains of lunch on and around the kids’ chairs. In the kitchen, there’s half-drunk tea and an abandoned sandwich. As I pick my way across the crowded floor, flecks of glitter catch my eye, and a stray cornflake crunches underfoot. If you invited yourself into my house right now, I’d mutter “I’m sorry for the mess,” under my breath.
The mess is pretty bad, but it could be a lot worse. Between reading stories to my boys, role-playing, dressing them, preparing food, cleaning it up, taking us all out for the morning, I’ve managed to collect all the empty mugs and water glasses, empty the dish washer, refill it with the breakfast stuff, sweep (some of) the floor (while little one “helps”), put a load of dirty nappies on to wash (with little helpful fingers pressing the buttons), fold yesterday’s laundry (with little one's help) and put a few toys away (as a fun fishing game and song). You couldn’t tell that, though. You’re distracted by the surrounding chaos, although you’re probably trying not to judge.
The mess does get me down, especially if I don’t get a chance to restore a little order. However, I also see evidence of a happy morning well spent.
The scattered cushions are from our indoor soft play game, trying to get from one end of the house to the other without touching the floor. They’re also there to protect the boys’ heads as they jump fearlessly through the imagined jungle. There are still tiny bits of playdough stuck to the floor. The strewn toys are the leftovers from a morning of careful construction and jubilant demolition: a perfectly valid way for toddlers to learn. There’s drawing paper on the floor, a lost crayon somewhere under the sofa and there’s STILL the glitter from last week’s Christmas card-making session, all in aid of making the seasonal card-giving tradition that bit more personal. There are woolly hats and gloves piled on the radiator: a happy picture of yesterday’s adventures in the snow. The abandoned socks show me that our three-year-old is gaining confidence in how to independently undress and redress himself. The food I pick up from the floor is a great sign: little one is self-feeding and using the spoon himself. The bits of waste go straight into the compost bin, to nourish the garden’s soil one day.
As I begin to restore order, I start to imagine a future time when I'll miss all this and long to find tiny mittens behind the sofa or bits of playdough stuck to my slipper.
Fast forward a few hours and the house is a mess again. The boys have a new game involving roaring and chasing. As I chop vegetables and sautee risotto, all the pots and pans are emptied from the kitchen to become props and instruments. The only time the house gets another tidy before bedtime is if the telly goes on. But even then, I’m more likely to be sitting with the boys, feet up, watching their favourite programmes, or dancing along to the theme tunes if they absolutely insist. The joyous chaos of family life remains around us.
The next time we come to your house, for a play date or to drop off a card, please don’t feel you have to say “sorry for the mess”. I get it. It’s not really mess. It’s play. It’s construction. It’s demolition. It’s role-play. It’s nourishment. It’s growing independence. It’s home-cooked meals. It’s music. It’s dancing. It’s laughter. It’s freedom. It’s life. If you come to my house, announced or not, I may or may not apologise for the mess, but you’re still very welcome to come in. Always.