Today I did something that I very rarely do, and it felt crazy and unnatural. It was frightening, and exhilarating. It was something I never could have done six months ago, but today I let it happen with minimal anxiety. Today, I let visitors come into my house. I knew they were coming. We’ve had this date on the calendar for weeks. I knew there would be a pile of laundry to sort through. There is always laundry, after all. I knew that there would likely be toys and chaos to sift through as well. But I invited them. I welcomed them. I acknowledged the clutter, and then moved on with my life.
Last week I had the opportunity to sit with my mother in law and her pastor as they visited in her home following a surgery that had taken her off of her feet. She was so upset and worried about what the pastor would think of her “messy” home. She did more than she should have done to clean and straighten, wipe dust, clean fingerprints from the doors in order to present her very best to her pastor. Having been in the center of that exchange, I knew that her pastor didn’t care about the condition of her home. He wasn’t there to inspect for fingerprints, or look for dust on the end tables. He wasn’t concerned by the status of the streaks on her floorboards, or how many pieces of mail sat on the counter awaiting her attention. He came to see how she was coping with a rather serious surgery. Period. And the more I tried to convince her not to worry, the more I assured her that his visit was out of concern for her wellbeing and out of love for her, the more I wanted to kick myself right then and there.
I have struggled with maintaining order in my house from the day we moved in. And almost from the day we moved in, I have turned people away from my mess, and refused to let people in to see what is inside. As I sat with my mother in law last week, I brought up another recent time when she needed some help, and needed to let her family come close to her to support her, but she put up the barrier of insisting that the house had to reach a certain level of cleanliness before they could be allowed to come to her. “Your family loves you, not your clean house. Your family doesn’t care if there is dust on the mantle piece. Your family isn’t even going to see that room, they don’t care if it is painted or not. They are coming to support you, and give you their love, not to give your house the white glove test.”
As I tried to knock down the barriers that were keeping my mother in law from letting her family meet her where she was, I was pointing a finger at her, and trying so hard to ignore the three pointing back at me. But the harder I tried to focus on my mother-in-law’s error in putting up impossible expectations, in putting up barriers between her home and the people who love her, her folly in over-extending herself to clean, the more I saw myself doing the exact same things to a very unsatisfying end.
So, today I took a step out of my comfort zone, and I let an old friend and his awesome wife, two people who have loved me, two people who love my children, two people who know that my life is chaotic, into my house without cleaning like a fiend beforehand.
They came in to a sink full of dirty dishes. They came in to a table filled with play-doh and star wars toys. They walked in to find the vacuum cleaner plugged into the wall, but only half of the carpet swept. They came in and saw a pile of laundry on my couch. I swept the pile of laundry into a basket, but I didn’t tuck it away in the bedroom before letting them in, as I normally would. I left it there, ready to be finished after the visit.
We laughed about the battles of cleaning up after dogs. I acknowledged that mine need groomed. Their nails need trimmed and the golden retriever’s fur tends to get knots in it. They get it too, dog owners who work full time. I’m sure the carpet in their house probably has a stain or two just like ours does. I’m sure that they have also tried to explain to guests why their furry friends carry random things into the living room and plop them down at their feet. We marveled at the passage of time since we last saw each other, measured out in milestones and growth spurts. We lamented the lost time that we have spent wrapped up in chasing paychecks and climbing ladders, ladders that are so fragile and easy to fall from. We laughed at the dogs’ desperate pleas for attention from them, and furrowed our brows as the conversation turned to days spent apart, days when we most needed to be surrounded by our friends but found it hardest to come together.
This has been one of the hardest years of my life. In the past twelve months, I have had my feet knocked out from underneath me multiple times. I was unfairly asked to leave a job that I loved and had sacrificed a lot for. I was bullied and manipulated by my boss when I pointed out to him that asking me to leave in that way was unfair. My son received two rather significant medical diagnoses. I left the job that I loved for another job that I am beginning to love, but it came with no small amount of loss both emotional and financial for our family. We lost my father-in-law, the first of the kids’ grandparents to say goodbye and our oldest son’s best friend. I have needed to fling my doors open during these last twelve months and shout to the world, I’m in here, somewhere inside this mess! I’m in here and I need someone to come in and help me fix a meal, walk a dog, wash a load of laundry, or just sit and hold my hand! But oh, that mess! How can I let the world in, to see my piles of unmatched socks? How can I let in those who love me to see the carpet needs vacuumed? What if someone needs to pee and finds that the toilet needs scrubbed?
By protecting my pride, I hurt my heart. By protecting my privacy, I kept away those who could help me walk through this year of struggle instead of allowing me to soak in it. My mess isn’t simply a condition of laziness or poor organization (although I won’t deny either of those conditions either.) My mess is a symptom of a pretty major depression that has swept through this house like a storm cloud. It has been a conditional depression, blown in by a lot of life’s crappiest situations, and amplified by two adults who are prone to bouts of depression even under the best of circumstances. So, in my effort to fight the depression, I must ward off its symptoms, not only the symptom of the mess itself, but also the isolation that it brings with it.
So, tonight as I type this post, the laundry is still in the basket to be folded. The dogs’ nails still need trimmed. The dishes are still in the sink and have invited a few friends over for a soak. The play-doh has been put away, but now the Star Wars figures are surrounded by a fortress of legos. My heart is full, knowing that today I let in my friends, the people who love me and don’t care if there’s a pair of socks on the carpet or a skim of dust on the t.v. Tomorrow, my sister from Colorado will arrive for a weeklong visit, and she will see a house filled with too much fur, and too many mismatched socks. There will be dishes in the sink, although hopefully not the same ones that are there now. There will be toys in the floor. But when she leaves here what she will remember is laughing with her nephews, dancing in the kitchen as we stir up some cookie dough, or chatting over coffee by the kitchen window. Today I welcomed my friends. Tomorrow, I will welcome my sister. I still have at least four loads ready to go in the wash, at least four ready to be folded and put away, and at least a week before I’m going to let myself give a damn. I’m too busy being a gracious hostess this week.