I’m neat. Far too neat for anyone’s good but my own.
When our boys were small, I had to manage my inner craving for something they and the Second Law of Thermodynamics threatened to defeat every moment of every day. Some of my tactics were good and some not so much. Here is my confessional of the good and the bad in an overly tidy mother’s life:
Good: Our guys lived up to that old “a noise with dirt on it” description of a boy, so I continually chanted “People Before Things, People Before Things” to myself as our things took a hit… literally. Consequently, I think living in our house was a little confusing. I allowed things other moms didn’t allow (feet on the sofas, cushions and upturned dining room chairs made into forts, a foxhole in the back yard) out of sheer determination not to inflict my bent toward wrong priorities on them. Sure, we cared about our things, we knew we should treat them properly, but we cared more about the boys.
Bad: I verbalized my frustration with the mess. This is called complaining—and it isn’t nice. In fact, it’s a big deal. I didn’t realize how systemic this was in my life until late in the game. I instituted a change, trying to keep my mouth shut. Still, I found myself on many days launching a running commentary about the mess. And I wondered why my kids tuned me out?
Good: I continually pondered the restlessness I have until everything is in its place. I understand now that this is simply the way I am wired. I still get those wires crossed, but a love of beauty and order is not all bad. I discovered that I like my environment this way even when no one else is present… especially when no one is present. This gave me great comfort, because for years I suspected my neatness was nothing more than an attempt at impressing others. Not so. At least mostly not so.
Another Good: I also discovered that messes are temporary. This is why I can tolerate them and even celebrate them. The clutter of Christmas, the pile of dishes, spices, oils, and rinds on the kitchen counter that presage a gourmet meal, even the muddy clumps of five or six boys’ grayed socks, stinking camo pants and holey tee shirts on the garage floor after they’ve been “swamping” in the woods behind our house. Messes tell a story and who wants the story to end too soon if it was a good one?
Bad: I cleaned up after everyone. Not always, but often. And I didn’t always do it with much respect for the maker of the mess. Those piles of moldering underwear on the garage floor? (Yes, they stripped naked and ran up the stairs to the showers—there are many benefits to all-boy households, and this is one of them.) My solution was to throw most of it away. This was after they’d left it there for days on end, so I felt justified. But, bottom line, I did a little too much tidying for everyone else. I moved open books and half-drunk cups of tea. I dismantled forts. We made the boys do their own laundry by the time they were fourteen, but I came behind to fold and put away too many times.
Good: Despite all this improper training, our sons are more than passably neat young men now. Much more balanced than me. The same goes for their wives. Go figure. (The verdict is still out on Andrew, but the signs look promising and I have hope.)
A Final Good: Could it be that I was given four boys to keep my neatness in check? To teach me grace? To order my priorities around what really matters? Oh yes, I think so.
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