We had some friends of ours (a co-worker of Dan’s, his wife and their two boys, aged 8 and almost 1) over to our place for the first time yesterday. Shortly after they arrived, Paula looked at me and said, “I’m so relieved to see that it looks like you live in your house”, by which, she meant, that my house looks like it always does: it looks like people who have two children, a dog, and not a lot of time live here. I sincerely do my best to keep my house in reasonable shape, which mostly means keeping up with the mountains of laundry our family produces and cleaning up a ton of dog hair every day. Benjamin pitches in by helping with “clean up time” in the evening whenever the level of toy carnage starts to look like Santa’s sleigh had a tragic accident in our living room. But, for sure, my house looks lived in.I used to apologize, “Oh, don’t mind the mess!”, “We just moved in”, “Things have been busy, it’s gotten away from us”. But, I made a decision, recently, not to do that, unless any of it is actually true. My house always looks this way. This is, really, how we live. I’m totally ok with it. It isn’t because I don’t know how to make it cleaner, and it isn’t because I’m so overwhelmed that although I’d like to have it look different, I just can’t keep up. It’s because this is how it looks when you put in exactly the amount of effort that I have allocated to housekeeping. I could make it look better, but I elect to do different things with my time and energy. Given infinite money, I suppose I’d hire someone to make it look tidier (but it’s not the first place I’d put my money).
So, when they came, I didn’t apologize, I just welcomed them in. I fought the urge to make excuses, until Paula mentioned that she feels more comfortable coming to a house that looks like ours (and hers apparently looks much the same) because she knows the kids can play without worrying too much about “making a mess” and they really feel like they can make themselves at home. There is a famous Marianne Williamson quote that includes, ” . . . as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Who knew that it was true not just of “letting our light shine”, but also of leaving our Legos on the floor and the lunch dishes on the counter?
I remember going through the same kind of thing when Benjamin was first born. Things were so hard, I was so tired, frustrated, even angry sometimes. But what I was feeling just didn’t match the face that people put on when they talk about bringing their baby home from the hospital — it’s so easy to feel like there’s something wrong with you. Then a good, kind, generous, wonderful, loving and generally happy friend of mine told me what she experienced when she brought her daughter home from the hospital . . . and it was exactly the same as my experience, full of stress, ambivalence and feelings of inadequacy. It was great to know I was like her, even if everyone else was floating on pink and blue clouds, sleeping when the baby slept and finding time to write thank you notes and start their baby books.
I think this kind of thing happens too often. We work so hard to make things look the way they “should” that we don’t notice that very few people actually live in that “should” space — we all just visit it when we’re having guests.