I’m hosting my nephew’s first birthday party on the weekend. It doesn’t seem a big deal to me; I’m just providing the space, my sister in law is still in charge of decorations, food, music, even the spare gas bottle for the BBQ – all the bits I hate. All I need to do is get the house relatively tidy, which is not a big deal because Dave and I can go from disaster to company-ready in about an hour and a half. Yes, in that situation the spare room looks like the barricade scene from Les Mis, but no one needs to go in there so that’s fine, right?
But my sister in law keeps offering to help me clean. And I keep saying no, it’s practically ready now, it won’t take me long, you can definitely help clean up afterwards but beforehand is under control. Then she says “okay,” but next time I see her she’ll offer all over again. Usually I just think she’s being thoughtful if a bit ditsy, but last time another little voice chipped in and said,
She doesn’t think your house is clean enough.
This is entirely possible, as she is a little obsessive about cleaning at her place and she’s one of the most organised people I know. But up until that little voice piped up I’d always thought she had faith that I could pull it together (heck I did it just last weekend for a family dinner). And if I think about it LOGICALLY she obviously wasn’t saying what I thought she was… but then logic doesn’t always come into it, does it?
The same thing happened when my mum was staying with us. Remember how I said we had an argument on the Thursday? It was to do with her cleaning my place. I was working from home and she was supposed to be resting but instead she washed all my dishes and swept the floor and scrubbed the counter and Bianca’s crusty highchair, and when I walked in on her she was about to get at the couch with the scrubby side of the kitchen sponge. I yelled at her saying using that wasn’t good for the leather, and she said surely it couldn’t be worse than leaving all that gunk on it? And I kept coming up with stupider and stupider arguments until I realised I just didn’t want her to clean.
Why? Because it was implying that I couldn’t manage my own house.
It made me feel like a slob.
And the truth is, I couldn’t manage all of it on my own then. I was struggling. And yes, in many ways I am a slob, with the things I let slide from week to week. At the time even the front living room was full of crap that had been lying around for weeks that I’d not bothered picking up, because I was hardly ever in that room and therefore didn’t see it. If anyone had popped round I would have been mortified. MORTIFIED! It was that bad.
I told all this to mum at the time – one of the adult conversations that made me feel we really connected during that visit – and she said, of course you can’t keep up with it, you work, you have a baby, that Sheldon is a bloody messy eater. She said when she was more recovered she’d come back and we’d spend a week cleaning the whole from top to bottom. That made me feel a bit better, that she wasn’t really judging me (and that made me feel a whole lot closer to her), but underneath I decided that no. It’s not okay to live like this, I don’t want to live like this anymore. So I’ve been making changes, little ones, trying to get my act together. I’ve got a loooong way to go. But I feel like I’m getting there, at least.
Ironically, today Cath is planning to drop off party supplies, and yesterday I played with Bianca instead of doing any housework and the place therefore looks terrible: piles of folded laundry on the TV room floor, dishes everywhere, exploded toy boxes and a floor desperately lonely for the vacuum cleaner. Hey at least I picked up all the packing peanuts that were poured all over the living room floor (we were playing snow). But it’s bad enough that this morning I thought I’d better text her and say “it’s okay, it’s worse than it looks,” in case she walks in the front door and freaks out. But when she comes in on Saturday, it will be spotless, dammit. Or as relatively spotless as you can get with three parrots, a toddler and me all working to mess the place up.