I’m a recovering neat freak. On good days I deftly wander past wooden blocks invading windowsills, toy cars rammed into my washing basket and puzzle pieces strewn across the floor. These are the days I feel I’m winning as a parent. ‘This is what it’s all about,’ I tell myself. ‘Let them be little,’ rings in my ears.
But on bad days I want to run for the hills, screaming ‘Give me my house back!’.
I like things neat and tidy (for ideas on how to make this happen, take a look at Get Organised – Tips to Make Every Day Easier). My mind feels clearer and my mood lighter when I know washing is folded, papers are filed and tabletops are clutter-free. It’s second nature for me to tidy up as I go, adjust a chair or plump a cushion. Our home is my sanctuary. My safe place. I don’t want to exist in chaos.
I’ve always been house-proud. Before Tutti burst onto the scene, my floor was so clean you could happily eat your dinner off it (not that I’d let you). Being in marketing has given me an eye for detail, so I notice the little things. I’ve always put thought into how our house is decorated and the bits and bobs that are dotted around.
I had no idea of the impact one baby would have on the mojo of our house. Obviously friends tried to warn me that things would change by gently saying, ‘You know it won’t be like this when the baby comes?’. But I quietly ignored the comments and imagined my little prince as the tidiest, cleanest small person ever to exist. I know. There goes naïve me again.
What happened to my house?
Reality set in two hours after we got home from the hospital. Our lounge looked like Mothercare had exploded, spewing its ‘essential’ first baby paraphernalia everywhere. Bouncy chairs, boppy cushions, muslins, wipes, breast pumps, rattles, blankets, clothes, changing bag…the list is endless. If it was recommended, we had it.
Then came explosive poos and milky spit-up. Everywhere I looked, I saw suspicious residue.
Even now I remember the feeling of being beaten, so soon into parenthood. The realisation I was sharing my home with a tiny human, who didn’t care one bit about being clean and tidy.
What I now know of course, is that it only gets worse. The older they get, the more toys and junk they accumulate. And a whole new horror awaits when they’re mobile. Yoghurty-fingers on windows, every cupboard emptied out, cats biscuits thrown across the kitchen and toilet roll unravelled around the bathroom.
But the biggest evil of all? Meal times. I have no idea why parents rush to wean their babies. It is the messiest, most frustrating activity I’ve ever undertaken. Planning, prepping, cooking, serving and clearing up throughout the entire day. Seriously, this is what parents should be warned about. I was expecting the baby sick and stinky nappies, but the hell of weaning was a most unwelcome shock.
I concoct what I can for each meal and proudly present it to Tutti. Approximately five minutes later, after two licks and a squeeze, said meal is dropped from a great height. There is nothing more soul-destroying than seeing a lovingly crafted meatball, splattered on the floor and sniffed at by the cat. It has brought me to tears more than once.
These are the times when I can’t help but think ‘What has my life come to?’. After most meals I mop up Tutti, vacuum, wipe the floor and clean the high-chair (I even wash the walls when it’s been a really bad session). I know it won’t be forever and he already eats far better than he used to, but my kitchen is certainly looking a little dishevelled as a result.
Creating calm in the storm
I still have a couple of ‘nice’ areas in the house. Where Tutti doesn’t go or can’t reach. But mostly it’s been taken over by a curious toddler, making new discoveries every day (such as curtains rip when you pull on them and eggs smash when you drop them).
My neat-freaky nature compels me to try to keep some semblance of calm. I tidy around when I can, put toys away every night and remove any piece of paper lying dormant! Every now and then I also have a good clear out. Tidy house, tidy mind.
Most of the time I see the funny side of my little rocket man’s antics. I understand he has to learn how the world works and I don’t want to pen him in. He is a good little boy and I can’t ask for more than that.
But some days it feels like the home I’ve lovingly created, is slowly being deconstructed by a rampaging toddler.
So I recite the words of Gretchen Rubin, ‘The days are long, but the years are short.’
I will miss the mess one day
One day I will have a neat and tidy house again.
One day I’ll leave a room and return to find it exactly as I left it.
But one day I’ll also have an empty nest. And no doubt I’ll miss the mess.
So if you’re struggling with the mayhem of living with children, all I can say is, I’m right there with you. And this too shall pass.