Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Worth Doing Badly

As part of her grammar curriculum, Grace has to define a highlighted word everyday. Normally she will look it up in her dictionary and write down the definition. The other day she was feeling lazy and asked me to define her word for her. I told her I would tell her, but she would also need to look it up as well to verify. She agreed. The word was despair. I gave her a quick off-the-cuff definition complete with dramatic rendering. Her laughing response was, "If that's despair, you despair a lot."

Back all those years ago, before we knew it would be a terrible idea, when we decided that I would be the breadwinner because I wasn't that great at being a homemaker, we weren't wrong about my abilities. I am not skilled at running a household. The art of homemaking is anticipating a need and meeting it in a timely manner before it becomes a crisis. This is not my forte. I know it is a skillset to be learned, but it isn't a skillset that plays to my strengths. 

The succession of tasks overwhelms me much of the time. I am pelted by requests and demands from the moment I wake up until ninety blessed minutes of naptime in mid-afternoon. I am paralyzed by my attempts to prioritize the next best thing to do. My desire for efficiency leaves me running in several directions with a series of half done jobs. I feel as if I have been dropped into the deep end of a pool: sink or swim. Some days sinking is a very viable option.

I am the newlywed who struggles to get dinner on the table at something approaching a dinner hour.

I am the first time homeowner who struggles to arrange her eclectic collection of possessions into a neat, orderly, and cozy home.

I am a new parent who struggles to figure out what to do with a toddler all day, day-in and day-out.

I am a first year homeschooler who struggles to educate two or three children at the same time.

There is nothing routine about our routines. There is no solid ground here. Everything is always in flux as I thrash about putting out fires.

If I could concentrate on any one of these areas, I don't think I would be so out of my league. If all I had to worry about was getting food on the table, I could manage. On a day when I have to make supper, it isn't unusual for me to spend four or five hours in the kitchen from starting to the end of the cleaning. That's a lot of kitchen time, but doable if that's all I had to do.

If all I had to worry about was cleaning and organizing my house, I could work for hours decluttering and rearranging.

If all I had to worry about was entertaining the toddler, I'd be fine. We'd sit in the floor and play games in our secure, toddler-proof rooms.

If all I had to worry about was schooling the girls, there would be no freak outs here.

Honestly, the homeschooling is the easy part. It is the tether of sanity in my day. I know how to solve math problems, diagram parts of speech, and sound out words. It is my reassurance that I am, in fact, not totally incompetent at life.

The double whammy that torpedoes my days is the clutter combined with food. Food. It has always been about the food. Food and the process of preparing food overwhelms me. I need to be able to see all the ingredients out, pick them up, put them down, and not have to shuffle and sort to find what I am looking for. I need the dishes to be laid out and not stacked while putting food on them. My "big" countertop is 28 linear inches wide. There isn't room for multiple plates and multiple ingredients even at the best of times. My most viable work area is the kitchen table. It is discombobulating to have to make continual trips back and forth to get everything set up on the table. The same table where children or husbands are working and is within easy grabbing distance of a two year old.

My kitchen is in a state of change. I am slowly, slowly, slowly cleaning, purging, and rearranging. The slow speed of this transformation is very frustrating for me because first, I just want it done already, but second, I don't really have room for all these items to be floating without homes. Everyday, we must climb over and around items that can't be gotten rid of yet because they are waiting to be moved into a spot that has not yet been cleaned out. But that has to wait until I can find another stretch of time to undertake another multi-hour project. I'm hard pressed to find it.

In the midst of all of this, I read Emily's housekeeping post a few months ago. I know she got raked over the coals for it, but I don't really disagree with much of what she said. It's just so out of reach for me right now.

I'd love to have the kids clean up their toys every night, but first I have to create a place for them to put them. I'd love to purge all the stuff we don't need, but it is slow and hard work, and they are constantly acquiring more stuff from people who are not me. I'd love to make my bed before I leave my room everyday, but Marian yelling for me is usually my alarm clock. (An aside, it takes me more like ten minutes to make my bed because I am thorough, a perfectionist, and mostly incompetent.) I'd love the state of my house to be such that a quick walk-through in the evening would allow me to put an item or two away that is still out of place instead inducing insomniac despair at all the things left to do.

Despair. There's that word again. The truth is that I am struggling in this life I was so desperate to begin. The learning curve is steep and I am not very patient with myself. I long to hit pause so I can find a comfortable spot with at least the house, but that isn't reasonable. People live here, learn here, and work here, and they all can't disappear for a month while I figure out how to function as an adult. I am building several different skillsets at once and there is no easy way to do it. I just have to persevere and keep my eye on the long term. I need to remind myself that even if I never gain as much competence as I'd like, there is value in the process of struggling, and homemaking, even by the imperfect me, is worth doing badly.


Anonymous said...

You are right--you are learning so many things all at once! Anyone would be overwhelmed.

I wish there were something concrete I could do to help relieve some of your pressure. Would it help to do a freezer cooking morning at my house so you could stockpile some meals for days when you want to concentrate elsewhere? Would you like an extra hand getting things sorted out in one of the rooms? I love this kind of stuff so send an SOS message if I can help!


bearing said...

Everything you said is completely sensible.

Know that whatever people say and whatever they post on social media, few homeschooling parents who have multiple small children are actually able to achieve, overall, a level of perfection comparable to the average level depicted in their posts.

Emily's housekeeping post was inspiring and informative in many ways, but I take serious exception to her headings (from her original OSV article) along the lines of "a Catholic home is well-maintained" and "a Catholic home is free of clutter." Why, oh why, must we Catholics constantly universalize our preferences?

A Catholic home is a Catholic's home. That is the only descriptor one needs and the only thing one needs to be certain of. Sheesh. And don't tell me that she's just listing the ideal, even the ideal is not universally applicable. Some people enjoy a clutter of sacramentals, after all.

Simplify as much as possible. Simplify your expectations. Build a few habits at a time. Make a peaceful orderly place in your home one place at a time. It's okay to go slowly. Repeat to yourself: I have many demands on my time and so I am prioritizing them. Which means that every day, some things are on the bottom of your list, and that means that it is literally an accomplishment to not do those things.

Jenny said...

I might take you up on that offer although I'm not sure what I could have you help with. Honestly just having another adult in the house for a little while would help tremendously.

Simplifying my expectations is the hardest part. In my mind, all this should have been done by now. I'm making slow and steady process, but I easily lose sight of what I have finished while assessing what I still have to do.

Everyone said it would take a full year to get my feet under me at home and I scoffed. Oh man, it's going to take a full year.

Elizabeth said...

I have so much sympathy for this--this is totally me as well. And I don't want to be despair-inducing, but I've never worked outside the home since we had children. We have a small, older home. No school room (that's also the dining room) no play room (that's also the living room). My fourth child is just shy of a year old, and gets into everything. Put up a gate, or confine her in any way and she screams!

I have brief moments of being on top of housekeeping in one room at a time, but that's it. Once or twice a year, I really work hard at cleaning up when we invite family to come over for a child's birthday party.

The days that we really have a great school day, the house is a mess and we have sandwiches for dinner. If we get the house clean, we don't get all of my plans for school done. If I cook a really good dinner, either schoolwork is not finished or everything is a mess. I am slowly learning to be comfortable with my discomfort, because I can't do anything else. Some people can, but they aren't me.

But things are always tougher when there's a toddler or an infant. Or both. I had a very brief window before my fourth baby was born where I almost had my act together with the house. No more.

Anyway, you're not alone!

Elizabeth said...

Just as an afterthought, I wanted to share something that a friend of mine who is a priest told me. He came to my house for dinner after not seeing us for many years. Things were cluttered and chaotic (but I did vacuum!). He said, "I can see just by looking around that this is a house where children are homeschooled--and I hope you know I mean that as a compliment!"

The Sojourner said...

Oh, Jenny, this post is going to make me cry.

I just have cooking and organizing and a toddler to look after (and I knew how to cook at least before the toddler came along) and still..."I am struggling in this life I was so desperate to begin."

Every day. Every damn day. And I wanted it so much.

I don't know what the answer is here but you're not the only one.

Jenny said...

I didn't mean to make you cry.

But it is a struggle and will be until I figure it out, at which point I will get Brand New Struggles!

That's just life. It's hard to learn new things.