Monday, January 25, 2010

Chapter Four-- page 4

I loved that dishwasher. For the first time in my life, dirty dishes could be out of sight somewhere other than under my brother George’s bed.

Shortly after moving into the new house, I got pregnant with our third child, and I started babysitting Holly’s baby. Nonetheless, our home stayed tidy, peaceful and clean most of the time. I had mad skills in housekeeping. My goal was to have myself and the house looking good by 7:00 every morning before Holly arrived. Apart from the occasional untamed diaper explosion, or unexpected yogurt finger paint on the furniture, I was able to do it.

I loved being a housewife, and I worked hard at honing my skills to do a better and better job. I bought and read every organizational book I could find. I was focused, but not obsessive. Anyone walking in at almost any moment would have seen peace and order. That was because I had a dishwasher where dirty dishes could hide… and a shed with a door where storage could hide….and closets for everything else.

I didn’t like messes to be out in the open, but as long as I could keep the door closed so nobody else could see, our closets, pantry, cupboards and dressers were a shambles. As long as everything looked good on the surface, I was happy. My husband, on the other hand, liked to leave stuff out where he could see it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chapter Four-- page 3

Mrs. Belcher had every intention of making good on her threats, but we sold the trailer and bought a doublewide mobile home on a nicer rented lot in another park before she actually got the chance to take us to court. The odd thing was that we cleaned up the yard, planted a lawn, put a fresh coat of paint on the outside, and installed skirting to get our home ready for sale. The new buyers reaped the benefits of our efforts. Somehow, we were able to do for someone else what we had not done for ourselves.

Our new doublewide was beautiful, at least as beautiful as a mobile home that was built in 1976 could be. The walls were all covered in dark wood paneling and the shag carpeting was brown, orange and gold. The kitchen linoleum had a funky print looked like the top of a pizza. I mean it: I could have dropped an entire pepperoni pizza on the kitchen floor, and it would have been camouflaged. Ugly, yes, but it was very handy for the mother of toddlers. It didn’t matter how many spit-soaked graham crackers got stuck to the floor; they disappeared into the landscape.

I loved my new home. It was over twice the size of our first trailer, and it had a washing machine. A washing machine!! I had been praying for a washing machine. I dreamed of how wonderful life could be if I didn’t have to tote dirty diapers and laundry on the back of a double stroller any more. Oh, the leisurely hours I could spend, and the pockets full of quarters I could save! The double-wide had not only a washing machine, but also a dryer and a dishwasher. I was really moving up in the world.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chapter Four-- page 2

The park manager, Mrs. Belcher, was a really scary lady. She was big, tough, and a little bit twisted. She lived in the double-wide behind the park office with her quiet skinny husband and their thirty-five year old son, who served as minion in her trailer court kingdom. Rules were her religion. She observed them and enforced them with absolute devotion. Nobody liked her, except for maybe the landlord, who reaped the benefits of her tireless efforts from his vacation home in Florida.

She was harsh, persistent, unpleasant and effective. The mobile home park which had previously teemed with life from feral cats and unlicensed dogs became a totally pet-free zone. Gone were the pesky motorcycles and unsightly broken down vehicles. Everyone’s yard had lawn, and everyone had skirting around the bottom his trailer: Everyone except us.

I felt desperate, angry and trapped. I was scared of Mrs. Belcher, but Dan found her laughable. He said she looked like an English bulldog in a dress. He told me not to take her so seriously. He was right about the bulldog thing, of course, but I did not think he was very funny. When we were going together, I loved Dan’s sense of humor and his laid-back attitude. Now as his wife and the mother of his children, I found him infuriating.

I had gotten on the cleaning and de-cluttering bandwagon, but Dan had not. The day after Bulldog Belcher photographed my yard, I took action. I called a friend of ours who had a big pickup and had him back it over our pathetic brick planter, right up the shed door opening. He and I heaved Aunt Doll’s pink taffeta dresser, all the couponing and refunding junk, the spaghetti pan, the extra ratty towels and box after box of God-only-knows. I pulled up as many bricks from the planter as I could and tossed those in, too. I kept the box of ironing and the two-years-worth of Reader’s Digest because I knew that Dan would remember that they were there. When Dan came home from work that night, I had never seen him so angry. I challenged him to think of even one thing that I had thrown out. He could not.

I felt victorious, but I had begun a war which raged privately between my husband and I for decades afterward.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chapter Four-- page 1

Chapter Four

Wouldn’t it be spiffy if I could end my story right there? I lived my life in a Pledge commercial happily ever after. The end.

I had learned some really great skills, tips and techniques for keeping house, many of which I will share later in this book, but I still held on to some wrong thinking that did not work well for me. First was my idea of what work was, or was not, my responsibility. I believed that all work within the four walls of our home was within my jurisdiction. Cooking, cleaning, decorating, and diaper dunking were my jobs. Beyond these, I graciously tended the garden because, for one thing, it was intrinsically part of my job as hippie/cook; and, for another, I enjoyed it. Everything else belonged to Dan. A fair division of labor seemed a righteous cause.

I believed that my job was to clean the house, to keep the children bathed and potty-trained, and to assure that the two pound chub of liverwurst I bought on sale last week got used before turning green in the refrigerator. I had my job. Dan had his. He was supposed to finish the brick planter and to put a door on the shed. I also expected to be entirely free of any consequences from his failure to do so. I shoved things into the shed haphazardly, and left boxes and debris flowing out into the yard without any sense of personal responsibility. It wasn’t my job. Why should I care?

Our yard looked like a poorly run flea market. Strangers would randomly stop by and ask if I were having a yard sale. For a short time I worked at home as the bookkeeper for the Christian school that was housed in my church. Once, when my boss stopped by to drop off some receipts, she got upset because I had not told her I was moving.

“What gave you the idea that I was moving?” I asked.

“You clearly have things boxed up and stacked in the yard!”

“Oh, no,” I responded, “my husband just isn’t as organized as I am.”

She looked at me like I was the stupidest woman on earth. Maybe I was.

That day she took the ledgers away from me and told me that I would have to do all my work at the office. The main reason I had taken the job was that I had been able to work from home. I don’t really remember whether I quit shortly after that, or I was fired, but I felt I had been treated very unfairly.

The worst thing about having a messy yard was the trailer park manager. She banged on my door at least once a week. Sometimes I answered. Sometimes I hid. Most times she left threatening notices on my door. One time while I was hiding and peeking out the front window, she walked through the yard and snapped pictures. I assumed that she intended to use them in court. I was angry at my husband. Why didn’t he just clean things up out there? Why should this be my problem? I was doing my job: Why wasn’t he doing his?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Chapter Three-- page 9

I had been in a sort of Catch-22: My eyes were not attuned to my surroundings because everything was a mess, and everything was a mess because my eyes were not attuned to my surroundings. I had been blind to my own messes because each one by itself had served a purpose. In my mind, the soggy newspapers on the floor of the utility closet were intended for cleaning windows. The stacks of Reader’s Digest were there to be read. The dusty monogrammed towels were supposed to look pretty. I was not completely blind; I knew that my house was a mess, but somehow, I had been missing the big picture.

I had been trudging through a mental list of tasks every day, instead of pursuing the goal of a beautiful, clean, welcoming home. Instead of vacuuming out of obligation, I began vacuuming for the sake of beauty. Instead of dusting because I was lost in the imagery of an old commercial, I dusted because I wanted my house to look nice. Even though washing the dishes all at once when all of them were dirty seemed logical, it did not serve for a beautiful kitchen. My goal changed from simply doing dishes to having an empty sink and cleared countertops. When I was stuck in job-orientation, I took all day to get nothing done. Instead doing housework for the sake of housework, I started cleaning my home with the goal of having a clean home. The difference may have been subtle, but it is all the difference in the world.

When I felt like I had all day to get my work done, I took all day to do it. Once I began to realize that keeping a clean house was the means to an end, I hurried as quickly as I could to tidy up things. Keeping the house tidy freed me for more important activities. I could go to Bible Study without guilt or fear. I could visit my elderly widowed neighbor without the doom of a messy house awaiting me when I returned. I could invite friends over on a moment’s notice. I could pop the girls in their stroller and walk down to the library for story time, or I could zip through my housework and give myself a full day to sew and suck down coffee just like Aunt Doll, if that is what I wanted to do.

Becoming goal-oriented saved me a lot of work, too. If the carpet looked good, I had no need to vacuum it. If I had only a couple of breakfast dishes in the sink, it took only a few seconds to give them a quick swipe and put them away in the cupboard. There was no need to pull out the Pledge and a handful of rags, if a quick little swish of a feather duster would do. My goal was to create a lovely home, and to do it in short order every day, so I could live the abundant, joy-filled life that God had intended for me from the beginning.