Although we never really know where those abundant forwarded emails originate, a friend sent me one recently that I LOVE! To paraphrase, it told the story of a Dad coming home from work to find a veritable disaster. Outside doors were left open, kids were still in their pajamas, and the dog was nowhere to be found. Toothpaste was on the walls of the bathrooms, toilets were not flushed and miles of toilet paper were unrolled on the floor. The throw rug inside the front door was wadded up against the wall and little piles of sand dotted the floor. The fridge door was open and cartoons blared through the house though no one was watching. The sink and counters were piled high with dishes and berry stains from breakfast were still on the counter. The Dad rushed into every bedroom where none of the beds were made, trying to find his wife thinking something terrible must have happened. He finally found her in their bedroom, reading a book. With disbelief he exclaimed, “What in the world happened?” She looked up calmly and with a smile said, “Every day when you get home from work you ask what on earth I do all day, so today I didn’t do it!”
Every mother of children has to smile as we identify with the literally hundreds of things we do every day that go unnoticed unless we don’t do them: the dusting, the mopping, the washing, the bed making, the dish doing, the sweeping and the cleaning up of never ending messes! Some days when all nine of our children were home I remember thinking that my hands had probably touched literally a thousand different things in one day. Keeping a house in order is one of the most frustrating realities of being a mother maybe second only to two-year-old tantrums.
Last year we had the amazing privilege of doing a world speaking tour for the Young President’s Organization. As we visited with mothers in Shanghai, Dubai, Bahrain, India, Cairo, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lampur and many other locations where family budgets were plentiful and help readily available, I realized that they were living in a bit of a different world than most American Moms. They had drivers who took kids to classes and appointments, cooks who provided lovely meals and child caregivers who fed the children and cared for their everyday needs and maids (often more than one) who picked up every thing that any child dropped and kept the house fastidiously tidy.
“Ah, what a life!” you might say, yet in balance, consider this: they also had to deal with arranged marriages, living with the mother-in-law for life and sometimes driving in armored cars and hiring bodyguards for each child to prevent the all-too-prevalent kidnappings for ransom. All things considered, I’d take my own do-it-yourself life…except for the bit about the maid who always keeps things in order.
In those old days with a house bursting with children, no matter how organized or determined I was to keep things in order there was always something about ORDER that was not in order! I have gone through different phases with this problem. First I tried to comfort myself with the old saying, “Cleaning house while kids are growing is like shoveling walks when it’s still snowing” I tried to let things go but the clutter was so hard to live amongst! In frustration with the chaos, I also realized “Thing order precedes thought order.” Some days I felt like it was certainly true that “of all the things I’d lost, I missed my mind the most!”
In reading about Benjamin Franklin during his 300th birthday year, I was fascinated to learn about his list of thirteen virtues which he painstakingly worked to improve on, one week at a time. His list included: Temperance, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Moderation and Tranquility and ORDER. He worked on one virtue each week and recorded his success at the end of each day. I couldn’t help but smile when he made this entry in his journal:
“My scheme of ORDER gave me the most trouble. Order, with regard to places for things, papers, etc. I found extremely (sic) difficult to acquire. I had not been early accustomed to it and this article cost me so much painful attention and faults and it vexed me so much because I made so little progress in amendment and had such frequent relapses that I was almost ready to give up the attempt and content myself with a faulty character in that respect…but instead decided that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself.”
Reading this made me think that if this man, without even a crying baby, a two year old tantrum, lost homework, fighting kids or creative teenagers to deal with, can forgive and console himself, so should we!
Although keeping things in order…just enough to keep my thoughts in order was a constant struggle, I do think we need to realize that there are ages of mothering when “order” is nice but not entirely possible or absolutely necessary to our happiness. This month, try to enjoy the chaos! Here is an idea for each child-age-group.
1. Preschoolers: Get a laundry bag…draw on eyes, a nose and use the drawstring for a mouth. Introduce the laundry bag as “Gunny Bag” who lives in the attic (or a closet) and swoops down unannounced and is starving for left-out toys and clothes. He eats them and then goes back to the attic until Saturday when he “regurgitates” and the child can retrieve his toys and clothes. If gunny bag gets them twice though, they go off to the charity store! The kids will have a love-hate relationship with Gunny Bag when you put your hand behind your ear when you survey the mess and say, “I think I hear Gunny Bag coming!” The ensuing scramble to clean up is fun to behold!
2. Elementary Age: (This is one of about 85 ideas we used through the years that worked pretty well.) Put a basket in the kitchen and drop anything left out in the basket. The only way to get their items back is to pay for them out of their own money. You decide on the amount. It could be from twenty five cents to a dollar depending on the number of children you have and the amount you want to have by the next week when you use the money to pay for treats for your family meeting or family outing.
3. Teenagers: Tell them that you don’t give a darn about the way their room looks during the week as long as something doesn’t fall out at you when you open the door BUT that they will not be going out on the weekend until their room is clean. That everyday nagging just isn’t worth putting your relationship on the rocks!
Good luck and remember: “A benevolent woman should allow a few faults in herself”…especially when it comes to ORDER!