In recent weeks (months?) the house has really gotten away from me.
I don't think I was mentally built to be a full time stay-at-home parent, but at least back during Ian's two deployments when the kids were much smaller I adapted well enough. There was no real upside to Ian being away, but there was some satisfaction in staying on top of most of the basic chores while stuck at home. With another responsible adult around there is always the hope that the other person will do some of what needs to be done and you can sidestep a chore, but when you are on your own you just have to do it. I had a pretty good system of starting laundry in the morning and folding it all at night, of making meals and cleaning up with a certain rhythm, and keeping things fairly organized and tidy. When Ian goes away for brief Army obligations now, I still fall back into those old patterns. But lately my schedule has been rough and my work days long, which means the kinds of things that are important to me in running a house have kind of suffered.
So between Ian having just been out of state for a few days for more Army stuff, and my mom coming to visit soon, I had a lot of incentive to buckle down and try to get the house back in order. I do what I think of as a Baryon Sweep (which is a Star Trek TNG reference for those who don't try to give house cleaning geeky connotations) where I start at one end of the house and clean thoroughly, pushing misplaced things into the next room until eventually I get to the other end and everything in my wake is clean.
This weekend I got as far as the front/music room (where I even flipped a futon and dusted under/around/behind things), the living room (except the game cabinet area--that's for another day), and the dining room floor got a much needed scrub down.
The best part about getting the dining room all cleaned up is that by clearing the table there is room again for projects. Lately it's been dominated by Mona in one corner doing her own work, and the rest of the table became a dumping ground for junk mail and the various odds and ends that just accumulate wherever there is free surface area.
But now there is room to work, and we are tackling a set of things to enter in an art contest sponsored by the Racine Art Museum using Peeps. Quinn is attempting a map of the United Peeps of America. Aden is somehow going to do a macaw. Mona is sculpting a dragon that may be bending the size restriction rules, but she's working on it. I may make a little Peep orchestra. We have about a week so we'll see how it goes, but in the meantime it's nice to have everyone gathered at the table to create things again.
I had a conversation with someone recently who has small children, and she said she always admired how I made it possible for my kids to do projects and she said she was planning to institute a craft time at home for her kids to make things too. I told her I thought that was great, but that the real trick is to give them long term space, not just time. Because the best projects are usually those that you can't just pack up after an hour. Yes, we do occasionally need the table back for, you know, dining, but whenever I can let my kids leave projects for long stretches it's better. Real creativity involves some flexibility when you can get it. It's good to stop, walk away, come back, and let ideas evolve. You can do something more ambitious when things can stay out longer.
Over the summer we rearranged the room the girls share so it would work better for Aden in particular. We moved her bed and installed some new shelves and figured out better ways to display and store things, but the best addition was a portable sewing table. Aden liked doing small projects (like making jewelry) on her bed, but that's not really convenient. It was awkward when she had to go to sleep and her project wasn't done yet. So I found her a small desk with a few drawers and a fold out surface and wheels. It folds down pretty small and rolls away when she doesn't need it, but now if she wants to sit on her bed and make something, she can lay it all out on the sewing table and pull it up to where she is and leave it all out if she isn't done by the time she needs to go to sleep. It gives her both space and time in the place where she wants to work.
For myself, I have trouble doing creative work in the house if there is too much clutter. It's distracting. It's a drawback for me when I do my violin building work at home, because irrational as it may sound to those who can't relate, knowing the kitchen or living room is a mess while I'm trying to work in my shop interferes with my ability to think well. When the basic surfaces in my house are clear, so is my mind, and I'm more productive.
This may sound silly, but last weekend my husband helped me clean everything out from under our bed and it helps me sleep better. Primarily because one of the things under the bed was what I think of as my "box of guilt" which is a large box filled with things mostly related to the kids that need sorting. It's the box of things you throw together when you run out of time to go through things properly and visitors are coming. The box of guilt goes back to 2014 and has haunted me for years.
We also found out it was helping hold up the box spring when I finally went to get it out. Our bed has long made an annoying squeak when I get out on my side--like I'm stepping on a small bird--and the box spring wasn't fully on the bed rails. So Ian and I took everything apart and realized that one of the screws on the foot-board was misaligned. We corrected it, and no more squeak.
But while we had it all apart we swept it all, and then vacuumed, and then swept again. All the toys and missing socks and wayward receipts (and the box of guilt--which has actually been emptied and sorted) are gone from under the bed, and it feels great.
Sometimes when I'm stressed and overwhelmed I just want to curl up in a ball and do nothing. I've indulged in that too much for my liking recently. But there are other times when tackling something with concrete results is the best thing. Cleaning can be frustrating because it is so quickly undone in a house with so many people, but this weekend it felt nice to make a clean sweep of much of the first floor. (It at least uncluttered my thoughts long enough to finally write a blog post!)