I had the extremely rare opportunity to clean the house undisturbed. Jill took the kids to Michigan and it was just me versus our collective neuroses. Of course, when everything needs attention, you want to do everything all at once. And it’s almost impossible to decide on a starting point. But you do. You start with the scrap of paper at your foot or the banana peel on the coffee table, and the day just flows from there.
At some point in the day, I was in the dining room, which is also Elsa’s art studio. We don’t use a tablecloth unless it’s a birthday. But you still can’t see the table under all of her drawings; under the scattered crayons and markers, and sticker-books and stencils, the paper clippings, scissors, and paper plates turned into paint palettes. They all hide a table covered in dry paint, glue, glitter, and gouges.
This room takes me the most time to clean and it usually has nothing to do with how messy it is. When I clear the table, I make three piles: paper scraps, clean paper, and art. It’s the art that slows me down. Each page is a story, a feeling, a dream. They’re alive. They cry and yell and laugh and whisper. They show me what I’m doing wrong. They celebrate the few things I get right. They’re strong hugs and hot tears. They’re reflections of my parenting. And in an empty house, they’re reminders of how full my heart can be.
On the floor are the discards, the pieces of art that Elsa instantly rejects. She suffers no artistic missteps and tosses these deformities without paying them another thought. Just a flick of the wrist to the left, eyes already on the fresh page that she brought in on the right. But these discards still take forever to clear. Because there’s beauty there, too. And more than a few make it into the art pile (don’t tell Elsa).
So I was sweeping this room, actually moving things to sweep under them—I can’t tell you how wonderful that was (yes, my man-card was revoked a long time ago . . .) when something horrible happened. I looked at the floor. Really looked at it. And came to the inevitable conclusion that the floor is trashed. Sticker remnants still stuck. Home-cooked stains. Scratches and gouges and areas of deep darkness where shoes have worn the floor
I stood there looking at it for a while. Thinking I have to get it completely refinished. Along with the front room (that’s what we call the living room on the south side of Chicago, and it’s pronounced fruntroom, thank you). That’s the first thing I thought. But then some deeper, wiser part of me—a part I can’t seem to access when I want to—offered another thought: but they’re not done with it yet.
And that made me think of a time my friend made a comment to me about my windows. “It’s a lot of work with three kids! It’s written all over your glass!” He was sympathizing with me for having filthy windows. The kids had scrawled all over them with crayons. Circles of blue and green, lines of red and purple stretched across panes and on sills. And there were small faces and cute bugs and lopsided houses in these inspired scenes that stretched only as high as little arms would allow.
To my friend, my windows were a mess, something to be scrubbed as soon as possible, if not sooner. To me, they were stained glass, celebrating overflowing imaginations. I actually preserved them for as long as possible. While what’s going on with the floor isn’t the same thing (the kids aren’t decorating the floor, they’re destroying it) the idea is the same: kids live here, and they’re not done living in this house yet.
So in five years, maybe we’ll think about paying someone to come in with a loud machine and smelly chemicals to finish the floor. We’ll get it fixed. But until then, I’ll love Elsa’s art and Ian’s running and Ben’s swordplay. I’ll love my kids and the things they do and the time I have with them more than I love my floor.