As a child, you learn
I was raised to be a tidy and neat girl.
My recollections of childhood include mom and dad starting the Saturday house cleaning first thing in the morning, including vacuum-cleaning and dishwashing, none of either being a silent activity. I used to fall asleep with a book in my hands late at night, and so wanting to sleep in in the mornings. Who likes to be woken up to the tune of a vacuum cleaner?
My mom would always do her utmost to encourage my autonomy. That included, inter alia, sending me – still being a pre-teenage child – 100km north of the country to my grandma’s summer house. That would include two 1h train rides with a layover in the capital Riga, a 40-minute walk between the train station and the summer house, and heavy bags.
My grandmother took care of me during the summer holidays in her summer house for many years in a row. And she taught me to keep the house clean, to help her around the garden, and to cook.
As an adult, you practice
When I moved to Belgium, I discovered that all my family members’ efforts did not go to waste. I lived neatly: I regularly cleaned my flat, kept my clothes clean, and most of the time there was something to eat in my fridge. Maybe my mind was never so neatly arranged, but that’s a whole other matter.
Living alone for many years helped me develop and really ingrain my neat habits as part of my living. Part of my regular routine would be going through the wardrobe and removing the clothes I would not like anymore or did not wear for over a year. I love to dress beautifully (note that beauty is not the same as fashion), so I definitely needed some wardrobe #management.
My other habit was to only use one cup, one plate, one spoon, one fork, one knife and one bowl (for salads). Why so? Firstly, because being a neat girl, I would always wash the dishes right after I eat. And if your favourite cup is always clean, why use another one? Using a different cup would feel very weird and would throw me out of balance.
Secondly, I like to have a special cup, a special plate, etc, which are just for me. Should guests come, I have a harmonious set of plates for them to use. But when I am alone, I do my routine with my favourite plates and cups and all.
To step up the game, I taught myself to use fewer utensils while cooking, in order to reduce the time- and water waste. #optimisation
Coming from the North-East of Europe, I have another habit, which is to take off my shoes as soon as I enter. This helps to keep the place clean but also helps feet breathe. Let’s not forget that I love high heels! Coming home equals relaxing my feet 😉
My grandmother (RIP my dear grandmother) really did not like it when the shirt would stick out from underneath the sweater. She would use the expression which literally means “Saturday is sticking out from underneath of Friday” 😉 and that would not be a good thing! So, I always had to be neatly dressed. #respect
I could go on with this forever. But I suppose you get the drift?
As a parent, you take it in strides
When my husband moved in with me, things did not have to change dramatically. He is a neat person and likes to respect the rules of the house he finds himself in. #lucky
So, in fact, things were running smoothly for as long as there were two of us. However, soon things started changing….
Around the 4th month of my first pregnancy we moved outside the big city into a bigger apartment. And when our dear daughter was born, all my old habits were put to the test.
The number of clothes a little baby needs was beyond my imagination. It was mind-boggling for me to see that while I was changing my dresses every year because I wanted something less used, my daughter needed new clothes every two or three months because she simply could not fit into the so-called “old” ones anymore!
Furthermore, I discovered that little kids need a lot of equipment. It started with the bed (and the bedsheets, and the bed toys…), the rocking chair, the bouncer, the buggy, the car seat, all the toys (which need to be changed only a little less often than her clothes). Not to mention the diapers, the bathtub, all the creams, oils, special drugs for babies, and whatnot.
Our house was invaded.
I did my best to keep it as neat and clean as I could, but I suddenly discovered that three people of different age in a household is BY FAR not the same as a working loner.
Little did I know when I was living through that testing period that more was to come.
When my son was still in my belly, we bought an old house, which needed renovation. Of course, being first-home buyers, we grossly underestimated the scale of renovations. By the time we had to move in (my son was four months old at the time), only the big works in the core part of the house were finished. Some major works were undertaken during the next 5-6 months in the non-core parts of the house. Think dust, construction material, noise, constant need to clean everything.
My old habits… they were not tested anymore. They just went out of the window. Bye-bye!
I still miss those days when I had full control of every crumble that falls, of the placement of every shoe in the house, of the location of cups and saucepans. #nostalgia
When you have two small kids in a house with a garden, you discover what it means to be tested for patience and flexibility. I admire, I ADMIRE those women, who can just smile charmingly and lovingly at the discovery of a holy mess in their living room, or in the kitchen.
Oh yes, another important element! Being a mom, I started cooking so much more, that the kitchen became almost like my private chamber. For some reason, our big house has a small (but cozy) kitchen. And having spent so much time there, I started feeling like it was my own private space, almost like an extension of myself. Only a limited number of people could perform a very restricted number of actions in my kitchen. Examples of such actions could be: kids placing their dirty dishes in the sink and leaving immediately, husband taking the cheese out of the fridge and bringing it to the table.
Examples of what not to do would be: screaming at full capacity while riding a bike through the kitchen, fist-fighting for the seat at the table, emptying the saucepan drawers and walking away as if that’s the right thing to do right now, dropping bread crumbs on the freshly washed floor, spilling the juice on the carpet, etc. #KidsAnarchy
But do you think anyone cares about my ideal vision of a pretty neat house?
Granted, my husband is very respectful and understanding, and tries to help me keep the house clean. But my true problem is that today, the level of mess in a house has gone way beyond my wildest dreams. How does one relatively mild control freak deal with this?
Bye-bye good habits of clean houses, of freshly cut flowers every Sunday, of cleaning the house once a week being enough (hello, multi-daily cleaning routines…).
Do you think that is it?
When you thought you mastered it all, the neat-house challenge has just been stepped up.
Homebound in lockdown, everybody is more or less climbing the walls. Kids do it rather literally because they are fed up with sticking to the house rules for weeks. Thank God we have a garden, so some of us can occasionally go out for some fresh air.
Adults climb the walls more in a figurative sense when drained for patience or energy.
I have never cooked as much, washed as many dishes, cleaned the floors as frequently, and shouted as often because of everybody shouting and banging the saucepans against the tile floor this loud – all at the same time.
While loving and treasuring the chance to spend so much time with my family, I fo admit that I feel stretched. Really thin.
In the media and through online friends’ networks, we are constantly reminded of the fact that we are only facing first world problems, and I get it. We are gently nudged towards helping others in times of need, and I appreciate it.
But I also feel that parents who must do daily teleworking, cooking, cleaning, ironing, feeding, kid washing, gardening, entertaining and grocery shopping, are simply overlooked. Plus, all that without any external help.
Not a house cleaner once or twice a month to deep clean the kitchen and the bathroom, not a granny/nanny to sit with the kids once or twice a month for one afternoon or evening, to give parents a little breather.
Not even a chance to take little kids out to the playground so they could splash out their happy energies on the swings, or on the slide, or just running in the field.
Despite all this, I will not go mental. I promise it to myself. I happen to have far-reaching plans for my future, and madness is not part of them. #faithful
I am grateful that I can forgo the over two-hour daily commute thanks to the lockdown. I am grateful that I have all the technology necessary to work from home almost as if I were in the office. I am grateful that my employer shows flexibility to our work performance, taking into account that we are minding our children at the same time as drafting a memos or being on a call with colleagues.
I also find it paradoxical how some people don’t know how to spend their time during the lockdown, while I don’t know how to get some downtime. #ironic
My heart goes out today to all those lovely moms who assume their household work without a shadow of a doubt, who are there for their children through all ups and downs, and who do their utmost to be as present as possible for their employers.
True is the saying “Mothers are the most motivated employees” because they really are.