Saturday, July 28, 2007

We're messy, but imaginative (and rarely bored)

Interesting discussions on housework (Bitch, Ph.D.) and mothering (Yarn Harlot).

Regarding housework, I can completely relate to a value system that ranks posting pictures of a messy house on the internet higher than actually cleaning the house (way higher, in fact). And yeah, my house looks that bad quite a bit of the time. Not all of the time, though, and we're working on it. I seem somehow to have gotten to the point where the only way to move forward on the housecleaning is to make my kids do it. So if I tidy, and they clean (or, as I put it to them, I do the work that needs to be done by me, and you guys do the work that can be done by just about anybody), we make progress. At least I hope we're making progress.

When I was thinking about the Bitch, Ph.D. post I remembered Jennifer's post about her son's room. And all of a sudden it struck me how this "OMG I'm such a bad housekeeper" theme, morphing into "No way, I'm a much worse housekeeper than you" in the comment thread, is sounding kind of like a variant on the "OMG I'm so stressed and my life is much worse than yours" contest I have encountered both in the academic and working worlds. This is the ultimate lose-lose situation. Because the only way to win these contests is to have the most stress and the worse life, and what's good about that? By contrast, when Jennifer posted pictures of her son's room, she seemed genuinely concerned about their awfulness (minimal, it seemed to me, and I say this to be clear that I'm not criticizing her or her son's room). Not kind of backwardly patting herself on the back for being so able to find something, anything to do, other than actually create a comfortable living environment for herself and her family.

Now, the marriage/living partner cleaning dynamic can be a difficult one. In my first marriage, it came to symbolize everything that was wrong about our relationship. In my current marriage, it's a little easier in that I'm primarily responsible for the house, but I can count on my husband to pitch in when he's available (unfortunately, not often). I'm further fortunate in that my husband can stand a good deal of clutter. But when there are different standards of cleanliness, and unclear division of labor, horrible stagnation resulting in awful messes can be the outcome.

Partly I wonder where some of the social norms come from. When I was growing up, I remember my friend's houses as being clean, and tidy, but not overly decorated. When I was in school, most of my friends had pretty messy houses. As bad as mine, or sometimes even worse. But once I had kids, I started to know people whose houses are, in the perplexed words of a mom I know "Like a Pottery Barn catalogue, all the time." What's a housekeeping-challenged mom to do?

I come from a long line of messy women, so I feel that my lack of skills goes beyond mere laziness. My grandmother on my mom's side had to be the boy of the family, since she grew up on a farm in an all-girl family, and SOMEBODY had to help with the chores. My mom always used to tell me that her dad had loved his wife's messiness. He had come from an extremely neat household, and was apparently sick of being nagged to pick up after himself. So my grandmother kept a messy house, my mother kept a messy house, and here I am. Doing my best, which, unfortunately is not all that great, and constantly trying to raise the bar.

Regarding television, we haven't really needed rules about it in our family. When Ziad was little, he actually refused to sit still and watch it. I remember one time when we were visiting family with his cousins, and one of the adults thought it would be a good idea for them to all watch cartoons (Scooby Doo in point of fact). Although I personally do not agree that this is a good way to keep children quiet, I would have gone along with it out of politeness, but Ziad was having no part of it. He decided instead to conduct a thorough investigation of the latch to the front gate, while I accompanied him. It was actually the Wiggles that finally induced him to sit and watch TV, which seems ironic because the only reason I showed him the first Wiggles video was so that he could do the dance moves with them. But no, he just sat there and watched them, although with clear enjoyment. In fact, he watched the video straight through twice.

Maya has more couch potato tendencies, but neither of them has such an unconstrained desire for TV that I need to regulate it. They pretty regularly go for weeks at a time without having it on. Then we'll take streaks of watching movies, or documentaries on DVD (God, we love David Attenborough), but most days it seems like we just don't have time for TV. This is one area where I think the homeschooling has worked out pretty well the way I wanted it to, because there's no one making them think that not watching TV is in any way odd or that they are somehow deprived. Most of their friends are in a pretty similar situation, TV-wise. And somehow, the ones who aren't still manage to find plenty of other things to talk to them about, so it all works out in the end.

So, even though we have plenty of other fights in our house, the TV fight is one we have avoided so far (knock on wood).


Blogger Lesley said...

It sounds wierd, but I really wish I had the capacity to justlet a mess be. Sit for a good long while...marinade. Unfortunately, I CAN'T!!! I can't sit down, relax with a good book, watch TV, or write if I know a mess is calling my name. Yes- it really feels like that.."Clean up on aisle 4! HURRY!!!"

I think it all stems from the fact that I don't have a job out side my home. So I think of my house, AS my job. I think of cleaning AS my job. So in my own defense...I'll just say that I'm trying to be a good employee. That's just the way I look at it.

8:23 PM  
Blogger zelda said...

This is a topic that's been giving me grief for a while and might inspire another blog entry.

Where did you land on this? Are you satisfied with your house as it is currently or are you trying to alter it?

7:14 PM  

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