“Please do not touch the glass.”
“Remain behind the rope.”
“Eating and drinking not permitted inside exhibits.”
“No loud noises.”
These are rules that most of us have heard repeatedly over the course of our lives, particularly as a child on field trips. They were meant to keep us safe and respectable while out in public, and prevent us from embarrassing whichever adult was responsible for us at the time. In retrospect, this rigid litany of “Don’t…” was in complete opposition to everything we were as children – loud, inquisitive, hungry balls of energy who wanted to run and touch things. I was actually quite a well-behaved child, and those trips made me feel dignified and mature (though now I think I could have stood to let my hair down a bit)…but I digress.
Growing up, museums, theaters or other rule-ridden venues were not the only places where this long list of things we shouldn’t do was enforced. I can vividly remember being banned from the “special living room” at home with the white carpet and nice couches and breakable vases and figurines at every turn. We were only allowed in there when company came over, and even then, we always knew we were being closely watched.
Now that I am a parent myself, I’ve noticed the unfortunate desire to treat home in much the same way as the museum, buying in to the myth that we were meant to live in pristine castles, free from toys, and dishes, and the never-ending loads of laundry – what I now understand to be the many signs of life in a home. We put unnecessary and stress-inducing pressure on ourselves to make our homes look like nobody lives there. We attempt to meld the life activities of a family of four that includes a 4 year old boy who loves cars and trucks and miniature dinosaurs (and owns them in abundance), and a 6 month old baby learning to eat solid foods (need I say more?!) with the notion of a picture perfect palace, spotless, toy-less, and mess-less.
The reality is, the toys on the floor are a clear indication that happy little boys live and play here. The dishes in the sink mean that Daddy fed the kids while Mommy was away (and vice versa). Misplaced items in the cabinets and pantry, and cups not placed properly in the dishwasher are telltale signs that your loving spouse was just trying to be helpful so you don’t have to do everything when you get home. Now, I am by no means advocating living in chaos…after all, I do believe that the state of my home is often a reflection of the state of my mind. What I am asking us to consider is this:
Would I prefer a home where the joyful sounds of children laughing and playing are not heard?
Would I prefer a clean kitchen because our family is eating take out or a bit more clean up to do because we’ve made a healthy, home-cooked, love-filled meal together to enjoy?
Will I be painfully aware of the absence of the toys when my little boys grow up and no longer fill my home with life – leaving me with just the memories of their childhood?
Will my children miss out on memory-making moments with me, simply basking in each other’s company, as a result of my pursuit of perfection?
I realized that I spent so much time growing frustrated over what I now know are sure indications that our family is happy, healthy, and whole. And while I can’t make any promises about compromising on how to load the dishwasher, I will choose to cherish this life we live.
This is NOT a museum. This is our HOME.