As I stepped gingerly over the toy-strewn hallway and into the bathroom late one night, sitting down unceremoniously on the throne of deep thoughts for a tinkle, I was suddenly struck with an amusing thought. As a mother of two children and aunt to two children who think they live with us, my house is usually brimming with chaos — chaos so powerful you would think we had unleashed a league of spider monkeys to live here for a month to tend to baby wolverines and angry little badgers. That chaos is how we get through the day. To my kids it’s the milk and honey of their existence. Oh, sure, we have structure and everything has its place. But the chaos tends to take over. If you’re a mother of more than one child, or even better, three children or more, you’re likely nodding to yourself, muttering amens faster than a hallelujah chorus on a hot Sunday afternoon, because that is life when you have small children, a busy schedule and a thread of sanity left being threatened to be cut down by that razor-sharp crazy just below the surface.
I recalled a time when I was married but did not have children. There was a family at church who had four children: an oldest boy, twin girls and a younger son. Bookends. A complete set. And this family was delightful. They befriended us, going out of their way to make us feel welcome since we were newlyweds and new to the area. They seemed young and carefree and not as frazzled or harried as some of the other moms to four I had encountered.
There came a time when Jason and I were taking a class called temple prep with them. These classes were held every Sunday evening for a couple of months (I can’t remember how long, to be honest). Sometimes they were held at other people’s homes, but after the first handful of weeks, we began having them in this couple’s home instead. So like good little students we’d trot up to their front door, and the mom (we’ll call her Jen) would open her door, smiling and inviting us into her immaculate and well-kept home, her house smelling smelled fresh and clean. And lo, we were all thoroughly impressed by her mothering, decorating and all around old-fashioned stay-at-home mom duties.
The meetings were held, quite appropriately, in their sitting room. The children would be banished from the room, and they’d scurry into their respective nests for some unfettered play time during the hour-long classes. As the weeks progressed in their home, a couple we had befriended who also attended the class, the wife in particular (we’ll call her Leanne), was endlessly fascinated by the house itself, always asking questions about the size, the layout, wondering where our hosts had appropriated certain items scattered across the walls of their home. Jen was obliging and grateful for the compliments.
On the final night of our class, the night when it was all to end, Leanne launched into her barrage of questions peppered with compliments and praise, only to end her monologue, and shock us all, when she boldly asked our hosts for a tour of the rest of their home.
The request muttered and out in the open air, Jen appeared instantly horror stricken, and immediately began stammering and sputtering a multitude of reasons why it wasn’t a good idea, all in a desperate attempt to put off Leanne. But Leanne was unaffected, deflecting Jen’s raw pleas by standing up gazing expectantly down the hallway towards the rest of the house. Realizing that she was defeated and would appear the bad host (despite the fact that they had given up their Sunday evenings for the past two months to teach our class), she begrudgingly acquiesced. Jen’s smile stopped at her eyes, which only registered panic, as if she was wishing the floor would open up and swallow Leanne and her curiosity whole.
So up she stood, wiping her hands on her pants, and walked resolutely down the hallway, her shoulders slack while muttering warnings as a means of explanation for what we were about to encounter.
We stopped at the first door on the right, and there lurking inside was their sons’ room. The floor was littered with an array of toys for big and small boys. The oldest son lounged languidly on his bed, unperturbed that a handful of strangers had breached the hallway line. The youngest son sat on the floor playing with this toys, sans all his clothes save for his big-boy underpants. Curious about the parade of strangers, up he went, trailing after us with a toothy smile and a head full of unruly hair.
Next up was the twin’s room. The girls room was equally destroyed, but the girls had the presence of mind to blush at their mess and quickly beg their mom to leave.
Meanwhile, Leanne was chatting away about how wonderful the hallway is, this picture on the wall, this knick-knack, still shockingly unaware of the anxiety she was causing our host and the discomfort we all were feeling at the forced invasion of their private space.
Coming up into the last bend of the hallway, we came to a closed door, presumably the master suite. With a final warning, Jen opened the door, and we found ourselves standing in the middle of her room. Her bed placed against the wall in the middle of the room, a large walk-in closet was seen to the left, and on the right was a large cherry desk with a computer monitor casting a sickly green glow across the room until Jen switched on the light.
Glancing about, the first thing you noticed was the room itself was a huge mess. Clothes sat in stacks on the foot of the unmade bed. Baskets of more laundry sat on the floor. Papers and magazines and books sat in stacks around the desk. Jen’s stammer became a life-altering stutter as she tried to explain herself, throwing hopeless glances her husband’s way. And Leanne just smiled and bobbed her head, thanking her profusely for the tour. And with that, and much to Jen’s relief, we all walked out of their room, past the children’s rooms and back into the sitting room where we rightfully belonged.
I can still see the episode so keenly in my mind’s eyes because nothing about her house betrayed the craziness that was barely contained in the belly of this happy home. It was at this moment when I remember feeling like she was my kindred spirit, not realizing just how true that would prove to be once I had a house brimming with children all of my own.
My truth is when you walk into my home, hopefully the living room is cleaned, dusted, and vacuumed. This is likely. The kitchen, seen from the front door and living room, is tidy, with dishes either washed and put away, drying in the rack or stacked neatly in the sink. The bathroom is clean, and the floors are freshly mopped and swept throughout the house. However, should you decide you wanted a tour of my home, you’d find clothes in stacks, waiting to be sorted and put away, a laundry room teeming with clothes begging to be washed and a stack of magazines waiting to be read. You’d find the children’s rooms are strewn heavily about with toys, discarded shoes and even clothes if we hadn’t done our laundry collection. I’d likely have the same slope to my shoulders that Jen did that day when her facade crumbled just a bit. And I’ll have my own slew of excuses to hopefully explain the barely contained chaos.
But if you are single or married or maybe just have one child, you likely won’t understand these moments. You’ll shake your head and swear you could never live thusly. But I promise you that more often than not, in the belly of a happy house lives a little bit of chaos, a little bit of mess. So just remember not to judge her too harshly. Because even though Jen’s house was a little crazy, her kids were happy and friendly. And even now, eight years later, now that their children are teenagers, their children are happy and well-adjusted. They must be doing something right!
Most importantly, if the belly of your house is a little bit rumbly, a little bit messy, a whole lot crazy? It’s all right. It really is.