I'm an anti-hoarder. Most people who visit our home are utterly amazed by our lack of stuff. The four of us live in a 1300 square foot house (with one bathroom--shocker!). There are no knick-knacks, few pictures on display, and just a few neat containers and shelves to contain the kids' toys. You could drop by at almost any moment and be assured that there will not be any clutter. Most of the toys will be put away in their designated spots, the rugs will be vacuumed, and the fingerprints will be wiped off of the windows and doors. A lot of people consider it intimidating and will either ask me to come organize their homes or promise to never invite me over to witness their messes. There have been times when I've felt like an oddball as most people profess to want order and organization, but few seem to understand how to get there. So I become the anal, OCD butt of jokes or left-handed "compliments" ("I could never be this neat...I just want to be comfortable and let my kids have the freedom to play and have fun")
But lest you think this neatness is a sign of perfection (or an attempt to reach it), let me explain. The order on the outside is my attempt to control the chaos on the inside. I learned a long time ago that there are a multitude of things I can't control. For a self-professed control-freak like myself this is torture. I can't control other people, and I can't control their perceptions of me. I can't make myself fit in or always be the person I want to be. I can't always control how much money I have, or the health, fitness, and stability of those I love. I can't always make things better. But I can clean. I can straighten and de-clutter. I can keep the outside sparkling as an attempt at quieting the noise inside. This is my area of control.
Parenthood has taught me many lessons, and probably the biggest is about the illusion of control. I thought that when I was a parent, I could mold and make my family into what I wanted it to be. I could be the perfect parent along with my perfect husband, John. We even joked when I was pregnant about our little "Apex", the perfect baby-to-be. We were both ministers and very self-aware. We had a close and healthy relationship, both as friends and marriage partners. We worked with "problem" children and those struggling through unhealthy relationships. We knew what not to do, and thus assumed we'd know just what to do.
I followed the rules to a T in my pregnancy...didn't eat anything from the "dangerous" list, and kept myself at the ideal pregnancy weight. I read books to my baby in the womb and had lots of time to bond with our sweet baby boy before we even met him. Nothing prepared us for the unexpected c-section and preemie baby who was sick for much of his first year of life. And even after that, we still weren't prepared for the emergency delivery of his sister two years later that was like a scene out of "ER". I never expected children that wouldn't "submit" to my healthy food regimen, or who would whine, scream, bite, and hit, even when we explained how their behavior was inappropriate.
And so I clean, and straighten, and slowly take the time to straighten out my own perceptions. I'm learning that I'm not always in control...and maybe that's best. I'm learning that I can lean on others (like my as close to perfect as possible husband) for help and support. And most of all, I'm trusting in God to guide us as a family. I'm learning from my kids who show me that it's good to be spontaneous and silly, and that the most important thing is love. I was reading a book to my baby girl the other day that ended with a spider who had been searching for her mother saying something along the lines of you can always find a mother because she's the one who loves you best. Maryn replied, "I love you best, too, Mommy." And I think that's true. Through my kids' love and acceptance (even of my faults), I'm learning more about how to love better. And in all the ways I'm learning and growing, I feel the unconditional love of God, cleaning me on the inside.