“I will at least vacuum on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays,” I chant in my head as I glance at the floor and see my Basset Hound’s hair bunched together like tumble weeds on my hardwood floor, floating down the hall as the fan turns on overhead. “I must vacuum at least three times a week, this is disgusting,” I think, “I am a complete failure of a stay at home mother and wife,” the words echo repeatedly in my head over and over again. How I have gotten to the point of equating vacuum frequency and my self worth, hmmm … I have no idea? Irrational comparisons.
My big shopping day is on Tuesday morning when my mother in law is watching the girls. On Tuesday, I try to get all my shopping done for the week. The goal is to write down lists of recipes with fresh ingredients for each night of the week and stock the refrigerator full with dinners, lunch meats, and fresh fruit. Tuesday night we will eat chicken with a fresh vegetable side, Wednesday there will be fish, and Thursday a pasta meal. Those days I cook I alternate from chopping vegetables and preheating the oven and telling my girls that I will play with them in a minute, right after I put the chicken in, or after I season the vegetables. I need to just get one more load of laundry in the machine, a stack of clothes folded and put away before dinner, “girls just give me one more minute,” I repeat like a broken record. If I cook dinner in the evening there is not much time for post nap fun. There is no time to go to the playground, no time to meet up with a friend, and I can’t quite figure out how all the other mothers seem to cook and fill the afternoon with outdoor fun. Though admittedly I am a culinary novice.
Some weeks I get dinner cooked and served every night. The food groups are all represented and I feel a sense of pride that I have achieved culinary success. I smile as my husband walks through the door, feeling a little Martha Stewartesque. Other weeks, lots of weeks, I call my husband at work, “Can we just order take out tonight?” On these weeks I just can’t seem to pull it together.
Google is my answer to all my culinary and parenting questions. To a certain degree I don’t know how my mother lived without it, but maybe she was mentally healthier without it. Most days my husband comes home and a screen is pulled up on his laptop with the search terms – How long to bake chicken breasts? How long to bake potatoes? How do you cook asparagus? He laughs to see my googled “how tos” pulled up on the screen. I’ve cooked a million chicken breasts, but I’m still looking up the time and temperature of the oven. I don’t like to take risks. I’m a rule follower. I follow recipes to the T. For my risk adverse rule follower personality type the Internet is a lifesaver, a safety net of endless answers to all my culinary questions.
The Internet serves as my lifesaver and also my own personal hell (especially as an uber competitive perfectionist). If you google “what to do about dog hair?” – the only answer you’ll get is that you must vacuum every single day. Which leads me to wonder, does every shedding pet owner in the world vacuum on a daily basis? Before the Internet became mainstream, a mother could use her internal barometer to compare her housekeeping, the status of her kids, and the dinners she cooked. She could be blissfully ignorant of how she measured up in comparison to all of her friends, and back then her friends only included her immediate circle (whom she saw and spoke to regularly). Now her friend circle has been exponentially expanded via Facebook and social networking, it extends back to acquaintances from childhood, middle school, and elementary school. Sure, back in the day, she had certain friends and her mother-in-law that made delicious home cooked meals and mopped pristine floors, but in her mind they could be the outliers, the overachievers. With the advent of the Internet, Facebook, and Pinterest, I am now painfully aware that some mothers prepare glorious meals every night, some cook seven meals on Sunday and freeze them for the entire week, and they puree their veggies and hide then in their macaroni and cheese. These mothers have been creatively crafting with their kids all day long, they hand sew keepsake baby shower gifts, and come Halloween their kids costumes are hand stitched by their mothers. These mothers vacuum daily, these mothers mop, and these mothers iron too. I am competitive, but I cannot compete with these mothers. Seeing their perfection can often drag me into motherhood despair.
In my own defense, what is the point of vacuuming and mopping all morning when the dog hair tumbleweeds will return in a couple of hours? What is the point of taking my car to the car wash when the next ride we go on, my two year old will pour her snacks all over the back seat? My version of a car wash is to let my dog in the back seat to eat up all the old cheerios, crackers, and pirates booty. I should let him do this on a weekly basis, but sometimes the weeks get away from me. Am I supposed to sacrifice my at best two free hours a day during naptime to clean or vacuum, maybe?
I chant as I get in the shower, “I will vacuum on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.” Unfortunately, I have already failed. I’ve vacuumed a couple times, but not enough. The Bassets hair will never be erased from my floors. But on a happier note, I’ve cooked dinner a lot this week (only a couple of nights of takeout), we’ve planted tomatoes, splashed in the pool, and played endless amounts of lost boys where I pretend I’m Captain Hook and chase the girls around the yard. So maybe I need to learn to give myself a break. Maybe there is more to being a stay at home parent than vacuuming and home cooked meals, at least I hope so.
I guess the point is that no one can do it all, but you can torture yourself trying. Although sometimes it seems like someone may do it all or have it all, this is impossible. Once a task moves further up the priority list another must slide further down. This, my friends, is life. For the rest of 2013, instead of worrying about what I haven’t done or haven’t done well, I will focus on what I have done. My glass will reflect the fullness of what has been completed rather than emptiness of what is left undone. If my girls and my husband don’t care then neither will I.
I am embarrassed because this post is a feminist’s nightmare. I am an educated woman, why do I care about these 1950’s housewife standards? But, Cie la vie, I am an educated woman and care about many things and my housekeeping shortcomings falls on the list.