Archive for August, 2014


It should come as no surprise to anyone who has been reading this that housework is not my specialty. I hope you’ve seen that it’s also something I’m working REALLY hard on. It’s crazy having something that seems like it should be so simple–that most of society expects to just be something every adult knows how to do–that I have such a huge learning curve on. It’s so hard for most people to understand that, too. Even if their parents never taught them how to do it, many people still at least watched their parents doing it and could learn by example. There’s a world of difference between that and this cycle:

  • No one cleans.
  • Parents get tired of mess and yell at kids to clean. (Or, alternately, kids get tired of mess and decide to clean on their own–yes, this really did happen.)
  • Kids try to figure out how to clean.
  • Kids get yelled at for touching some precious Puzz3D/moving something they shouldn’t have (but had no way of knowing they shouldn’t have)/throwing something away that looked like trash to them but apparently was SUPER important to keep/etc.
  • Kids get worn out trying to get the whole overwhelming mass of junk cleaned up/trying to figure out WHAT to clean up and what not to.
  • Kids give up.
  • No one cleans.
  • Repeat as necessary–but don’t bother rinsing because, hey, who knows if we really need to or not?

I’m not saying that it’s my parents’ fault if I don’t have a clean house. But I am saying that I’m having to learn a lot of things as an adult that I should have learned as a child, or even as a teenager. I had no idea until college that laundry might ever involve anything other than throwing clothes in the washer, turning it onto who-knows-what setting (I mean, as long as water’s going in, right?), adding some soap, letting it do its thing, then throwing them in the drying and putting them on whatever setting (really, why were there so many choices? couldn’t they just put an on button?) until dry.

I mean, I knew enough to know that the masses of laundry all over the couch and floor probably weren’t the best choice and it’d be great if they were in the dresser. But, hey, that was a luxury, really. I was super self-conscious about the smell that emanated from the clothes I wore, and the fact that I wasn’t always 100% sure whether they’d been washed since they were last worn or not. (Or was 100% sure that they hadn’t been.) But at least I had something on.

Anyway. I’ve learned a lot–SO much–from college roommates and in various ways since college, about how to clean. I know how to clean a shower now. I know how to clean a bathroom sink. I know that the faucet should probably be smooth metal colors and not just mottled toothpaste spit. I know how to scrub a sink, and how to make sure dishes actually have all the grease off of them and not just all the obvious bits of food. I know how to vacuum edges of the room and not just make the middle of the room look good. I know how to mop a floor either with a mop or on hands and knees with a rag, and how to do so in a way that doesn’t involve bathing suits and the floor remaining wet for the rest of the day.

But maintaining a regular cleaning schedule? That’s the hardest thing for me to learn. I’m getting better at it, though. So much better, in fact, that I was almost completely caught up on dishes and it looked like I’d actually be able to stay caught up!

Then, for various medical reasons, I’m not allowed to do any heavy lifting or stand/walk around for lengths of time, at least for the next few weeks. This at the same time that my husband is, when not working, busy studying for an important exam he has coming up–one that will mean getting a required certification for his job. I was SO CLOSE! And now everything is slipping away again.

So today my mother-in-law is graciously here helping me. And I love her for it. And I appreciate her help. I really, truly do. Yet, when I look at her pulling a jar out of my sink that has now-moldy smoothie remnants, and scrubbing my stove of all the random bits of food that I’ve managed to cook but worn myself out too much to clean up after . . . I feel ashamed. I feel like a failure.

I couldn’t figure out what that would be. Feeling like I’ve failed to not be caught up when I really should be is one thing. But feeling like I’ve failed when I have a legitimate medical reason that everything isn’t caught up? I don’t know why that is. I was toying with various reasons. Maybe because she’s my mother-in-law, and even though I really see her as more of a real mother to me than my own mother, I still feel like she doesn’t understand why cleaning is such a huge learning curve for me. And she really had a busy summer, and hasn’t been here to see that I’ve stayed more caught up on things the past couple months (and especially the past month or so). Maybe because she keeps such a clean house that I feel like even at my best I’ll never live up to her standards, even though she doesn’t say anything to me to indicate that she sees me as failing in any way. Maybe because I married her son and I feel like she might see me as not taking care of the house the way her son deserves.

Then I asked my sister why she thinks it is that I feel like a failure even when I know that, at least for this once, the mess is not my fault. I’ve been doing everything I can (and perhaps slightly more than the doctors want me doing right now) and just can’t do it all while having to stay sitting so much.

Her answer hit the nail on the head. She said, “Because dad expected us to just know how to do that stuff. He was so wiling to teach us all kinds of things but with housework he somehow expected us to just know, which left little room to accept failure.”

She’s right. She’s absolutely right. Which means, in reality, it’s linked to my PTSD. Regularly feeling like a failure growing up, because I couldn’t figure out how to keep the house clean the way we were constantly yelled at to do. Because things that society expects me to know,  as a grown woman, are things that I’m still just learning now, and I feel like I should already know them. My siblings and I were always expected to already know them.

There are other things that’s true of too. Cooking–our father always wanted to teach us how to cook, but rarely taught us much, and we were so often left to do it on our own that we sort of just figured things out as we went. (Without even being able to Google to find out how to do it!) But that’s something that we could ask our father about if we had a question, and he would answer us. It’s not something he treated us like we should already know.

Or changing clothes and underwear. I remember one time, when the pipes leading to our shower were broken (or maybe it was during that winter that we had no water in our bathroom at all, and no heat?) and we were going to my grandparents’ house to take showers. I was in late middle school at the time. I knew enough to know that I needed clean underwear each day. (Though I fear some days it was just changed to a different pair of dirty underwear. But I was working with what I could, and figured it was at least better than wearing the same dirty pair of underwear twice in a row.) So, since we were showering at my grandparents’ house, we were having showers in the evenings rather than in the mornings. (That’s part of why, for a very long time, I was extraordinarily particular about showering every morning. I never felt clean when living at my parents’ house, and showering every morning was sort of a way of going against what we’d so often had to do. And a way of trying to wash the house off of me before I went out to face people in the world.)

Anyway! So one morning during that period of time, I was looking for a clean pair of underwear in the morning and my mom said, “Really? I usually change my underwear after I shower.”

*blink* *blink blink* Oh. Because it would still be 24 hours of clean underwear. More or less. Change it after the shower, not in the morning. Pretty sure I was 13 or 14 years old. No one had EVER told me that if I was going to shower or bathe every day, it was most logical to change my underwear right after that, rather than at the opposite end of the day. Why my mother assumed I would just know that, I have no idea. That’s one of several things she responded to, when I was a preteen or young teenager, in a way that seemed to indicate, “But you can do things however you want.” Things that she should have taught me, or my father should have taught me, but neither of them did. And my older sisters didn’t because I’m pretty sure no one ever taught them either!

But most of those things–brushing teeth regularly, changing to clean clothes and underwear after a shower rather than just first thing in the morning when your shower is every evening, various cooking skills, and a host of other things that my parents didn’t take the time to teach us–those are either things that aren’t quite as huge a learning curve (or at least haven’t been for me), or (in the case of cooking) that people don’t really expect every single person to be able to do perfectly and don’t treat you like you’re completely inept if you’re unaware of how to do it.

Cleaning, though? That’s something that you actually have to be taught to do, and yet so many people learn elements of it as a child or by example that it doesn’t even occur to them that someone who struggles with it may not have ever been taught. And it’s something that my parents seem to have expected us to know how to do even though they never taught us how to do it. They yelled at us for not doing it, yelled at us to do it, and on rare occasions sat down long enough to help us pick all the clothes up off our floor and put them in our drawers. But they never taught us how to do it. And certainly never taught us how to do it regularly.

There’s a thing about being a parent, though. Sometimes you can learn along with your child. Learn to see the world through a child’s wonder; learn to think differently; learn to care about the simple things again. And in my case, I want to make sure I teach my children how to clean, and how to do so regularly. So I’m learning along with my toddler.

After lunch today, he took his own plate to the trash and scraped the remnants into it, then gave it to me to rinse. While I did that, I gave him the dish cloth to wash the table. As a toddler, he can already do things (without even being asked!) that I never learned to do until I was in college, or later.

So we’ll keep learning together. And meanwhile, I’ll keep trying to look at those successes, and not focus on feeling like a failure.

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Yes, that’s right, two posts in one day. Because it’s just one of those days.

The kind of day where everything feels like too much. The kind of day where our finances are stretched to the max despite our careful planning. The kind of day where the burden of my parents’ lack of financial planning is falling on their children, however indirectly. The kind of day where I so seriously appreciate my husband’s hard work and the income he brings, but the stuff to do around the house is piling up due to my own health issues.

Yesterday was a determined day. The health issues I’ve been having recently (which I’ll be seeing a doctor about tomorrow) are making a lot of things super-difficult, but I was determined to do things anyway so I set up dishes at the kitchen table, with a wash bin, a rinse bin, a dish drainer at the edge, and another bin on the floor to catch the water the drained from the dish drainer. And I’m going to do that again today. Because I will NOT be my parents.

But while I do that, there are other things piling up. More messes that I need to supervise my son in cleaning up. But he doesn’t understand “Mommy doesn’t feel well and can’t move that fast.” He understands Mommy is there to help him clean up his toys and his books, but he doesn’t understand that Mommy can’t chase him around the whole house getting all of them.

But I will not, will not, will not have a house that’s “messy just because of the kids,” or “messy just because I’m sick.” Because that’s what I grew up with. And it’s NOT going to happen to my children. They will not grow up believing everything is their fault. They will grow up knowing responsibility–you took it out, you put it away–but not being told that every general mess is their fault. Nor will they grow up believing that a gross, dirty house is just the way it should be. No. Not my children.

It’s one of those days. One of those days where I just want to cry and eat cookie dough and watch sappy movies. But I’m not going to. Because I am determined to be determined, even when I don’t feel very determined. I owe it to my children. More importantly, I owe it to the adults my children will one day be, and to the spouses they will one day have, and to my grandchildren, not to leave my children with the same emotional scars and baggage, the same sense of everything being their fault, and the same super-high learning curve of how to keep a reasonably clean–not necessarily spotless, but livable and sanitary–house for their families.

I’m writing this letter here because I need to write it somewhere, and cannot send it to the friend I’m writing it to. She once read this blog, and is still one of the very few people who know me and also know I write this blog. I very much doubt she still reads this, but on the off-chance that she does, maybe she’ll see this. Also, I link to an online store in this post. This is not a paid promotion, nor do I receive anything from the site or anyone else if you click the link.

Dear friend,

Yes, I still call you friend. Sister. Outside of my husband and children, you are still one of the most important people who has ever touched my life. And you’ve been on my mind a lot lately. Well, in all fairness, you’re on my mind at least some part of every day. So I make a point of praying for you at least once every day.

I miss you. And I still love you. That’s mostly what I wanted to say in this letter. I may not always understand everything you go through, but I mourn for you, for the pain and hardness you deal with. So much of it sounds so familiar, so much like the things I go through, but I know it’s not the same. I see that in how it affects your life.

I don’t know how you’re doing lately. I don’t have any right to know, I guess. But it does make it a little hard to know how to pray for you. At least God knows.

You know the expression “he’s dead to me”? Or she is, or whatever. Like if someone leaves a strict religious culture or something. In reality, I’ve heard of cultures like that that have actual funeral services, but in the movies it seems like it’s always the father figure just yelling in anger about how the child is “dead” and never speaking to them again. Well, the reality for me is that ever since you told me that I make your life worse, not better, I have felt as though you died. I mourn our friendship as much as I mourned the loss of my grandmother. I see reminders of you every day. I think of you when I’m glancing through Think Geek and spot the tin of Tea, Earl Grey, Hot that I’d always wanted to get you but never had money for. I think of you when I see the mug your mother gave me for graduation, the beautiful friendship box you gave me, all sorts of things. The friendship box is the most precious to me. And when I see these things, my heart wrenches, and I selfishly mourn my loss all over again. But I also pray for you.

The reality is much worse. In reality, if our friendship ended through death, I would have left only the hope of seeing you in heaven. And that’s a beautiful hope, a beautiful reality. But instead, our friendship ended through a . . . a cutting off. I don’t know how else to describe it. All I feel is that one of the most important ties in my life was suddenly and horribly severed. And I live with the knowledge that I could still see you, except that I can’t still see you. And in my selfishness, that hurts enough. But I also live with the fear that something might happen to you, that you might actually die, and I would never have gotten to speak to you again. Other than that brief conversation where I apologized and you apologized and . . . and there’s forgiveness but not complete restoration.

I’ll admit, this fear is a bit more forefront in my mind right now because of the recent suicide of Robin Williams after his battle with depression. But that’s not the only reason. It’s something I fear frequently. And something I write letters to you about sometimes. Maybe one day I’ll send one . . . but I doubt it.

I constantly wonder, knowing how many times you told me that you tend to intentionally push people away even though you don’t want to, how much you were really mad at me and how much you were testing and pushing me. I do know that in my attempt to express my own struggles in our relationship, that I think I misspoke and said things I needed to talk to you about but perhaps at a bad time to try to talk about it. And perhaps not in the most clear way of what I meant, either.

I’d promised you I would do my best to never let you push me away if you tried. But you said the one thing that I couldn’t resolve. You could tell me I’m annoying, and I’d strive not to annoy you. You could tell me you didn’t like me, and I’d strive to be more likable. You could tell me almost anything, and I would try to figure out how to be a better person. Not for everyone, mind you, but for you, almost anything. And you could definitely tell me that you were horrible, that you were no good for me, all sorts of things, and I would say I didn’t care, that we would work through it.

But what you told me is that your life was worse because of me. And I don’t know how to fix that. And if my presence makes your life worse, that’s that. I refuse to make your life worse. Even if I wonder almost every day whether you really meant it or not. I’d rather pray for you from a distance than be near you and risk making your life worse.

I talk to you almost every day too, you know. Argue with you. Not like real fights, but things that I think maybe you wouldn’t understand or agree with. I argue with you in my mind until I determine whether I actually know my own reasoning or whether it’s something I should give up on, or at least research more.

In reality, I should say I argue with the you I knew. It’s been too long, and for nearly the last year of our friendship I felt you slipping away already. I felt like you really didn’t know who I was and I really didn’t know who you were. A big part of that was my own fault too. You once expressed a fear that you would be left out of my life once I was married. I strove so hard to keep you included in my life with my family that I forgot to make sure I was still included in your life too. But the reality, the result, remains: we don’t know each other anymore. Even if our friendship is ever somehow restored, we’ll need to learn one another all over again. Because I know I’ve changed a lot from who you knew, and I’m sure you have too though I don’t know in what ways.

But I do know that you still struggle in darkness. I know you’re still in pain. And I don’t have to know that darkness and pain specifically to pray for you. And I don’t need to know all the specifics to still love you. And I do still love you and pray for you. And that’s what I want you to know.

With love always from your sister in Christ,
[you know who]

Willow tree