Behind the Couch
Yesterday I asked my son to tidy the family room. He gave me the usual groan. Then I said, “And I want you to put things where they really go this time, instead of down the stairs, up the stairs, in the coat closet, or any of your other usual dumping spots, ok?” Instead of groaning, he smiled at me this time. I know his system and he knows I know. I asked, “Did I cover all the options, so you know that each item needs to go to it’s real home?” He smiled sheepishly and said, “I guess so.”
Well, apparently I didn’t mention that things don’t go behind the couch, because this is what I found today. And it made me laugh a little.
You see, I wish I could say that what’s behind the couch is uncharacteristic of the rest of the house, but I can’t. It would be a lie. I feel like this is the scenery all over the place, and try as I might, I can’t hold back the tide. No matter how clean I get it in the daytime hours, the after school explosion is too much. And sometimes I don’t do so hot in the daytime, and then it’s pretty ugly.
Yesterday my three year old had quite a day. I got out of the shower and my five year old walked in. She said, “S. drew all over one of your laptops. But don’t worry. We just got some wet toilet paper and cleaned it.” My response was quite calm. All I said was “Really?” but my mind was racing. Wet toilet paper? On a LAPTOP? Seriously?
We got that all squared away, talked about water and electronics and about leaving laptops alone. We went upstairs to start laundry and while I did that, the same little three year old took marker to her pillowcase. ?!?! Why? It couldn’t have anything to do with a paper shortage. She had three notebooks right there!
And then came the whopper. I was sitting in the living room trying to encourage my daughter in her violin practice when there came a strange noise from the kitchen and the sound of a toddler distancing herself from the scene of the crime quite rapidly. I walked in the kitchen and there were 2 dozen eggs on the floor. All broken. Oozing everywhere – in the cracks in the floor, under the fridge, oh it was gross. And then, while on my hands and knees cleaning it all up, some of my hair fell over my shoulder and then I had raw egg in my hair too. And then I ran out of paper towels. And then I ran out of napkins. And then I was mad.
Perhaps the most awful thing of all, though, was what I did. I looked at my toddler in frustration and asked, “WHO ARE YOU?” And she looked at me quite calmly and told me her name. I was so frustrated with her! Why can’t she color in coloring books instead of on walls, bedding, computers and her body? Why can’t she play with dolls instead of scaling counters to open cupboards I can barely reach on my tippy toes to drink bottles of medicine? (She did that on Saturday.) Why can’t she wear just one outfit per day instead of soiling everything she owns on the same day that I wash it? Why? Why on earth did she need to pull the eggs out of the fridge and drop them on the floor? (She never did tell us.) She is such a wonderful child but I cannot understand what is happening in that brain of hers much of the time.
And then I heard someone trying not to laugh. It was my 15 year old son trying to choke it back. And I realized that I was the one he was laughing at. It was me who looked like a fool. My daughter is three, but I was the one having a hard time acting my age. I tried not to laugh with him. I was that mad. But as I looked at him, I remembered the toddler that smeared a tube of toothpaste into his bedroom carpet, and while I was cleaning it, opened the back door and shoveled all the snow off our back porch into our family room. (It was a fairly substantial back porch.) I felt proud of him for being the one who could laugh at the situation, since I couldn’t. I mean, someone needed to!
I guess I’m having a “behind the couch” week. The kind where things seem to go wrong all over the place and your biggest battle is in remembering all that’s RIGHT in the midst of the mess.
After sitting on the floor for a little while (you can’t go play if Mom can’t trust you), I held my daughter and we talked. I begged her to do the things she knows are ok to do, to listen to the little voice in her head that says “Mommy won’t like this.” She went to get her blanket and we cuddled. She fell asleep in my arms. She woke up an hour later and needed my arms again. And at 2 a.m. she came again. She needed to be reminded that her performance didn’t decrease her worth.
It got me thinking. Does MY performance decrease MY worth? The correct answer is no. But too often I live as if the answer is YES. We live in a world that ties performance to worth on so many levels, but fundamentally, it’s not true. My performance with my daughter yesterday didn’t decrease what I was worth to her. I was the one she came to for love, over and over again after our little incident. I was humbled by her generosity in forgiving me so fully and without hesitation. My gratitude journal entry for the day was “I am grateful for the forgiveness of my children.” I was also profoundly grateful for the opportunity to show an increase of love to her, to reassure her that she is my precious daughter and that I love her so much. But as mothers and as women, what do we do when we fall into the pit of believing that OUR worth has been decreased by our perceived poor performances? How do we get out?
I have found that developing the habit/skill of climbing out of that pit is one of the most difficult skills I have to learn in this life. I’ve become much better at it in the last few years, but it’s still a battle, and this week has been harder than usual. Today I’m doing three things to try to get out:
1. Prayer. I asked for help to feel differently about myself, and for help with making the best decisions. Perhaps most importantly, I pleaded with the Lord for a heart that was calm. And then after my prayer, I sat very still until it was.
2. The beauty of enough. I wrote a little bit about it last week. I took a picture of what’s behind my couch. (I’ll admit I don’t have the courage to post pictures of other rooms.) I studied the picture and honestly asked myself if anything on the floor behind the couch (or anywhere else in the house, for that matter) can really be big enough to write myself off over. Nope. Nothing that important. I’m reminding myself that sometimes what’s on the floor isn’t nearly as important as what’s going on in people’s hearts. It’s important to do my best, but the most important work I do will never hang on a wall or keep the floor clean. It may be that nobody can see what I am doing because what I’m not doing is so painfully obvious. But if I’m doing enough and if I’m making the best decisions, it will work out.
3. Smile. I’m forcing a smile onto my face. When my children get home in a little while, my face will determine their landscape far more than the housekeeping will. If it’s cluttered but I’m happy, they’ll be happy too, and we’ll have a better chance at cheerfully fixing it together. If it’s cluttered and I’m miserable, well, then we’re headed for trouble. So I’m smiling. And listening to this song. Again. Because it’s true. It’s true of me and of you. True of all of us.
So who cares what’s behind the couch? And how do you climb out?