Sunday, January 06, 2013

A house in order

I've been meaning to post for a while, but having been sick off and (mostly) on since Thanksgiving, something had to give. Blogging was only one of several casualties.

Around the last time I posted I realized I just didn't have the energy to do all the things I wanted to do for the holidays, so it was time to cut my losses and stick to the priorities: 1) teaching the kids their lessons until we (mercifully) hit winter break; 2) making balanced meals; 3) making sure there were clean dishes to eat the meals on; and 4) making sure there were clean clothes to have the meals spilled on. Only slightly lower on the priority list was making Christmas pajamas for each of the kids. Other than that, if it didn't happen, oh well.

The great thing about lowered expectations is I'm seldom disappointed, no matter the outcome. We had a modest but lovely Christmas, scaled back from previous years in terms of quantity, but overflowing with all that mattered.

My favorite thing about this Christmas was that as soon as we finished school on December 14th, the kids disappeared for the following week, holed up in our basement atelier making gifts for everyone in our family (including the cats) out of pipecleaners, beads, string and scotch tape. This resulted in Jimmy's first working invention: a cat toy made out of a single pipecleaner twisted into a ring. Something about the shape and fuzziness is irresistible to both of our cats, who've been chasing them all over the house for the last three weeks.

Simple really is better.

The week after Christmas, as I was putting away patterns and flannel scraps leftover from the Christmas jammies, and casting furtive, longing glances at the corner where the new dressform Santa brought me sat in its box, I had an "aha" moment.

One of the things I love about this drafty, ramshackle old house we rent is it is big enough for me to have a room of my own, à la Virginia Woolfe. It's a combination sewing room/office in a finished-off portion of what was once the root cellar, and lately the preferred hidey-hole for Santa to stash the kids' presents. As I was doing post-pajama clean-up, though, I realized that even with all the gifts cleared out it was still an unqualified disaster. I really, really wanted to set up my new dressform and get sewing so I could finish winter break doing a fun project just for me, but before I could even put it together, I knew I had to make a place to put it.

Then it hit me: I am my  sewing room. It is me. We are both a hot mess.

Upstairs my house is moderately presentable. The living room, bathroom and dining room can be made company-ready in 20 minutes to a half-hour, tops. The kitchen, well, maybe an hour. The point is, I keep things functional and presentable up there so life can go on, even when I'm teaching phonics, refereeing squabbles, and dealing with teething babies.

And that's pretty much how I work emotionally, physically, spiritually and intellectually--I do enough on the surface to be serviceable. I have down days and forget to pray or meditate, I get stressed out, I eat too much, I don't get enough exercise--but I'm basically a good person who helps other people, cares for my family, gives back the wrong change the cashier made and tries not to yell at my kids. Too much. In public.

Below the surface, though--down in the basement, if you will--it's chaos. Things are out of place, neglected, haphazard. Boxes and bags and baskets--stacked every which way, filled with mementos, fabric, books, papers needing to be filed. A huge backlog of keep-or-toss. Because of that, I feel like I'm putting off doing the things I want to do because I haven't yet done the things I need to do, and I don't want to live my life in a holding pattern.

After I had this realization, a phrase started echoing in my head: "Put your house in order, put your house in order." We were in Yakima all day running errands on New Year's Eve, and I couldn't get it out of my head. I knew there was a scriptural reference, and finally looked it up (thank you, smart phone). As I read the passage, rather than feeling behind the 8-ball, I was filled with an immediate sense of calm that I could go about this a little bit at a time, systematically, when I had small chunks of time between my other commitments.

As I've said before, I don't believe in resolutions--making the start of a new year an arbitrary time to implement changes--but now is the time for me to put my house in order so I can start living in ways I've been putting off because I had other things I "ought to do"' first.

For the first time in months, I can see the top of my desk. It feels good.

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