Single Moms: Something's Gotta Give

This past weekend, I had a hen party. The good women who run our elementary school's annual fundraising Silent Auction had asked if they could offer up a hen party at the humble abode of yours truly. As in, offer it up for bidding. Of course I said yes (have you ever known me to utter the word No?) and much to my surprise it was bid up to capacity in short order.

Had I known people would actually fork over cash for the privilege of drinking under my roof, I would have started putting out a tip jar years ago.

Anyhoo. As I was saying, the party was this weekend. It wasn't the absolute best weekend in my life to be having a party, what with the Listen To Your Mother show coming up THIS THURSDAY and all, but as my most practical BFF Michelle replied when I started bitching about it: Every weekend is terrible for someone. And so I sucked it up and tried hard to not pout as my more fastidious friends gave my house the equivalent of a whore bath (you don't know what a whore bath is? It's when you're short on time so only the essentials get cleaned. Yeah I know the word whore is derogatory but come on...you know it applies here) a couple of hours before Party Time.

Needless to say, the party was awesome. They always are.  I'm not saying that in a boastful way, either.  They just are.  The food was amaze-balls, the wine flowed freely and the conversations were captivating. There was some fresh meat at this one, and it's always fun for me to kind of sit back and watch as they transform, magically, into a full-fledged Hen. It's a beautiful thing.

We were supposed to be having this party on the lovely Golden Girls Porch of Love, but since this is May in Minnesota, and we'd just had snow the day before, the good times went down in my warmer, if somewhat less charming, living room.

And that's where we last revelers were gathered as things started winding down. My hens, they are something else. These women will actually clean up before they go home. I'm talking: wine glasses washed, leftovers packed up, recycling bags filled and lined up to be put out. Candles snuffed, pillows fluffed and everything in between. I love these ladies.

As the remaining four or so ladies bustled about, tidying up, one of my favorite hens approached me, and my daughter Molly. Molly had been home for the party, and at this point in the evening she emerged from her room to see if there were any delicious morsels left for her to pick at.

Before I go any further, I need to clarify this: the friend I'm referencing here is a wonderful woman, a girl I love with all my heart and with at least one ovary. She has helped me out in so many ways I cannot even count them, but I remember each one with much gratitude.  She would never, ever, not-in-a-million-gazillion-years ever dream of saying something to hurt anyone. What transpired next is on me. I own it.  It's mine.

She approached me, and Molly, and in a most insouciant, "before I forget" sort of way, mentioned that the two of us should maybe be a bit more conscientious about picking up after ourselves. Baffled, I wondered exactly where she had been that evening..the hens had been very good about stuffing our messes behind closed doors, and in strategically placed garbage bags.  "Oh no.." she said, and told us about an emergency bathroom visit she had made a couple weeks prior. Her youngest was in dire need of a toilet, and since my house is in close proximity to everything, she popped in. Only Henry was home, and being the kind and respectful young man he is, welcomed my friend and her child into our home.  Which hadn't seen a whore bath, or any kind of bath, in a while.

Had I been there, I would have hauled ass into said bathroom and done a ten-second version of the whore bath: clothes off floor, hair wiped from vanity, toothpaste pried from the rim of the sink, etc.

I wasn't there, though, and so my unsuspecting friend, and her innocent child, stepped into the quagmire that is MY BATHROOM.

Now, if you know me for more than five minutes, you know this: I am a slob. I am the Oscar to every Felix. I bathe regularly, so I'm not PigPen, but me and cleaning...we don't see a lot of each other.  Molly and I share this particular bathroom, and unfortunately Molly is my Mini-Me in every conceivable way. Including the slob thing.

Our mornings are rushed, sometimes frantic blurs with showers and makeup and blowdrying. The long counter in the bathroom is more often than not littered with vestiges of girly-land: bottles of moisturizer, hair bands, cotton balls, tweezers, floss, hairbrushes (and oh the humanity...THE HAIR. Yeti is as Yeti does, mother and daughter style). The shiny vinyl floor is hidden under layers, like the Earth: only instead of crust, mantle and core you will find towels, pajamas and undergarments.  And yeah, probably some crust. Sorry.

I normally don't think twice about it. As I mentioned above, if someone is coming over, I will go in and make sure it isn't too crime-sceney, and will shove the piles of textiles into the neglected hamper. I do clean the bathroom, too, probably not to the standards of some OCD Martha types, but enough so that nobody is going to die from a staph infection they catch in MY latrine.

So when my friend said what she said, I was a little taken aback. I had broken my cocktail fast that evening (oh yes...I haven't mentioned this one yet, have I? All in due time), so the wine had slowed down the information highway just a bit.

At first I laughed. Because that's usually what I do. A giggle, a chuckle, a snort. Sometimes a guffaw. Standard response.  I'm sure I made a horrified face, and I know I asked if there were any ghastly underpants which of course had landed crotch-side up when they were tossed into the fray on the floor. My friend laughed too, and the process of getting out the door began.  All was good, right?

Wrong. I went to bed, and I was hurting. I felt really, really bad. Why? All that had transpired was a little ribbing from a friend, right? One mom-to-another kind of thing. It wasn't a big deal. It wasn't even a tiny deal.

Except for me, it was a deal. Not a huge one, but a deal nonetheless. I felt a little shamed, a little humiliated, and a little judged.  My mind went where it always does in these situations: in defensive mode. I wanted to call my friend and explain to her that I'd been working so many hours, and getting home so late, and trying to do everything it takes to keep things running in my world.

I pulled out my Single Mom card. Hey, shush now. I've got like, 3 cards. That one's my favorite.

We Single Moms..we don't have it easy. Day to day life is at best, busy. At worst, it's hellish. We are one person doing the jobs of two. We don't have the luxury of time, we don't have the ability to spread our priorities out like a blanket spread out on a lush green lawn for a picnic.  We divide, we conquer. Things get done as they need to be done, often quickly and without a whole lot of thought. We don't have partners, husbands or wives who can drive Thing One to work or take Thing Two out on a bike ride while we roll up our sleeves and get to scrubbin'. Our lives are not easy. They are crammed and busy and go at a breakneck pace. And oftentimes, they are messy.

Kids. Work. Laundry. Cooking. Cleaning. US.

Something's gotta give, ladies. And in my world, it's the cleaning.

When I leave my house in the morning, I have at least a hundred things running through my mind: William's band concert is tonight, where is the mother-effing bow tie and cummerbund?? When is Walter's vet appointment? Do we have milk? CRAP! I forgot to get gas! Note to self: call Comcast and cancel HBO. Did Charlie ever come home last night? When did I enter the nose-hair growing Olympics? And why can I only see them in the rear view mirror? I need to go to Costco. Are conferences this week? Dammit. They were last week. Am I subbing for Pat or for Erin tomorrow??  What time is it? AHGGGH! SQUIRREL, WATCH OUT!

You get the idea. Nowhere in that stream-of-crazy is this thought: Geeze I hope nobody stops by to use my bathroom. Because it's 10 shades of horrifying.

I could spend more time cleaning, that's for sure. A half hour here, an hour there...it could get done and situations like the one involving my friend and her child could be avoided.  But I guard my half hours, and my hours, and my minutes. I guard them closely and I use them carefully. I know that someday, all too soon, I will have plenty of time to clean my bathroom. To scrub the kitchen floor. To take care of the cobwebs and dust the picture frames. But for now, when I find myself with 30 free minutes, I have to choose: clean, or go find Charlie and chat? Get out the bleach, or sit on the deck with Henry and his friends? Pick up dirty clothes, or pick up the leash and take my dog out for a much-needed walk? Hint: I'm a sucker for kids and dogs.

When I was a fresh, young, blissfully-married mama taking Early Childhood Classes, I sat there in my Gap overalls and my wire-rim glasses and listened intently as the wise sages known as Parent Educators told us how life goes so fast, and how we should cherish the milky, diaper-butt moments we were mired in at that time. That young me had no idea what life would be like a dozen years down the road, but even then I knew I'd never win any House Beautiful contests...even then I knew that in MY world, whether or not you could see the bathroom floor took a backseat to getting the babies out to play in the sunshine.

One day, as our class came to a close, we were given a handout. And on this handout was a little poem, one that I'd read a hundred times before and I've read at least a hundred times since...but it's lovely. And the older my kids get, the more I get it:

Song for a Fifth Child

by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

My lullaby and rocking days are long gone, but my babies are still within arm's reach. And my messy bathroom can wait.


    1. Oh my, I can relate to this. We do so much and the cleaning often comes last in my home. I'm too busy trying to teach my kid how to ride his bike and make sure my daughter has safe food to eat at a birthday party (food allergies). When you don't have anyone to share the load with, these sorts of things just have to be at the bottom of the list. Honestly, we single mothers could NEVER sleep and STILL not have a clean house, full time career and well rounded, fed children because it is impossible to do it all... so we lift our chins up and try our best to smile and find peace in the chaos. xo

    2. I never comment on blogs, but I could not help but reply to this one.

      First, your friend is rude. She stopped by (unannounced!) to use your bathroom. Sure she has the right to SILENTLY judge, but keep your comments to yourself. Next time stop at the gas station.

      Second, I am not a single mom and my fleeing comment as I raced out the door this morning with two little ones and 93 bags of crap was "I hope that no one calls child services on me and sees this mess."

    3. As nice as you say your friend is, I think her comment was rude.

    4. On one hand, I agree with so much in this. Children's needs should be met before a house's needs. People should ALWAYS come before things, because people are important and things aren't.

      But, on the other hand, I see a difference between a mildly neglected house and a really messy, unclean house. I cannot possibly judge which one yours is, because I've known people to exaggerate or underplay depending on their own definitions of "clean" (I, for instance, will never be able to achieve my mother's definition of clean). However, my opinion stands that it's not okay to let things get so bad that your guest worthy house and your living day-to-day house are wildly different spaces.

      The reason is just that there are children there--and we learn how to live first from our parents. If I know how to clean, it's because my mom showed me how. And she was a single parent of 2 children in her 30s and 40s, getting first her BA, then her teaching credentials, then her Master's, all while teaching, working as a part-time maid for my grandparents, and entering the dating scene. I'm not saying it didn't take its toll on her, because it did. She got up earlier than either my sister or myself and went to bed later every single night. If I were in her shoes, I wouldn't have done it all. My house or apartment would have suffered some neglect.

      I've had roommates over the years, and I can always tell which ones came from homes where the parents chose children over the house too much. They don't have the same excuse--there were no kids, and very few responsibilities besides just going to college classes. But, they just hadn't been taught how to make time to keep things clean. How to even just "clean as you go" was a total mystery to them, and it made from some truly disgusting living spaces. Of course, even those who had cleaning parents were useless if the parents always did everything for them anyway.

      So, why not get the kids more involved in the upkeep? That way you can spend time together, but the house gets taken care of, too? You aren't doing this all on your own. You have your children. And all it will do is help everyone learn how to take care of their things, and not take cleaning for granted. But, hey, don't worry if that's not on your agenda. Because as long as what you have is working for you, then don't worry about what other people think. Even me. =D

    5. Wait a minute. Wait.a.MINUTE.

      A friend comes to your house, unannounced, to use the bathroom. A friend who knows you, knows your life circumstances, knows your kids. Your FOUR FREAKING KIDS. Knows what has to happen every day just to keep the ship afloat? And then has the chutzpah to give you a hard time about the state of your [wait for it] BATHROOM? *facepalm*

      I'm speechless, seriously. That's ridiculous. Who the hell cares what your bathroom looks like? I'm honestly not trying to give your friend a hard time--I'm sure she's a wonderful person--but I think the hen with the drinky-drink issue that night was her, not you. That comment was totally out of bounds, inappropriate, and uncalled for. I do hope you've checked this one off your guilt/shame/defensive list because yes, the messy bathroom can wait. FOREVER.

      [Long-time lurker, first-time commenter, by the way. I love your entire blog but have never commented until now--this just really steamed my broccoli. Ignore the fucking bathroom and Ms. Cleany McJudgeypants and just keep writing.]


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