Lowering my expectations

Last weekend, Alex and I were really feeling the itch to do some spring cleaning. I have been mentally compiling lists of house projects all winter long while simultaneously trying to be (slightly) realistic in knowing that only a fraction of it will get done. Given our hectic life with an almost-one-year-old, the odds are stacked in favor of me spending this spring and summer chasing after a toddler rather than power washing my deck or painting my bedroom.

But, I’ve been feeling really frustrated lately. Held back. Mystified while wondering how I’m going to survive toddlerhood with a very high-energy child, let alone accomplish anything. I find that at all times while I am trying to get things done, I am either tripping over a two-foot-tall creature who is directly beneath my feet or I am leaping across the room like a gazelle in order to thwart her from climbing a bookcase or swallowing a tack. Honestly, I am exhausted and my house is a disaster zone.

And lately, the tidiness of my house has become a symbol for my struggle with motherhood. Quite often I feel my thoughts echoed in the dust bunnies (or lack thereof) collecting in my corners, my emotions strewn across the floors with the laundry, my mood altering between hopefulness and hopelessness with the piling up and emptying out of dirty dishes from the sink.

I want to somehow do what I know is impossible: catch up. Catch up with all the things that have gone undone this past year and then not allow them to go undone until I give birth to another child (at which point I will start this whole crazy thing over again).

I want to go ape shit on the kitchen—scour the sink with a toothbrush, scrub the floor by hand, disinfect the refrigerator shelves. Without a tiny mouth trying to eat the cleaning gloves off my hands. I want to clean the kitchen—not because it’s important, but because it would make me feel less like I am drowning.

Back to the weekend though….Given these recent feelings, I was determined to get something done this past weekend. I looked out our windows at the sad state of our property—our yard littered with leaves, sticks, and weeds, bordered on all sides by the pristine lawns of all our neighbors. I was going to do something about this (with the help of Alex, of course). So, I strapped Emerson onto my body, and headed outdoors to attack the mess. As I raked, I felt exhilarated and satisfied. I felt more like a human being than a mother.

I decided to capitalize on the momentum. So, when we were finished outside, I continued to spring clean the inside of my house. There were sponges and soap, vinegar-soaked q-tips and microfiber cloths. I cleaned inside cracks and crevices until I was sweaty. Yes, I could do this. I could be a mother and a human being and accomplish things. Heck, I was going to get all my house projects done this spring. Okay, most of them. Some of them. It was going to be grand.

Then, Emerson needed my attention. As I took the baby from Alex’s arms, I told him I felt amazing after all the cleaning I did, but I had no idea how other families—families with even more children—managed to get anything done…ever. He simply said, “you need to lower your expectations. Then it’ll be easier to feel accomplished.”

“Yes, lower my expectations. That will help,” I replied.

I began to carry Emerson upstairs to change her diaper while secretly thinking I cannot lower my expectations! I don’t know how to do that. I will just have to find a way to maintain the insane level of productivity I managed to pull out today. 

Little did I know, I was about to be schooled in the ways of lowering one’s expectations. As I plopped Emerson down on her changing table, I saw a soiled cloth diaper lying on the floor. As I bent down to pick it up, I noticed something. Poop. Sizable. On the floor. Old. A bit hardened. Flattened by someone’s shoe.

I was imagining it, right? It was something else. I had to be mistaken. My grown husband would not throw poop on the floor, step in it and then walk all over the house, and on our new carpets, with poop on his shoe (while I was hard at work spring cleaning!). No. Yes. Yes, he would.

I let out a wild “grrrrrrrrrr!” as I finished changing Emerson’s diaper. Then I yelled down to Alex, informing him of the foul infraction he had committed. He tried to deny it, he tried to tell me I was imagining it. But, one look at the bottom of his shoe shut him up. He came upstairs and quietly took the baby out of my arms while cautiously backing away, bracing himself for my fury. But, I said nothing. I just grabbed some wipes and got on my hands and knees. I was too frustrated by my inability to maintain an immaculate life.

As I tried to distinguish wood markings from poop streaks on the wood floor, I knew I had to let this go. I hated it, but I had to let it go. There was nothing I could do about the fact that Alex had tracked poop all over the house. I could not retrace all the steps he had taken with his dirty shoe in the past hour. I could not steam clean the carpet that he had danced on with Emerson or wash the billion toys that were lying on the dirty floor. I had to give it all a once over and then be done with it. I had to be okay with the fact that there are now trace amounts of poop in more locations than I am aware of in my house (and that’s probably the case all of the time). I had to lower my standards and my expectations.

“Don’t worry, baby, it’s just a lit bit of feces,” Alex called to me. As much as I wanted to resist that comment, he was right. There is poop on the floor and I have to find a way to accept that. Yes, this is my life. Forget spring cleaning. Forget the OCD state of houses past. A child lives here now—that is what my mess says. Nothing more.

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