The last few days have been rough, around here.

Not true tragedy kind of rough… just a to-do list that is too long and days that are too short. A lot of pressure for everything to go smoothly and too many activities that have a tendency to muck up the works. It’s the kind of days when every hour of your day is mapped out, and if you don’t follow the schedule exactly, say by getting into a disagreement with your husband about the time it takes to accomplish said item on said to-do list, well, then you’re well and truly buggered.

It happens. I mean, I have four kids, with four different school schedules and four different extracurriculars. I have a husband and we own our own business and a big house that is never (well, maybe once a year) as clean as I would like it to be. I have a dream, which requires copious amounts of time spent in contemplation and endless hours spent writing. I have a dog (and two, fairly non-problematic cats). Life happens.

But last night, as I am lamenting the things on the list that didn’t get crossed off, I had an epiphany. The thing is, I spend all of this time doing these things that I think HAVE to be done. I mean, when I looked at the list yesterday morning, there were all of these things that I labeled as MUSTS, and one or two that were wants.

Yes… some of the MUSTS are actually MUSTS. I did have to help #2 kid do his tuba playing test. It was due by 9:00 p.m., and it had to be done. I did have to go to #1’s last show of The Crucible, because I hadn’t seen it, and I want to support her in her endeavors. I did have to make sure that #3 and #4 got their Valentines addressed and that #3 finished her Valentine Box project.

But you know what I didn’t have to do: I didn’t have to spend an hour looking for a library book that I already KNOW is lost. I haven’t seen it in months. I remember sending it to school, but heaven only knows what happened to it from there. The hour of my time spent looking for that, just so that I could say that I had, is worth more than the two dollars it will cost me to replace the book.

I didn’t HAVE to give the dog a bath. He is healthy, and well-fed. He is loved and played with. Yes… he had a little eau de pooch aroma, but if he didn’t get his bath until mid-week, no one would have died.

I didn’t HAVE to do the laundry. Everyone has plenty of clothes, and no one was going to be wearing dirty socks to school or to work. I shouldn’t be wasting time stressing out about the fact that I have a mountain of clean laundry on my living room couch. You know why… because it isn’t hurting anyone. It is not damaging anyone’s psyche or causing anyone harm. It isn’t a MUST.

I didn’t have to dust. I dusted on Wednesday. I didn’t have to wipe down the cupboards. I didn’t have to reorganize the game shelf. I didn’t have to refold the towels that were hidden away in the linen closet. I don’t have to do homemade-handmade-unprocessed-or organic, every minute of every day.

I don’t have to do these things, but I’ve convinced myself that I do. I’ve convinced myself that if my house isn’t perfect and my kids don’t look perfect, if every aspect of our lives doesn’t come off looking polished and planned, then I am a failure. That’s bullshit.

Our kids are happy and healthy. They are growing up to be well-educated, thoughtful and compassionate human beings. They are creative and charitable. They are funny. We eat dinner together, every night, even if sometimes it is hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. We sing songs together. We play games. We laugh and tell stories. My teenager still gives me hugs.

Our yard isn’t always perfectly manicured and when that mountain of snow melts, last year’s leaves are still going to buried under it. I have not been “caught up” on laundry since 1998. My kids’ bedrooms look like Hurricane Katrina paid them a visit, and often, my response to that is just to close the door.

A friend of mine, who has just recently had her first baby, posted an article on Facebook recently about kid filth, and said that she would never allow her house to be like that. My gut reaction was, “Good luck with that.” But that was wrong. If what you need to stay sane is a perfectly maintained home, more power to you. I honestly, truly wish you well in your endeavor. Who am I to judge? Because we do that to ourselves, enough. We constantly look at what we are doing as parents, as people, and think, “I am not doing enough. I am not working hard enough, I’m not paying my dues, I’m not perfect.”

Nobody is.

And that’s what I realized, last night. My car had to go into the shop for a wheel bearing replacement (Ugh.) and so my husband picked me up at the mechanic’s. I had just finished watching #1’s play, and he had been home with the two littlest. I didn’t feel like cooking (as I still had about half of my to-do list to conquer) and it has been so cold that the kids haven’t spent much time outside, so he suggested heading to McDonald’s for dinner and a little playland time. We almost never do this, because I have always hated the playland. It is loud and people bring their kids and then sit on their electronics, ignoring their children, while I sit there and judge them for it.

Yup. I hate the playland. But I sighed, and caved. We got out of the van, only for me to discover that my husband had told them they could come in their pj’s. My daughter’s hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed in a month. And my first thought was, “Oh, my God. We look like ‘those people,'” –meaning the people that I have always looked at with contempt. The people who don’t bother to look polished and perfect, who come to McDonald’s to ignore their kids.

And I nearly had a panic attack.

But my husband guided me gently inside. We ate our not-remotely-healthy meal with the kids, and then they played. They were ragamuffins. They looked like orphan hobos. But they played, and they laughed. They used their manners and treated the other children nicely. The world didn’t stop spinning and no one called CPS. My husband held my hand. We had a few moments of quiet conversation, probably while other parents looked at us like, “Good God, don’t they even know what a hairbrush looks like?”

I’m over it.

My name is Stacey, and I have a problem. I am addicted to the idea that I have to be perfect, that if I am not projecting the aura of someone who kills themselves, 18 hours a day, to make sure that everything is picture perfect, then I am a failure. I am addicted to beating myself up.

I cannot promise that I won’t fall off of the wagon, but I’m going to try. I’m going to try to remember that no one ever died because their laundry wasn’t folded. I’m going to try to remember that love and laughter and togetherness are vastly more important than perfectly coifed hair or bookshelves without dust on them. I’m going to try to remember that what makes a home isn’t the lack of dirt, but the way that you make your messes. I’m going to try to forgive myself for not being perfect. I’m going to try to stop trying so damned hard. I’m going to hold my husband’s hand more often, and sing in the kitchen, more often. I’m going to try to stop prioritizing things as MUSTS when they really aren’t. I’m going to try to stop judging other people, because in the end, we’re all just struggling to make sure we leave the world a better place than we found it. Who am I to say that untangled hair defines a good parent?

I’m going to try to remember that thirty years from now, my kids will be in my shoes. I will want them to know that shedding tears over dirty dishes in the sink, or getting short of breath because it snowed before you got the leaves raked is a waste of their time and energy. I will want them to know that they are perfect… no matter how chaotic their life seems. I will want them to remember their own dreams, and to make sure that they give themselves time and energy to accomplish them, and also the freedom to accept their own failings.

So I have to start by showing them.

I am going to try to stop trying, so damned hard. I MUST be happy, and I MUST raise happy, healthy kids. That’s it… the rest is gravy, and it is totally acceptable if it is gravy that comes from a jar.


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