The kids and I are settling into a new routine without their dad. We’re doing okay so far, but this isn’t the hard part. Ian is only in Louisiana for training before heading to Iraq. From our end, this is inconvenient, but not scary. I’m juggling everything alone, but I’m not fearful for my husband’s safety. I know from experience that comes later, when the war sneaks up in the form of news reports or bumper stickers or heartbreaking questions from children. That part’s coming.
But for now, the big project is cleaning up. There is a lot to reorganize when running the house alone. Ian and I run the house differently, and he’s been the primary person at home for awhile. He did all the grocery shopping and most of the cooking. When he left I didn’t know what kind of food we had in the refrigerator. We buy different things. For instance, I like to keep chicken stock on hand for making soup; Ian doesn’t make soup. Ian makes a lot of things on the grill; I can’t get the fire going. Ian uses frozen vegetables; I prefer fresh ones. Ian bakes bread and makes his own pizza dough; I think of those as things to pick up on the way home. They are small differences, but they add up to a whole new way of doing things, and it ends up being a big adjustment for the kids. As much as I’d like to keep things the same for them, it’s just not reality. I have to do things my way.
Ian is brilliant at many things: geography, science, writing, staying calm in a crisis, setting up play dates, anything to do with a computer…. Keeping the house neat is not on the list. He apologized to me before he left about the state of the house. It’s nothing health inspectors would shut us down for, it’s just cluttered and I hate not being able to find anything. I need clear surfaces to feel calm. I like to have space to do a project well. In Ian’s defense, a lot of the problem is that tons of paper pile up and he doesn’t know what to do with it all. He’s not the final judge of the fate of the mounds of artwork the kids produce, or letters from my dad, or photos from our last trip. When I’m at work I can’t sort those things and they end up like drifting piles of trash all over the house. The other problem is that we lack storage space. We have essentially no closets. There is one big one in the upstairs hallway, and a tiny one in a small guest room downstairs, but that’s it. No front hall closet, no linen closet, no closets in the bedrooms, no attic to speak of, and the basement is gross. I used to be a pack rat because I can think of so many possibilities for using old things, but now I’m keen on giving things away and throwing things out. When you are forced to look at everything you own all the time, items that are not functional or beautiful are irritating.
I’ve been doing what I call a barium sweep. I’m a Star Trek fan, and there was an episode of The Next Generation where they ‘clean’ the ship by sweeping a barium wall of light relentlessly from one end to the other. I start at the front of the house in the living room and remove everything from it that doesn’t belong there. When it’s done I push ahead to dining room, etc and so on until I end up in my bedroom and I go to sleep. Normally I do a light barium sweep to get things looking presentable, but this time it’s a serious event. I don’t want things to just look nice, I want to organize the drawers and label boxes and know where everything is. I’m making progress and it feels good. I know part of it is just being able to have control over something at a time when I’m feeling vulnerable, but it’s empowering to be able to find a pencil when I want it, or know if we have fresh batteries, especially since living with small children usually means nothing is where I left it. I have friends across the street without kids, and they always have beautiful decorative objects on display and things set up just so. It’s like walking in a mythical land for me, because if I did that in my home the minute I turned my back everything would be rearranged into some inexplicable game.
I’m sort of excited about all the cleaning at the moment because I’m getting back in touch with the house and how we use it. It feels good, but that feeling won’t last. Cleaning usually makes me grumpy. The only thing I really like to clean is my violin shop. I love organizing my tools and sweeping up wood chips and something about that always feels productive. I hate the sense that I’m wasting my time by picking up the same items over and over and over and it eventually gets on my nerves. I get particularly resentful of dishes. We don’t have a dishwasher (well, we did–his name was Ian) and there are many evenings when I wash dishes where I think about how much I’d rather be carving a scroll or reading a book. I have a friend who edited a marvelous book about the spiritual side of cleaning called ‘Next to Godliness,’ and I should reread to get my attitude aligned ahead of time. The first essay in the book is about how when you wash dishes you shouldn’t wish to be somewhere else. If you’re not living in the moment (even a dirty dish filled one) you’re not living a true experience.
As long as I stay on top of things it will help. A lot of staying sane during deployment is about avoiding the last straw. If I can prevent small things from exploding into large problems we will all be happier. Stepping on a lego in bare feet on the wrong day could be the difference between me being able to enjoy an evening with my kids or me simply falling apart. Better to pick up the lego early.