Every time I visit my mother-in-law’s house, I am amazed at the deep crevices in her carpet left by her vacuum. They are somewhat mesmerizing, almost like an art form, running up and down so symmetrically. It’s obvious my mother-in-law is a woman who has spent some time vacuuming, and to this day, my husband comments on the immense satisfaction it gives him to see perfect vacuum lines in the carpet, a nostalgic reminder, apparently, of his past.
Which is where those carpet lines are staying, because they sure as heck aren’t happening in our household currently containing four children ranging in ages 7 to 1.
I’ll admit that sometimes I wish my house was cleaner or that I could rub my feet luxuriously along carpet that has not been marred by mysteriously dirty toes and/or infiltrated by remnants of suckers that will be forever bound in its fibers.
But Diane Dekker Redlegs, 51, from Rapids City, SD, a paramedic and writer, has a message for moms like me, the ones who secretly admire the clean and crisp vacuum lines of others; the ones who wonder why on earth we can’t manage to keep up; the ones who feel a bit like we are always running behind:
Vacuum lines are overrated, guys.
In a Facebook post now gone viral, Redlegs told the story of visiting an aunt and uncle with her five children, who ranged in age from 6 months to 8 years old. She explained that while touring the family’s big, beautiful home, despite the grandeur of the bathrooms and the bedrooms and the kitchens, what struck the young and surely exhausted stay-at-home mother back then was the majesty of the vacuum lines in the carpet.
“As we strolled into the dining room, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh my gosh! Her vacuum lines are still in her carpet probably a week or more after she vacuumed!! What I wouldn’t give to clean my house and have it stay magazine perfect for more than 5 minutes!!’ I couldn’t wait for the day that I would be able to do that and not have it messed up by sticky little finger prints on the perfectly waxed dining table, or Legos hiding under the table, or walking in to discover Ryan’s latest art creation had so carefully been designed on the wall with crayons.”
To Redlegs, those carpet lines represented a life without the struggles she faced every day of caring for her young children. “Hell, it took me 20 minutes in each room just to find the floor before I could vacuum it!” she laughs. But then one day, as she describes it, Redlings woke up to her perfectly clean house, complete with her very own vacuum lines, that she knew would stay that way for days, and had a heart-breaking discovery:
“That’s when I realized that vacuum lines are lonely. That Legos and dirty clothes and mouths to feed and backpacks to get ready are sometimes very overwhelming, but they’re never, ever lonely and that’s what the old ladies had been telling me was true! That the Legos slowly disappeared without me ever noticing. They were replaced by video games, and then football gear and then by empty bedrooms waiting for a visit home from college or life. That the loads of laundry gradually got smaller, the dirty dishes were less and the endless treasures of Pokemon cards, or rock collections all disappeared. Everything sits magazine ready in my home now and I appreciate and love this time of my life, I only wish I had known the cost of vacuum lines, because then I surly wouldn’t have wanted this day to come as fast as it did.”
I had the chance to chat with Redlegs over the phone and she chuckled in sympathy at my living in the trenches of parenthood, complete with a horrible sinus infection that made me sound quite delightful. She told me that what she remembers most from those days was how hard she felt she had to work to keep her world organized.
“Being a working mother, and just a mother in general … to try to keep my world organized, something in my house had to be organized. It really seemed that if work was organized, then home was a mess. If my house was organized, then work was a mess. It was always a very overwhelming feeling.”
She explained that she finally had the realization that she couldn’t be superwoman, so she started to prioritize. “If I was the bad mom who didn’t get cupcakes to the bake sale, then that was OK,” she says. “Moms think everything has to be picture-perfect and it really doesn’t. Nobody’s home is like the magazines. We live in our homes and life makes messes! Life requires clutter and messes and you just find your perfect balance.”
And part of that balance, says Redlegs, is prioritizing what’s important, which is what she’s begging those of us currently in the trenches to do by realizing that we are in the middle of some of the sweetest times in our lives:
“Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere. To the mothers with vacuum lines who miss their children everyday, and to the young mothers who struggle through the mountains of laundry and responsibility. Cherish your children, their messes and stresses, and the hell they put you through as teenagers, and trust me, vacuum lines are overrated.”
And one more thing, because I was burning with curiosity to know — does Redlegs have any vacuum lines in her house right now? “Oh, hell no,” she replied with a laugh. “Well, I take that back. I’m about half-full of vacuum lines.”
Sounds like the perfect balance to me.