Reclaiming My Bedroom—My Messy Beautiful

Glennon Melton of Momastery recently asked writers to post an essay about their messy, beautiful lives to celebrate the paperback release of her book Carry On, Warrior. I realize she’s using “messy” in reference to life’s big things—parenting, work, marriage, friendship, health. But I decided to take a literal spin on the project and write about one of my own messy beautifuls that I carefully hide behind a closed door—my bedroom.

For months, it’s been a disaster.

Something had to give. Every child goes through tougher periods and for Owen and James, 3 has been hard. With everyone in school in the mornings, I’ve tried to pick up a lot more freelance work. Thankfully, I’ve been successful. Unfortunately, it has taken me many months of 2am bedtimes and feeling like I was failing at stay-at-home parenting as well as freelancing before I allowed myself the grace of sometimes hiring daytime babysitters. I’ve had some odd health things going on, the latest of which requires light therapy treatments up in Cincinnati three times a week. My current life story is the same as all of our current life stories. We’re all busy (even when I try, daily, to live a life of not-busy). It just happens.

Still, something had to give.

So I threw in the towel (literally, into a pile of all the other clean clothes on the floor, waiting to be folded) on trying to maintain a clean bedroom.

It was so easy.

Sophie has a play date and I don’t want the kids getting into the paint? Throw it into the bedroom. Guests coming over and I don’t have time to properly put everything away? Throw it into the bedroom. Seasons change and I don’t have time to switch the clothes over? Stack the boxes in the bedroom.

I would go through and pick things up, put things away. But always there was a clothes basket filled with odds and ends that needed sorted and put away—wooden beads, game pieces, Barbie shoes, car wheels, a broken Nutcracker, loose change, a half-empty pack of wipes, mesh bags used when traveling, pencils that needed sharpened, too-small socks, too-big shorts bought on clearance, the extra contents of a purse acquired when I switched everything else of importance over to another one.

I wasn’t always like this. In my previous life I was managing editor at several magazines, a job that is based around organization. In my previous life I prided myself on having an always-cleaned-out fridge, an organized basement and books arranged alphabetically on my bookshelf. In my previous life I hung up my clothes by sleeve length with a nod toward the color wheel and sorted my M&Ms before eating them.

Children change you.

These days, I’m lucky if my clothes even make it to the closet. Turns out, when I have more than just my wardrobe to deal with, I’m terrible at laundry. Every morning, while sifting through the piles of washed-thanks-to-Andy-who-takes-care-of-that-every-time-he-video-games-in-the-basement-but-per-our-deal-I-never-actually-fold-and-put-away clothes I silently curse and swear I’ll fold everything that night. I continue silently cursing while ironing everyone’s outfits because everything is wrinkled and while giving up on matching socks because everyone has approximately three minutes to get to school before they will be considered late.

While lamenting to a friend about my laundry woes she mentioned that she was hiring a laundress. A laundress. It sounded so decadent, so Downton Abbyish. I daydreamed about my own laundress (a modern Cinderella came to mind) before coming back to the reality that some days the kids are going to have to play a board game (or five) without me and some nights I’m going to have to forgo freelance work and/or skip puttering around on the Internet, reading a book or watching a show.

There’s a threshold for everything. And last night, I reached mine.

Despite my freelance deadlines, despite the fact that I had pulled late nights two nights prior, despite the fact that I’m three episodes behind on “Parenthood,” I cleaned my bedroom.

And instead of dreading it, all day, I looked forward to it. All it took was some rethinking. I wasn’t cleaning my bedroom. I wasn’t giving up play time with the kids or my nightly TV show with Andy. I was reclaiming my bedroom. My beautiful bedroom I purposefully painted off-white and in which I hung floor-to-ceiling white drapes from Ikea to create a sense of calm. My beautiful bedroom with the huge leather chair I found on Craigslist, with the ribbon board my mom made for me years ago hung up behind it, filled with loved mementos, and the broken brushed-brass floor lamp next to it, held together with some twine—my reading nook I never used, because of the pile of clothes encroaching it. My beautiful bedroom with the queen-size bed that more often than not holds five instead of two, the same bed with the wedding album tucked underneath it, which Sophie loves to pull out and look through (when the room is clean enough for her to be able to). My beautiful bedroom with the two Target dressers I so desperately want to replace with antiques, the same dressers that now hold framed photos, alarm clocks and perfume bottles but for years held handmade burp cloths and breast pump parts and were decorated with rings of milk leftover from bottles. My beautiful bedroom with the handmade jewelry cabinet my uncle made filled with handmade jewelry my mother-in-law made. My beautiful bedroom with the non-working fireplace and gorgeous wood-and-mirrored-and-columned mantel that surrounds it, one of the key things that made me fall in love with the house before we even purchased it.

So I took out all the dirty clothes. And old water glasses. And gathered all the loose items and put them in their proper places, which took a ridiculous amount of time (and prompted a glass of wine). Then I turned on “Weeds” on Netflix and for two hours I folded. I folded all the clothes. All.of.them. And put them away.

I reclaimed my bedroom.

I reclaimed my office (which is my bed).

I reclaimed my reading nook and dusted off the pile of magazines next to it, noting the bookmark in my book that hasn’t been moved in weeks.

I reclaimed the floor, another play space in our small, old house.

I reclaimed my bed, which the boys immediately jumped into the next day insisting I make a cave with our down comforter and my arms and feet for them to play in.

I reclaimed my sanity. My sanctuary. The place I go to read. To write. To sleep. To be on my own. To be with Andy. To snuggle with the kids during a middle-of-the-night thunderstorm. To dress for the day ahead. To retreat after a day done well. To hide after a day done poorly. To be.

And now my door is wide open. I’m calmer, just thinking about it. I’ve already allowed myself grace, for when it will invariably get messy again. But I also have given myself permission to reclaim it more quickly. Life is easy when you can throw a bunch of stuff in a room during a super-quick cleanup and close the door. But it’s a short-lived easy. Because even though the rest of the house may be beautiful, there’s still a hidden mess to deal with (isn’t there always?). And already, this morning, I’ve learned this: Life is a whole lot easier when clothes are in drawers and all the socks match.

“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.” —D.H. Lawrence

And now, a giveaway! The folks at Simon & Schuster were kind enough to send me a copy of Glennon’s book, Carry On, Warrior, which I would love to pass on to you. Simply post a comment telling me how you deal with laundry by Saturday, May 10. I’ll randomly choose a winner on Mother’s Day, and send it your way!

A Rookie Move

One of my children: “MOM! Can we paint?”

My bone-tired thought process: Letting them paint by themselves will give me at least 5 minutes of alone time on this couch.

Five minutes later:

“No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior, and I’m not talking about the kids. Their behavior is always normal.” —Bill Cosby

Some Days …

I accomplish big things. Like finishing up a several-week-long freelance project. Planting a garden. Vacuuming the entire house (which may not seem like a big accomplishment until you understand that I have to pick up everything in every room before vacuuming).

And then other days, like today, I accomplish this: Finding Owen’s shoes, which have been missing for almost two weeks, in his closet.

(What is wrong with me?)

“Do not let your grand ambitions stand in the way of small but meaningful accomplishments.” —Bryant H. McGill

A Shoulder To Lean On

Now that we’ve moved Owen and James to twin beds, they’re no longer napping—but they still need to nap. And I need for them to nap. They’re exhausted. I’m exhausted. It’s been a fight-back-tears and escape-to-my-bedroom-to-hide-underneath-my-down-comforter-as-soon-as-Andy-gets-home two weeks.

Today, in particular, was tough. James only spoke in whine. At first I tried to ignore it. That only seemed to escalate it. So I addressed it. I told him I wouldn’t respond to his requests unless he asked nicely and talked in a normal voice. He would whine some more. I wouldn’t budge. And then he would throw a mini fit. I’d remind him of what he needed to do. He’d ask nicely—normal voice, with a “please.” Two seconds later? Back to the whine. All.day.long.

This was in between the boys’ fighting, over everything. All.day.long.

Owen, in particular, likes to “dupe” James. He pokes him, anywhere (stomach, head, eye, arm, leg) and says “dupe!” and then giggles. James does not appreciate this. When I scold Owen, he says, “But I have to dupe him! I just have to!”

OWEN! JAMES! JUST STOP!” I said, completely and totally exasperated, more than once today.

They just stared. Every time. And went back to whining. And duping. And crying about not being able to have a Christmas cookie at 9:30 in the morning.

James, eventually exhausted, fell asleep on the couch, upright, clinging to the crust of some buttered bread, head way back, mouth slightly open. (This was about 4:30pm.) Sophie and Owen were playing grocery store upstairs. I purchased a few things—a Rubik’s cube, a pink plastic princess cell phone and a Wonder Pets figurine—and put them in a plastic, singing, much-too-low-for-me shopping cart. I pushed my purchases into the hallway. Then, I lied. I said that James was asleep on the couch (true) and that I needed to sit next to him to make sure he didn’t fall off (not true).

“Aw, James is sleeping?” Owen said so sweetly, forming his lips into a perfect “o,” his head cocked to one side.

“Yes,” I said, grateful that he was (finally) sleeping and thankful that Sophie and Owen were (finally) playing, happily.

I went downstairs and sat next to James on the couch. No TV, no computer, no book. I just sat. And I wondered how any of us were going to survive these next few weeks without a daily “break,” (for me) and without a daily nap (for them).

I watched James. I watched as the day’s stresses slowly pushed his head to the side, down and down and down until he’d startle and pop it back up. This happened again and again. He seemed calm and peaceful—for the first time today—except for the head bobbing.

So the next time his head popped back up, I scooted next to him. Once again, down his head came. But this time, my shoulder was there. He settled into me and finally, without fight, sunk into a deep sleep.

After a day in which I felt like I was failing him, over and over again, I felt successful. And I felt needed—not for a cup of milk or a too-high toy or another TV show—but for me. Just me. And for the first time today, that was enough.

I hope my shoulder is enough in years to come, as life stresses grow and widen and mature, as things become more complex in a different way. And as my children’s circles grow, I hope they find other shoulders to lean on—friends, colleagues, lovers—shoulders that help bear the weight of this often difficult and trying world. I imagine my shoulder will feel empty, initially. But I also hope they’ll remember it’s there, even as adults, even when Andy and I aren’t the only people they can—and want—to turn to. And I hope, as my children grow, I’ll find new heads for my shoulder to support just as I hope to constantly be finding new places to rest mine.

It’s almost 9pm. Andy strung Christmas lights in the boys’ room, trying to make a, for the most part, unhappy day better. There was initial excitement, wonder, even, but now we’re back to the same-old. No one is sleeping. Every five minutes or so we hear the pad-pad-pad of footed pjs walking around the hallway upstairs. They get out of bed. We put them back in. There are tears. Eventually their pillows will bear the weights of their heads tonight. Eventually. And when that time comes there will be a role reversal and I will be thankful to have someplace to rest mine.

“The burden is light on the shoulder of another.” —Russian Proverb