Do you ever find yourself thinking something like this: "When all the kids are grown up, then I can finally have a clean house... then I can go back to school... then I can write the great American novel... "?
I don't know about you, but the "clean house" vision has a powerful appeal. Few people who have seen our house will believe this, but I'm actually a naturally tidy person. In fact, it would be easy for me to get obsessive about tidiness, organizing cans alphabetically on the pantry shelves and setting up our home library according to the Dewey Decimal system. If I had any time to do this, and if any system I set up didn't get wiped out in about five minutes as a horde of kids comes storming through!
We have a problem common to many large families: a lot of people and not quite enough space to house them and their "stuff." And I'll tell you another thing: once the older kids go away to college, you still have to save some space for them and their stuff when they come home in the summer and on breaks.
Every inch of our walls is full of bookshelves and pictures.
Every inch of closet space is jammed with shoes, coats, clothes, musical instruments, games, exercise equipment, etc.
We have dejunked until our eyes bubble. But there's just no way to fit all these people and projects neatly into the available space. Martha Stewart herself couldn't do it.
In previous years I would console myself by thinking that someday, when the kids grew up and moved away, I'd finally be able to indulge my neat side.
But now that "someday" is getting closer and closer, another thought has occurred to me.
What good is a neat and tidy house without anyone in it?
It may sometimes be hard to remember this when you're caught up in what seems like a whirlwind of messy activities, but these really are the best years of our lives.
Having our kids at home is a joy. It's a part of our lives that will never come again.
Yes, if there were no kids, there would be no mess. But if there were no kids, there would be no:
- Happy little faces full of smiles to cheer you up on a "down" day
- Special moments to pass on
stories and beliefs that mean so much to you
- Teens sharing their latest adventures and triumphs
- College students excited about what's coming next in life
Kids keep you young. Their enthusiasm is infectious. There are plenty of cynical and bitter middle-aged folks in the world, but I bet few of them have large families. It is really hard to get a good snit going when little ones are constantly interrupting with hugs and questions. Their supple minds keep your older brain cells jumping!
Kids give you something to think about besides yourself. When they're young, they need a lot of concern and attention. When they're older, they still need a lot of concern and attention! Plus, their little trials and tribulations help put yours in perspective.
Here are some things I will miss when my kids are all gone:
- Picking out new curriculum. This is so much fun!
- Showing them how to figure out what they got wrong on a math paper, and seeing the "Aha!" look
- Getting to read their library books
- Going to kiddie movies without feeling silly
- Looking at the latest drawing
- Tasting the latest baking project
Here are some things I already miss:
- The sweet small of a new baby
- Their first baby steps
- Their first tooth
- Teaching a little one to read
- Buying preschool workbooks
- Having crayons and paste be a big-time present
- Teaching a preschooler to make paper chains
- Playing "Chutes & Ladders"
- Reading nursery rhymes
- Teaching them to skip and hop
- Their first snowman
- Little pajamas with feet
This list could be a lot longer!
In The Horse and His Boy, C .S. Lewis says at one point, "One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places, you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them."
I think this is often true of mothers, too. We get too much like Martha, "cumbered with much serving," and not enough like Mary, who knew enough to enjoy the precious personal time with the Master that would never come again. When it comes to our kids, we can also get caught up in "much serving" and forget the mucho joy of just having them around.
I've decided I'm not all that anxious to get rid of the mess, if it means saying goodbye to my kids. An empty nest is a clean nest, but it's still empty. So we'll just keep cramming way too much creativity into way too little space. The boots will keep spilling out of the closet and the coats will keep falling off the hooks. And I'll thank God for it.
After all, these are the best years of my life.