I ruined my husband’s work review a few months back. Ruined is not the word I am looking for. I didn’t ruin it. It’s not like he lost his job. No destruction was involved. I am just trying to avoid the word sabotage. I certainly didn’t sabotage his work review. Quite the opposite in fact. In sad, sad fact. I try to be helpful and supportive. That’s the worst part of this whole deal.
So here it is: when my husband was a medical resident, he received a stellar review of his work performance save one item. He got dinged for wearing a wrinkled white coat.
Dinged sounds better than ruined.
Really though, there is no way to maintain even a morsel of pride when admitting his one poor evaluation was about our laundry.
It’s one thing to have your dirty laundry aired. It’s another matter entirely to have your clean laundry criticized for looking crummy.
When my husband recounted what was said he did not meet me with anger, frustration, or exasperation. There was no sign of a great sigh approaching.
He laughed. I let him walk out of the house looking like, and I’ll quote from the report here, he just rolled out of bed, and he punctuated the entire incident with a laugh. He ordered a steamer and he wakes up a little earlier and he doesn't utter a complaint.
His good humor, instead of ushering in my own ability to let the whole thing slide, actually prompted me to inventory other responsibilities of mine. If I had an end of year eval, and if I was being unwaveringly honest—honesty is vital in these sorts of things—it might read like this:
Rate the following from 1: strongly disagree to 5: strongly agree
Economically, consistently, and creatively provides all members (or maybe dwellers because I like that word better) three meals per day, weekends and holidays included. 1 (It's the economical that gets in my way. I am forever flunking math.).
Maintains a clean, well-appointed, and inviting home suitable for guests and dwellers alike. I have a question here because sure you're invited, but as far as clean, like how often per month does that need to be true before I can get me a 4?
This is where I would flip pages past the housekeeping portion of the review and find the section for homemaking. I'll confess for all my failings as a housekeeper, I am a pretty darn good homemaker. We may be pulling clean (albeit wrinkled) clothes out of week-old laundry piles in order to get out the door, but by golly we'll be headed to the pumpkin patch and coming home to warm cider and having a holly jolly good time doing it. I make things special! I am thoughtful and fun and no we haven’t flossed but would you look at these smiles!
It's a strange condition to be the one who works at a place where you can wear pajamas all day, every day, in fact the very same pajamas for three days, while living with a person who walks out the door in either suits or clothes that must be clean enough to enter the OR.
I need a break from this self-imposed, self-evaluation. It’s making me a little nuts. Let’s come back to this later.
Each of these thoughts have made their way through my mind at various points since I became a mother four years ago:
1. Everyone else's house is cleaner than mine.
2. The solutions to all my problems lie at The Container Store (hint, they are the acrylic bins).
3. Wanting to be extremely organized should count for a lot. The desire ought to get me points, I really do think so. You see nine laundry baskets strewn throughout the house in various degrees of full? I see a lady who intended to institute a system whereby all the laundry in the house was sorted by both person and day of the week. Bam! Get a load of this, Martha Stewart. The fact that this system never got off the ground is largely the result of my lack of acrylic bins.
4. If I die, my husband really ought to marry someone who runs a tighter ship. Like the manager of The Container Store.
Here is a snapshot from this week that really sums things up nicely. We are moving in seven days. Three months ago I had our third baby. Two weeks after his birth we started renovation on our current home in preparation to put it on the market.
Summer 2017, the season chaos reigned.
A few days ago, our neighbors stopped by to check out some items in our backyard that we are not taking with us. I hid in our bedroom, but what is perhaps more interesting than a 32-year-old woman hiding from her neighbors, is what this 32-year-old woman was wearing.
A threadbare t-shirt.
Bra? Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Her husband’s underwear.
Yes, that’s right. This is what I wear around the house because it’s comfortable. (Suddenly his wrinkly scrubs seem so consistent with our standard of living, no?)
So there I am, on my bedroom floor, in men’s underwear and little else. It’s dark in the bedroom because my baby is asleep on our bed. I scroll through a specific celebrity’s Instagram feed because even though I disagree fiercely with most of her worldview, I find her warm and engaging and this is what I do when I am bored and slightly anxious. I can hear our neighbors making small talk with my husband, and I hope they will assume I am indisposed because I am feeding our baby and not that I am indisposed because I am dressed like a character from a Faulkner novel. I can’t face them. Our house is in upheaval, and while this may seem totally expected given we are mere days from moving, it’s still not good enough for me. I want to be organized. Very organized. I want people to enter our home, even when we are days from moving, and think, Wow, this lady sure has it together. Check out those labels. Is that color coding? And don’t miss this to-do grid lying here on her spotless counter. It’s broken down by date, contact number, price, and deadline. I’ll bet she shops at The Container Store.
But the neighbors won’t think that. Our house looks messy. There is dried yogurt on the floor from this morning, and the moving boxes are labeled well enough, but right now they lay haphazardly about because my four-year-old got his hands on them and I couldn’t do much about it while I was nursing the baby and coaching our two-year-old through potty training from the couch.
And if they saw me, forget the house, I don’t know what they’d think.
There she is, your typical, modern, 30-something gal dabbling in fashion-forward menswear while perusing a cultural icon’s social media page. How cosmopolitan. How chic.
Yeah, probably they wouldn’t think that.
They decide to return for the backyard items in a few days. I slink out of my room, glad to have not been caught. But feeling defeated again.
When did I stop being remotely impressive? When did I start wanting to so bad?
Let’s go back to the review.
Reviewing myself is appealing, I suppose, because I don't usually get immediate feedback. My husband does—he works with stroke patients. Moments after he does to their brain exactly what it is he does, he observes the movement of their bodies to see if their symptoms have improved. He looks to see if they can move again. In my line of work, I have to wait at least 15 years and I guess we'll just base it on who shows up for Thanksgiving and whose spouse I overhear refer to me as “the mother.” Yes, that’s the mother. I know, you’d never guess. I’ll tell you more later.”
I don't sit down with my children and ask, So, tell me, how do you think I could have improved upon my reaction to your meltdown at Starbucks? You might recall we were meeting friends, including your friends who you wanted to see. You’d been allowed to wear a dirty Minions shirt and corduroy pants so far from matching they almost worked as performance art. You asked for a cake pop and I triple-checked your color choice and upon receiving requested cake pop you wailed. For the purpose of conducting a more thorough exam of my mothering prowess, you wailed from a seated position, thereby blocking the direct flow of other customers. I failed to foresee when you thrice said you wanted the pink cake pop, when you pointed at it and jumped with excitement, you were in fact communicating the receiving of such a cake pop would cause immediate agonized writhing and what you really wanted was a chocolate croissant.
Go on dear, do tell. How’d I do? I think I did pretty well. I scooped you up and out of the way. We talked. I told you the screaming must stop immediately. I ignored the stares of strangers by reminding myself that this moment of embarrassment was just that, a moment, but the adult you will become will live forever. I did not give in and buy you a chocolate croissant. I told you we don’t fuss to get our way. We don’t throw around our emotions in order to control situations. I told you that’s hard, even for Mom, because there are lots of times I’d like to heave my emotions at someone and get my way. We talked about thinking through our options before we make a choice and being people of our word. We talked about what really brings us joy and how it can’t be found in a baked good.
We laughed and ate and played with our friends. I texted your wrinkle-garbed father and told him about what we’d been through.
Or how about this? How about when I forget all of the chores and all the tasks that could, if done properly, create out of me an impressive lady, and instead I sit next to you and read you a book? How am I doing there? I research those books, did you know that? I spend time choosing books that will stimulate your brain and spark your imagination and hopefully incite in you a deep, abiding love for stories. I look for books that can be a launching pad for conversations about God. Do you have any idea how often I read these books to you instead of scrubbing the sliding glass doors clean? Do you know how much I’ve started questioning myself now that it has become undeniable to me those two things compete?
Perhaps it’s impossible to evaluate myself while I am still in the thick of this work. Our oldest isn’t even in kindergarten yet, what can I possibly know about myself as a mother?
But I can’t stop asking.
I stand by my performance, for the most part. I could be a better laundress, no arguments here. But my kids can correctly use the word forgiveness and they can identify the allegorical Christ figure in books and movies (so maybe I help a little there). They can sing so many songs by heart. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. I hear it from the hallway just now. That’s my daughter’s voice. She’ll ask to watch Frozen soon and maybe I’ll sit next to her and maybe I won’t think about the towels that need to be switched out of the wash.
My husband is the truest friend I’ve ever had. He has saved me over and over and I've been in love with him since I was thirteen. I would follow him into the darkest forest and I would feel safe. But someone noticed that I couldn't manage to keep his clothes pressed and I am finding it difficult to move past.