Tidying experts say that, among many other amazing things, you can gain confidence from the tidying up of your home. I agree. But I think we may be talking about two different things, because the confidence I believe can be gained from trying to tidy your house when children live in it is this:
You will fail at lesser things.
You will fail, one day, at beating your 8-year-old son at chess, because he’s in a club and you were never all that great at it, anyway, even though you tell yourself you used to be super smart. It was probably all a ruse.
You will fail at a cutting your boys’ hair the one time you try, because you were too cheap to pay the nominal fee you’d pay for a little boy’s haircut, and they’ll end up looking like a bowl sat on their heads while you chopped away.
You will fail at finding your keys when the kids have just used them to unlock the playroom, which is not really a playroom anymore but has become an obstacle course, a massive junk drawer, a “Hazard—Keep Out” kind of place. It didn’t used to be, but then you canceled your storage space, with the intention of cleaning out everything in it. Everything in it ended up in your garage, or playroom. But back to the keys. When your kids used them, they fell somewhere in this obstacle course of a room. Too bad you don’t have a location device on them. You’re probably never going to leave the house again.
You will fail at keeping up with school papers.
You will fail at remaining cool as your kid begins to care about cool. It doesn’t matter how many books you write or how many full-length albums you produce or how many beautiful art pieces you paint in the clip of a year. You are totally uncool, Mom and Dad.
You will fail at finishing those cloth napkins you planned to make for them when they all went off to kindergarten. And, at the same time, you will fail at finishing the crocheted blanket you were supposed to make for his sixth birthday and the other one you were supposed to make for the baby on his first birthday, because there’s just no time left. All your time is spent hanging out with the kids. That’s what you’ll tell yourself. It’s really spent signing school folders.
You will fail at kicking a ball past the little boy who now runs faster than you do, mostly because you have two 3-year-old cling-ons hanging to your leg, because this is how they said it would be a fair game of kickball.
You will fail at trying to learn how to roller blade when you turn 30.
You will fail at finishing that book in the time you thought you’d finish it, because boys make it nearly impossible to read.
You will fail at making your bed every morning.
You will fail at cooking a breakfast of fried eggs and pancakes, because there’s just not enough time, and, besides, they don’t want to wait that long.
You will fail at remembering whether the dishwasher was already run.
You will fail at hanging up laundry the day you wash it.
You will fail at shelving books every night, because by the time all the kids are down in bed, you have just enough energy to crawl to your bed and lie down.
You will fail at keeping your bedroom door closed any night, because at least one of the children will come knocking with something of emergency proportions, even if it’s just to tell you what their fart smelled like. Or that they love you. Both equally important.
You will fail at keeping even one puzzle with all the puzzle pieces.
You will fail at making sure the game of Operation doesn’t have any pieces missing.
You will fail at finding a full and complete deck of cards anywhere in your house.
You will fail at keeping toothpaste off the counters of their bathroom.
You will fail at keeping a toilet to yourself, because there’s always a time when they’re talking to you and they have to go right this minute, even though their toilet is only fifteen steps away.
You will fail at recycling those boxes before your kids see them and decide they want to make new toys out of them, and most of the time you’ll be glad that they’re so creative.
You will fail at keeping your plants alive and healthy.
You will fail at remembering to water your plants (sorry plants).
You will fail at cooking a perfect grilled cheese sandwich, because when your back was turned, your ears picked up on some suspicious splashing in the bathroom, and you know that sound, you know it well, so you investigated, and, sure enough, it was your 3-year-old, trying to plunge the toilet, even though he’s been told a billion times to keep his hands off.
You will fail at remembering that things you said you could never forget. (What was it again? You have no idea.)
You will fail at trying not to make the sex talk with your kids awkward. It will always be awkward. Embrace awkward.
You will fail at keeping up with the lawn outside, because boys are constantly digging holes, and who has the time to cut grass when you’re just trying to reduce the mayhem that crops up in your house?
You will fail at trying to stay the same. Because when you’re a parent, your kids are constantly, day by day, hour by hour, shaping who you become—and who you become is better.
So, really, what failing at keeping a tidy house really affords you is the confidence that you will fail at many, many other things, and that you will be better, greater, stronger for your failing.
Bring it on.
This is an excerpt from The Life-Changing Madness of Tidying Up After Children, the second book in the Crash Test Parents series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.
(Photo by This is Now Photography.)