From the Archives: On Dirt and Love

Found this in an "unposted" folder. Always good to hear and heed one's own advice.

On Dirt and Love (August 19, 2011)

I am at home with dirt. I was never much of a housekeeper—though I had aspirations at the beginning. After three babies in three years, I pretty much gave up. I still make a half-hearted attempt each week to have a “cleaning day” when we team up to vacuum, dust, mop, hose down the cockpit, and wash windows, but the deep cleaning doesn’t really happen unless we have some sort of major spill that requires us lifting floorboards or emptying shelves.

“Clean” doesn’t really last, either. Maybe ten minutes. We usually finish the chores and then go for a swim. That way, I get the mess-makers off the boat and I can have a “clean” home for a few minutes. The minute we return, the mess returns as well. I try not to spend a lot of time or energy nagging, but I admit that it’s hard to balance training small people to clean up after themselves and being sensitive to how it might feel to be corrected constantly. Occasionally, I admit, I wish I could have a clean and orderly environment, and I look accusingly at my mess-makers.

I usually catch myself in these discontented thoughts and remember how awful it would be not to have them around. Sure, I’d have all the time in the world to keep my home environment spotless. But without someone coming around after I sweep to dump sand out of his pockets, the boat would simply stay clean and I’d be bored senseless. What I’ve come to realize is that dirt and love are inextricably connected. The very existence of small fingerprints, sticky spots on the table, glitter on the floor and crumbs on the cushions indicates that this home is full of love. Without all the evidence, one might miss that there are five happy, rambunctious people around here, living and working and playing and doing what kids do best: un-self-consciously making messes. Someday there will be no missing puzzle pieces to discover between the settee cushions, no more stray pencil marks, no Cheerios under the table. And then what? I hate to even think about it.

We have a saying around here: many hands make light work. Because we are all in it together, every day, we make the messes together and then we clean them up together. Perfection is a myth which leads to misery. Next time I feel like nagging, I will repeat this mantra: dirt equals love, dirt equals love, dirt equals love…