Learning Humility

We got a mattress.

It’s the first big ticket purchase we’ve made in a long time so it’s kind of a big deal.

The delivery guys were coming between 9 and 12 on Saturday to drop it off. This was good. I don’t work Saturday, Haley does, but I usually take advantage of an entire day where I am not tired from already working an eight hour shift on my feet to get some cleaning done.

And then they showed up at 9:14, when I had just finished feeding everyone breakfast and getting them all dressed and barely started picking up. I let them in, and showed them our bedroom down the hall. One of them was sweet, he smiled, gave the kids mints, and didn’t seem to mind stepping around the piles of laundry on the floor in my bedroom. The other guy seemed a little bit more daunted by the mess, but even if he hadn’t been, I would have felt embarrassed.

I imagine these guys deliver mattresses all over the place, how many huge houses have they been in? Delivering mattresses worth thousands? And now they were navigating our 3 bedroom apartment, dragging our $400 mattress down the hall past the kids jumping up and down with excitement. Do they know that this is a poor person’s splurge?

I wanted to explain, “I’m sorry about the mess, my wife and I work 70 hours a week between us, and we both have jobs where we work on our feet. This actually my day off, it’s when I usually vacuum the whole house, so if you had gotten here a few hours from now all those little pieces of paper and cereal scattered everywhere would probably be gone. We do the laundry and the dishes on a regular basis, everyone gets consistent baths, but we have 4 little kids and there are always clothes, books, toys, and stuff scattered around.”

And at the same time I felt guilty, I wonder if I am just making excuses. I mean, I am here at home with the kids every afternoon after I get done with my shift at 2. Yes I am watching the kids, and making them dinner, but I could probably make more time for cleaning than I do. And on those days where Haley and I have a couple hours at home together, could we fit in more cleaning on top of running all the errands and doing the grocery shopping?

The thing is, I am figuring out that I am capable of being a nice mom with a messy house, or a mean mom with a clean house. Sometimes after work I have lots of energy and we turn on music and pick up some of the house together, but sometimes I use that energy to make cupcakes, or take a walk to the park together. And other days I’m too worn out to do much of anything, so we have mac and cheese and watch a movie, adding dried up noodles to the mess on the floor. Or we lay on a blanket on the front lawn and talk.

Some days shame overpowers exhaustion, and then I am the mean mom that yells at them all to get out of the house while I clean feverishly. Those are the days they bring in a sparkly rock to show me and all I notice are the leaves and dirt scattered in their wake across the floor I just mopped. Those are the days Haley and I end up fighting over who should be doing more housework, and eventually come to the very same conclusion we always do, that we both work hard, and we both do about the same amount of housework, and we are both doing the best we can.

Poverty is an interesting experience in learning humility. Don’t get me wrong, we are lucky, we can pay all our bills. We started over from scratch this last year, literally starting from the ground up after being solidly middle class for several years. In that year we have gotten to the place where we are able to manage caring for all our kids and keep our jobs. And lately we have even been able to do things like replace our 8 year old mattress.

But it’s meant change, flexibility, some help and hard work.

And learning how to be OK with the delivery guys seeing our messy house.


Re-post: A Mama’s Journey
Gender Transition: Two Years Later
Re-Post: Lies we tell ourselves about abuse
Re-post: Never Good Enough
  • persephone

    I remind myself in these situations that delivery guys have seen worse. Then I watch an episode of Hoarders and feel better.

  • Michelle

    Yes, being okay with someone seeing your mess is definitely a lesson in humility. You and Haley are doing the best you can and the fact that you are there for each other and the kids means more than a clean house any day.

    • Melissa_PermissionToLive

      Thanks Michelle. It gets easier and easier to stay on top of things the longer we are doing this too. So it helps to look at our solid successes for sure. :)

  • Meyli

    You’re back!
    I bet the delivery guys have seen MUCH worse – there are all kinds of homes, and one with laundry and kid paraphernalia is not so bad.
    My experience with little income has been a lesson in humility as well. I’m lucky that I’ve always had food and shelter, though. I’ve learned (and almost come to peace with) that I can’t eat whatever I want, I can’t just order a pizza beacause I’m craving one – I have a grocery budget, and it covers the basics, and that’s it.
    You are doing just fine. Every post let’s us see how much love fills your family!

    • Meyli

      Forgot to congratulate – yay a mattress! I hope its very comfortable :)
      …and good for jumping.

      • Melissa_PermissionToLive

        Yes exactly, money covers the basics, the rest has to be planned in. And thanks, the mattress is wonderful, my back doesn’t hurt when I wake up anymore and no more tossing and turning. :)

  • ahermit

    We’ve been through the two jobs, just enough enough to pay the bills too
    tired to do the dishes phase too (and only two kids, not four) so I can sympathize. Don’t worry about the housework, it’ll always be there. You do what you can when you can.

    I spent a couple of hours reading your story and I just want to tell you that your and Haley’s courage and capacity for love are deeply moving and inspiring. You already know what’s really important…

    • Melissa_PermissionToLive

      Thank you. Your comment made me tear up a little. :)

  • http://volunteer11.blogspot.com/ VollyfromtheBlog

    Also, remember that increasingly well-known adage: “What other people think of you is none of your business.”

  • Ashley Juhala

    I feel guilty about the piled up dishes and scattered toys that build up during the week too. I just have to remind myself that one day my little guy will be all grown up and my house will be clean and I will miss his messes. The mess can wait but cuddles and cupcakes and playing cannot.

    Glad to see a new post from you and yay for new mattresses!

  • Starlady

    Some time ago I decided that it was my mission in life to make everyone else feel better about their own housekeeping. They see my mess and feel superior, so they’re happy. Meanwhile I get time to have fun so I’m happy. Win-win. Honestly, who looks back on their childhood with fond memories of a tidy kitchen?

  • Angela

    So glad to see you writing again and I hope you’re enjoying your new mattress. I can really relate to this post. I’m not a naturally organized person and to be perfectly honest, there are more days than I care to admit where even the basics (like dishes and laundry) get neglected. I’ve recently had to unearth my house from a mountain of clutter and am finally getting to the point where I’m not embarrassed for people to pop by. I’m actually discovering I’m the opposite of you though in that I think I’m a much nicer mama when the house is tidy because then I can go enjoy my kids without the mess stressing me out. Because of that I’m trying to work out a better system for managing things but it drives me bonkers that our society seems to think that a woman’s worth should be dependent on her housekeeping skills.

    It especially irks me that men are generally exempt from this type of scrutiny. When I was young my parents both worked full-time and my mother was also in graduate school. She tried to keep up with housework but she also struggles with organization and had very limited time so our house was a disaster more often than not. My dad never lifted a finger to pitch in despite the fact that he had considerably less on his plate yet I only ever head people gossiping about my mother’s housekeeping abilities. The fact that another able-bodied adult lived in the house as well was always conveniently ignored.

    Anyway, sorry for the tangent but the bottom line is that having a clean house is great but it doesn’t change your worth or who you are. Your kids are never going to look back on their childhoods saying “Our mom was always too preoccupied to play with us but at least our house was sparkling clean.” Your kids won’t always be little and in a few years they’ll be able to even pitch in a bit. It’s YOUR life and YOUR family and YOUR home. You certainly don’t owe explanations to delivery men or anyone else.

  • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

    I feel guilty when my husband comes home from work and the house is a mess. I’m only looking after one baby (5 months old), and all I manage to do most days is rinse the dishes and put on a load of laundry.
    Some days I feel like I am using my PND as an excuse, but I find it so incredibly easy to lose all the hours the baby is asleep in “nothingness”. In trying to be easy on myself, am I being too easy and creating more guilt that makes me feel bad?
    Congratulations on the new mattress :)

  • LizMarie

    Having children means messes, or it means children constantly cowed into a regimented mindset, children who become good little soldiers rather than children. I made my share of mistakes raising mine but I do not feel that letting them be kids was one of those mistakes. It’s ok. Trust me. The repair/delivery guys have all seen it before. :)