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.


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