Meter readings are a constant dagger to my pride. For reasons yet unclear, our house requires an actual human to enter, walk through our living area, and descend into the basement to read the electric meter each month.
“Welcome to the chaos,” I joke as the adorable young man weaves through a minefield of toys to the basement where canned food and jumbo-packed toilet paper litter the floor at haphazard intervals. We stand side by side, looking across the mess to the electrical box on the far wall. I bow my face in shame and leave him to his epic journey.
I have never been neat, but before I brought two children into the mix, I kept most areas of my home in a condition that wouldn’t cause utter shame should someone ring the doorbell. Even with one kid, I managed a semblance of order. Then, we welcomed E into the world, and the house and all those who lived there jumped on the hot-mess spiral.
E is a veritable fountain of joy. However, it soon became abundantly clear that her lovable disposition was essential for her continued survival. Her cuteness serves as the thinnest of lifelines, tethering us just above the precipice to insanity.
Little by little, E scattered whatever order we as a family of three had wrangled together. She began by rarely sleeping as an infant (thank you, reflux) and has continued her night-time antics well into her toddler years. Sometime after midnight, E decides she needs company for at least an hour or two before settling back to dreamland. As a result of the constant bouncing and swaying required to get her to sleep, both my husband and I developed tendonitis.
When sleep deprived and unable to move your thumbs, tidiness is the first virtue to go. You may have time to shower, on occasion, and keep the dishes from cultivating fungi, but chances are, you’re going to let a couple nights pass without picking up the toys or fighting with your kids to pick up. Then, at some point, you just decide not to bother. They are going to make a mess with them tomorrow. Just let them be. You begin the downward spiral to hot-mess humble without even feeling the suction.
It happens slowly at first, and before you know it, your kitchen countertops have become a modern art exhibit entitled Chaos. You’d sell tickets if you weren’t too ashamed for people to know how you really live. Instead, you keep the shades drawn, hoping to deter unexpected visitors. You no longer invite people to your home. Instead, you meet friends at the coffee shop or a restaurant with high chairs and ready crayons. You’ll conduct extensive online research to find new and exciting destinations that take you OUT OF THE HOUSE. You will go on pumpkin picking, pottery painting, and playground playdates.
In the meantime, the dust will coat each crevice between Legos and naked dolls. You may shove things to the side to decorate for Halloween or Christmas, because they’re only young once! The Christ child will share the counter with your expired coupons, a holiday installation in the Chaos series.
When E entered her toddler years, our house reached an epic level of hot mess, trumped only by the dwellings of disorganized hoarders. We nicknamed E THE DESTRUCTOR. If there is a bin of toys, E must upend it. If there is a pile of books stacked neatly on a shelf, she feels compelled to bring them cascading to the floor with complete disregard for her personal safety or our half-hearted attempts at cleaning. When I bring E to the basement to do laundry, she blows through our wholesale dried goods like a cyclone.
We finally just resigned ourselves to the mess and went on with our lives, comforted by the thought that THE DESTRUCTOR may, at some point, grow out of it. Everything would be fine if only the electrical company would send a nice middle-aged dad, fresh from his own children’s den of destruction. Meter-Man Dad would laugh and say “You should see what mine have done to our house,” before crossing the clutter like a seasoned ninja.
But no, they send someone young enough to be my teenaged progeny, clearly naïve to the tempest forces of children working against you at every moment to maintain a pristine household. I want to tell this young man that I work during the day, that I can’t afford a cleaning service, and that all the adult thumbs in the household are practically immobile. Instead, I just tell him, “Have a nice day” as he emerges ashen-faced from the basement.
Several months pass without a meter reading. He either walks by our house or conveniently rings the doorbell after we’ve managed to leave for school and the office. Then, after numerous automated calls from the power company, sternly reminding me of the need to gain access to my house, he appears. The children are in pajamas, Nutella still smeared across their faces from breakfast.
“Welcome to the chaos,” I say and he smiles. He follows me through the disheveled family room to my office. THE DESTRUCTOR has sprinkled every pen I own onto the carpet, so I nudge a few aside with my foot. We descend to the basement where a narrow path leads unencumbered through the art projects and value-sized detergent to the meter box.
“I cleared your way,” I say, unreasonably proud of this minor accomplishment.
“I appreciate that,” he says, visibly relieved.
I ascend the basement stairs triumphant, nudge a few more pens aside, and retrieve a wet paper towel to clean my Nutella-smeared children once again. Because at some point, they will grow out of it. Right?