Comparisons

tired housewife sweeping floor vintageFor YEARS I wondered, I mean, really, really wondered, what was wrong with me that I couldn’t keep my house neat and tidy all the time and find time to do all the wonderful things that other moms seemed to do, and I thought I was just totally defective (which I am in some ways) because I couldn’t keep to the schedules and routines and standards I saw upheld all around me. We’d been married long past twenty years before I began to realize that many of the reasons were not my fault.   For one thing, everybody else didn’t have company the way that we did and it was decades before I fully appreciated the difference this makes in wear and tear and upkeep and time- and my regular bouts of completely drained batteries because I am so very muchly not a people person.

We’ve _always_ done this, so I never knew any different. I mean, my husband invited his entire class home for Thanksgiving dinner when he was going to Technical training school in the AF. I was only 21, it was only our second Thanksgiving, we didn’t even own a car, and I cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner (including homemade rolls, dressing, three kinds of pie, gravy, and all the other fixings).  It wasn’t a large class, but for a 21 year old to host some 15-20 military boys between the ages of 18 and 19 for Thanksgiving Dinner- well, it kind of makes me reel now, although I think I took it in stride then.

Incidentally, the pecan pie was a total failure- but I didn’t realize it until later, when I kept finding full pieces of pie,with only a bite missing, hidden in the bottom of all my trashcans as I cleaned up.  Those sweet, gallant boys, trying not to embarrass me, threw their pie out in the bathroom trash can, in the spare bedroom, wrapped it in napkins and buried it in the kitchen trash. I don’t know what I did wrong, but was horrible, and those dear boys did not to let me know.  How I love them, looking back now.  But I digress

We went on to have the single and unaccompanied military folks from church home for the weekend, every weekend, the entire time we lived in Okinawa- that was upwards of 10-20 extra mouths to feed and clean up after from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. By then I was 24 and had two small children. I didn’t set out to do that- we started with a Friday night game night. One night I hadn’t put away the stew we’d had for supper yet, and one of the boys came in looking wistful, explaining he’d not gotten off duty in time to go to the mess hall, could he have something to eat?  Shortly thereafter I found myself making a huge pot of stew or soup every Friday night. And then my husband made pancakes on Saturday, and I made sandwiches or more soup and stew on Saturday afternoon, which became spaghetti or homemade hamburger helper on Saturday night….

After four years of young Marines, Navy, and Army folk over, having a couple of homeschooling families or friends from church over a couple times a week didn’t seem like such a big deal.  And then church singings, and the children’s friends, and people passing through, and sometimes we have had 30-50 people sleeping in our house overnight, or we have had a succession of guests, with me stripping sheets off the beds before one set of guests were out of the driveway, and putting them directly in the wash and they are still not done when the next set pull in.

And so it continued.  Until one day, probably 25 years or more into this lifestyle, a friend said something like, “Who wants to deal with company twice a week and all the havoc that entails- just the cleaning up afterwards is so time consuming….”

And I felt like I’d been hit with a bolt of lightening-  a cliché, but that’s how eye-opening it was to realize how, um, weird we are and how that difference affects so many other areas.

There are other reasons I am an epic failure in the organization department, but this is certainly not a small part of the reasons for my struggle- not just the constant company, but the fact that I didn’t realize the constant company presented me with hurdles that other people weren’t dealing with- namely, the other people with whom I was constantly comparing myself and coming up the loser in those comparisons.

When you’re lamenting your weaknesses and wondering “Why can’t I do X like she manages to do X?” you might stop to think about what it is you are really comparing- usually, you are comparing your worst to somebody else’s best, because you know your worst, but you generally only know the best points of other people’s homes and daily lives. We seldom invite others in to watch us pitch a fit, lose our tempers, clean up the messes, or experience our own particular brand of chaos.

Give some attention to the insidiousness of some comparisons, and consider what you might be dealing with that ‘she’ isn’t.

Those things can be large- a disabled child, a handicap of your own, constant company, 8 children under 9, a husband who doesn’t help but does make messes, a farm, in-laws who require time and care, working from home, complicated food allergies in your family, 2 dogs, or a couple of pet birds, a garden, or maybe a husband who works a very dirty job so his clothes require more washing, or who works a suit and tie job so his clothes reqire more ironing, or therapy appointments, or hours on the phone with insurance companies because of a medical issue in your family, or a 2 story house, or an family of children in extra activities, who knows?  But stop comparing yourself to people who don’t deal with those limitations.

They can seem small but in reality are quite significant- the layout of your home, for instance. In our previous home, the washer was in one room, the dryer in another- out a door, down two steps, and into an unheated ‘summer kitchen,’ which means it was freezing in winter (and I do mean that literally- water froze and I could see my breath)- and I didn’t like to go in there without boots and gloves.  That added considerably to my laundry time.  In the house before that, I could hang a load on the line outside and it would be dry by the time the next load was done.  Here, I can hang it on the line all day and the jeans will usually still be a bit damp at the creases.

The amount of water pressure you have, or the time it takes the hot water to get hot, the number of times you have to run up and down stairs, whether you live on a paved or dirt road, whether you have animals or not- all these things and more have a very real effect on what it takes you to get things done.

Whatever it is, it will help you immensely to recognize those details and cut yourself a little slack.

Or not, if it turns out you’re just lazy, but that’s really a call only the people who live with you can make.  Maybe not even them, if you have one of those invisible chronic illnesses which healthy people have trouble believing in.

Start with who and where you are.  Check your attitude and your relationships first, and work outward from there.  It doesn’t matter if you get everything else right if you have those two things wrong.  It doesn’t matter if you get everything else wrong if you get those two things right.

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