Today I have to buy a bunch of snacks for my girlfriend's kids' New Years party, before all the stores close. This entails going to several stores in search of the flavor of Taki's (a kind of Mexican spicy neon colored chip) that is (seemingly) vegan. I am happy to do it, would do it on foot or bike or bus for that moment when they see that boring old granola Katie has brought them their treasured “junk” food.
My house is a wreck, and today is also the one day each week I have a few hours in it without my kids: this is my chance to tackle at least one of the rooms that have acted as overflow for all the clutter and junk that we produce (thank you, amazing Portland free piles! Thank you, incredibly creative children with the mixing of homemade “perfume” and the drawing of every single superhero ever to exist! Thank you, silly mama self with the desire to rescue every old, moldy book I see!).
The real reason those rooms stay like that is that this is also the one day a week I have a few hours to myself (none of my kids, no girlfriend, none of her kids) in which to do any of the following: write letters, cook without other people's tastes and expectations, see a friend, listen to music with no other sounds, sing without someone complaining about my voice or choice of song, ignore the stinky cat poop deposited every hour in the litter box if I feel like it (this is why humans invented doors), draw comics, call my mother, fall down rabbit holes of interesting, shininess and connection (both superficial and deep) on the Internet, sleep, read a book, or do that thing I have at least half defined myself by since the age of 9: write.
“I'll just let the house slide,” I say to my girlfriend, “make sure I get the Taki's and do some writing. I bet I can get some cleaning done with the kids tomorrow.” (This is where you insert the sound of self-deprecating laughter.)
“You can't go into the New Year with a dirty house! It will be dirty all year!” This voice of warning comes from behind us, from an apparently childless man (I make this assumption because if he had children he would likely know my house was going to be dirty all year anyway).
Never quick on my feet or good at potential confrontation, I say, “Oh, you're right, I'd better make sure to get some of it done.”
My girlfriend agrees I can and should.
Later, back at home alone with an hour or so before I must begin the hunt for the Taki's, I can't believe I actually said that. There is no reason I'd “better make sure” I get any of it done. Even if I were more superstitious than I am, and believed that not doing so would doom me to a messy house for an entire year, having a clean house isn't anywhere near the top of my list of New Years goals.
Significantly more important:
1. Not teaching my children that the house (or their mother) needs to be perfect in order to be okay (the world has enough stressed out perfectionists losing their cool when life goes awry, I don't need to actively try to raise two more; maintaining a sense in my self and our home that, for most things, “good enough” is just that will let them figure out what things deserve extra effort).
2. Not getting so stressed out by the daily crushing work load a family entails and the slow disintegration of the house we are renting that I feel compelled to let go of everything and cry.
It is very sad to find writing, this thing I do that I tell myself is more important to who I am than anything else except parenting, at the end of all my lists, although in the case of this last one, it is perhaps understandable, the first two items being more about survival than anything else... Except that for me writing has been about survival.
Writing is how I have shared myself with friends in letters and web journals, how I have talked myself through vertiginous fears and drowning sadnesses and, failing that ability to talk myself through, how I have remembered my losses and breakdowns. Writing is also how I have lied to myself and others about relationships gone disastrously wrong and hollow, but when those relationships finally shattered from the harsh wind of other people strong enough to admit it and move on, writing is how I have remembered who I am, that I am a person outside of who I have committed to loving, that I am a person beyond my utility to others.
I have written 'zines like love letters to myself and 'zines that came from such a vulnerable, confused place that to share them was a vote of trust in my real worth as a person and in the possibility of others feeling that way, too.
I am not perfect and admitting that is hard in this society. I feel sad. I am a mother who gets confused, who cries (this is where I am expected to write “but never in front of the children!”), who has a messy house.
Sharing that is not an exercise in do-it-your-self-defeat, it is making truth telling, emotion, and reality a priority.
I spent my hour on this, and if I have a messy house all year, maybe having started the year writing, it will be a house filled with click-clacking typewriter keys, a house filled with truth and feelings and a good enough family.
I wish the same to you.
Katie Kaput is a 30 year old Chicagoan in exile in Portland Oregon. She spent several years publishing the transsexual-homeschooling-single-mama personal 'zine night cookies, soon to be collected into a book for e-readers. She has had essays published on hipmama.com, on literarymama.com, and in the anthologies Mamaphonic, It's a Boy, and, most recently, The People's Apocalypse. She finds many disparate things interesting, beautiful, and sad; she writes accordingly. Find her at katiekaput.wix.com/katiekaput .