Monday, July 25, 2005

Adjusting Expectations

I find a lot of complaints in the how-to-be-a-good-Christian-homemaker writings about how our mothers failed to teach us this stuff, and hence we have great handicaps to overcome. Well, my mother didn't fail to teach me. I knew all the elements of homemaking pretty well by the time I was twelve, and for the most part I liked them, too. Even when I had a full-time job and lived away from home, I got a big charge out of coming home, fixing dinner for my roommates, and tidying up the place.

So naturally when I got married I expected the housekeeping part of it to all go smoothly. Early struggles were for those poor folks who didn't know how to cook or clean or mend clothes.

Then I encountered morning sickness, overdue bills, undersized apartments, and unpacked boxes. And I discovered that I knew about the wrong end of homemaking. I don't wonder about how mothers of nine do it. They have children who can clean the house and cook dinner while they produce number ten and organize the workload. It's how mothers of two and three little ones do it that mystifies me.

I know how to clean a house in no time flat--with one person to take out the garbages, one to sweep the floors, one to hide the junk, and one to clean the bathrooms. Piece of cake. I know how to cook a generous breakfast for ten people in half an hour--if I can impress someone into flipping the pancakes while I whip up the eggs. Attempting either of these tasks singlehandedly, while trying to supervise and train a toddler or two, is an entirely different matter.

Even without the workers factored in, it just takes time--and money--to get a house operating smoothly. I still don't have a complete set of pots and pans, which means I have to do circuitous things like cook the oatmeal in two pots. Many things already go a lot smoother than they did a year ago; but it took time to figure out where things should be and how they should be done.

I used to ask my mother, perhaps not in the best of spirits, how she did all this stuff before she had us to do it for her. Now I know. She didn't. And now I have to realize that I cannot possibly attempt single-handedly what it took four or more half or fully grown children plus two parents to accomplish. (Or at least attempt--as I recall, we were usually running behind despite our best endeavors.)

So it's OK if I don't have a two-acre garden, eight different dishes on the table for supper every night, company over twice a week, and several ministries going through home and church. For the next few years, if everyone is fed and reasonably happy at the end of the day, it's been a good day. If on top of that we've managed to wash enough dishes and laundry to be ready to face the next day, it's been a great day. If somebody has also learned something or accomplished something that won't have to be redone tomorrow, it's been an outstandingly wonderful day.

Someday we will get past this stage and be able to set our sights a little higher. But there's nothing wrong with the day of small things. And people.

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