My daughter started kindergarten last Thursday. There are some kids who don't start until after Labor Day (which is as late as possible this year), and I pity their parents. My house pities them. For days, as various children have shared our house with me, or with the babysitter, playing through the final weeks of Summer, I have repeatedly said things like, "I'll vacuum when they leave." "I'll clean the kitchen floor when school starts." "I'll wash the couch when Summer is over." Looking at mysterious streaks on the walls: "I think we need to paint the bathrooms this Fall."
Summer was very, very fun. We had a great setup for my daughters and a few friends, which involved just enough activity and playtime to keep the house a wreck, a total wreck. A wreck on the level of not being able to find things because things are not where they were. I enjoyed the fun, and it's clear my kids did, too, but there was more cleanup to do on a household level — dishes, meals, and vacuuming. A few weeks ago I ran out of will. Not the will to clean, but the will to clean in the face of its daily undoing. I like tidy. On some level, I need tidy. Thanks to Marie Kondo, now tidy is also on trend, something you are supposed to want. Little kids do not do tidy. As my kids get bigger, they move around a lot more, they occupy spaces that they didn't before, like the corner behind the couch and the closet on the attic stair, which is where I've been finding pieces of gum. I also found a piece under the radiators. I can't get anyone to admit that gum is ever put anywhere but the trash. Evidence that the children are winning. Why clean? There would only be another day of children and another day of something, scattered everywhere.
My kids grew inventively untidy this Summer. Take pillow feathers. One day I overheard my daughter describe something as the "color of pillow feathers," and thought it was interesting, just so creative. Then I saw the second floor, which was awash in pillow feathers. The old, uncovered pillows that sit in the stair closet "hideaway" had been put to some other, more active use. I still don't know. For most of Summer I was fairly good at not paying attention. We are in and out all day long and in the evening, too. (If you live in Buffalo, NY, the shadow of Winter always looms). But these last weeks, I started wondering how my house feels. Does my house suffer, absorb, or forget? Does it care about the band-aid backings that fall behind the sink? These are very old houses. Ours was built in 1912. They have survived children longer than I will. There's a house on our block that grew seven at once; I'm still trying to imagine how the roof is still intact.
As I went around our house the last week, finally brave enough to look in corners, under beds, and in closets, I started making a list of its suffering. First off, sand. Sand everywhere, but mostly in the couch. Along with bits of paper, wet Cheerios, and "precious" gemstones. Behind the couch live all the library books that no one could find. The little tear-off pieces of yogurt sticks can be found in the linen closet. Blades of grass. Wet feet and towels carried the yard in every day. Around the art cupboard, which is a riot of paper, there are mixed projects of pinecones and glue and stickers stuck to the floor. Always a few lost balls of dried play dough. In my daughter's closet everything is piled on the floor, nothing is hung up or in a shelf. Various dolls lie face-down atop the piles. The dress-up clothing has spread to its place under the bed and creeps all the way up the attic stair and around the landing. In the attic closet there's a collection of pens and pencils and empty snack bowls. Oh, and Christmas books. If you step on something in the night and it's not a Lego or a princess brush, it's probably a hair thing. The bins that held toys in the girls' rooms are full of mysterious things I didn't know we owned, things collected at fairs and parks and friends' houses, presumably, and the toys are, well, unsorted. In the bathroom there is evidence of band-aids and toothpaste. (The plays that ran all Summer were doctor and sleepover). Another thing you might find is a wet pull-up, if someone has been playing "baby." The toilet, I can guarantee, was only flushed if it's pee.
Of course, I assume, because it is not self-cleaning, that my house minds. But maybe it doesn't. Maybe it knows something I don't. (Like, I will always rescue it). Or maybe had too much fun to care.