Lordy, lordy, I’ve been off kilter for days. You see, last week, and for no good reason, I decided to move our furniture.
You are maybe thinking that it isn’t really a big deal, but you would be wrong. Nineteen years ago we moved into our house. I looked around. I considered my options. I set my furniture in place and for very nearly two decades and with very few changes everything has remained exactly where it was. Oh, sure, we’ve purchased multiple slip covers, a necessary step when dealing with maliciously destructive cats. (What can I say? They match the maliciously destructive children.) I’ve also changed out the rugs on occasion, but they are always the same size and go in exactly the same spot. “Why mess with perfection?” is my motto, which is why I have twelve striped tops in rotation.
(A quick story: two weekends ago, I came out of the bedroom dressed for work and my husband nudged our eldest daughter and said, “Oh, look! Mom is wearing a striped shirt!”
She looked up and started to laugh, “And giant glasses! And a chunky necklace!”
The two of them giggled like maniacs.
“What,” I demanded, “is so damn funny?”
“Nothing,” my terrible offspring replied, “You just look so much like YOU.”
So, yes, I have “a look.” Striped tops and big necklaces are pretty darn perfect and I will more than likely be buried in just that, thank you very much.)
I made our youngest son help me and discovered that he shares my tendency to favor consistency. “Why?” He demanded, “What possible reason could you have for doing this?” Then, when I persisted, he sat on the newly placed couch, pulled on his hair and muttered, “You are making me SO MAD!” Not even the morbidly fascinating chore of cataloging the debris we found behind the piano could persuade him that this change was a good idea.
First off, let me say that I have never claimed to be a wonderful housekeeper. I manage to maintain an adequate level of sanitation–as evidenced by the fact that none of my children have ever gotten a staph infection from a scrape received in our home. So, clean enough, I say. I’m an artist, people! Everyone knows we don’t clean. It’s bad for the creative process. Still, if you ever feel you might benefit from a decidedly humbling experience, try moving something large in your home. Something that has been pressed up against the wall, like a sofa or a refrigerator or, yes, an upright piano. Within seconds it will be apparent that you live like a bloody animal.
We found Power Ranger actions figures, suspiciously festooned with glittery hair clips–I debated sending them off with their owner to college in the fall. We found my soon-to-be sophomore girl’s pre-school report cards. We found an unopened, three foot tall plastic pixie stix candy tube that made me question my parenting. Who would give that much sugar to a child? Me, I guess. But at least we didn’t eat it when we found it, even though everybody knows those things are good forever.
It was a geographic cross section of our family’s past. It was nostalgic. It was endearing…It was straight-up disgusting. Into the garbage it all went. So if nothing else, my home is now cleaner than it has been since the musical Rent first hit the stage.*
It’s not as if I could do much, anyways. I live in a 1920s era bungalow, for goodness sakes! The living room is the size of a half-inflated kiddie pool. Swapping the couch to the adjacent wall is hardly a seismic shift. Still, it felt huge to us. When I was done, we all sat tentatively in the living room blinking at each other like baby owls. After a few minutes, by unspoken agreement, we stood up and switched spots, pivoting our heads in slow, cautious circles, equally as uncertain about this new arrangement. When my eldest came home for Easter, she walked in the door, looked around startled and said, “You’ve gotten rid of my childhood home!” then enacted the same bewildered musical chairs pantomime.
We are not a family that responds well to change. Okay, that is a lie— I do not respond well to change and I’ve taken the children along with me. To be clear, I’m okay with any change that brings things and loved ones closer, but, more often it seems that change takes things away. That I’m not so crazy for. Loved ones pass, kids grow up, and people move on…sigh. And though I love to tease the offspring, intoning all the great things we are going to be able to afford when they are out of here (A dishwasher! Fancy vacations! Restaurants every night!) you and I both know I’ll be a blubbering mess each and every time one of them flies the coop.
I’ve been working so hard this past year to really take to heart a more buddhist perspective; to learn to live without clinging to the past or placing my hope in the future. To open my heart to what is happening right now. But, let me tell you, I am terrible at this. What is happening right now seems so often to be nothing more than bills and sullen teens and truly alarming morning cleavage wrinkles. Many a day has started with a frantic Google search for neck cream, and although Amazon has a dizzying array of items for sale, my rapidly fading youth isn’t one of them. Tragic.
What I need to remember is that everything happening now becomes the same nostalgic fodder as a dusty power ranger or gap-toothed kindergarten photo; beautiful when viewed through the lens of time. How much better to enjoy the present and embrace changes as they come, even if it is merely a rearranged living room and a new lamp. I think I can do it, too— at least some of the time. But just to be safe, I’m going to leave the TV room exactly as it is. There is only so much a person can take.
Excellent column, Melanie. I just got a little teary reading it.