Tonight was a three-song night for Eric, although it was a one-song night for Katie. Nightly bedtime is 8:00PM in our house, by the time we finishing reading, bundling, getting water, brushing teeth, etc. Eric is usually so pleased to be in his crib that he falls asleep by the time Katie’s teeth are brushed. He’s my sleeper. Katie is my live-life-to-the-full girl, hardly recognizing her own tiredness. Tonight, though, Eric needed a little extra rocking, song singing, and gum-rubbing. When I came in for his second cuddle, he looked at me with his big baby eyes and reached out to my face. Sure enough, after two more songs, he was peacefully sucking his thumb and both kiddos were asleep by 8:20. My husband now, too, I think. The running joke in our house is what song from The Sound of Music my husband should hear each night? (Katie’s special song is “My Favorite Things” and Eric’s is “The Sound of Music”).

It’s been a busy day, too. In between throwing a stuffed doggy birthday party, going to my annual appointment at Temecula Valley OB/GYN, dancing to Raffi, and sipping some PG Tips from my cousin Hannah, I actually had a moment to get some housework done. Whoa. I am pretty obsessive about vacuuming, and I try to keep up with the bathrooms and kitchen, but today I had a moment to start whittling away at the other little things that always need to be done, such as the dusting and polishing.

Dusting and polishing tends to be toward the bottom of my list when it comes to housework, and yet it is one of the most satisfying chores to have done. All the wood and glass has an extra sparkle, the light bouncing off in new ways. Everything feels twinkly and smells of lemon oil and Windex. Katie usually helps me with her own rag, but today I gave her a break and Eric helped instead, traveling around with me in his Baby Bjorn harness carrier.

When I began today, though, it felt like such a chore. I thought of my aunt’s remark once about why she chooses to clean her own house: “Why pay someone to do it when I can do it myself?” Spoken like a Matics. Today I could think of a million reasons why: chores can be tedious, never-ending, not-so-interesting, not fun. We tried a few cleaning services once, back when I was still working. Neither my husband or I could ever get used to strangers in our most personal of spaces, and one woman turned out toilet seat blue and we came upon another eating our Pez. Of all things. There was another woman, one we liked and kept for a long time, but she had to move. It was near then that I had decided to take a leave of absence from teaching, and I thought it made the best sense to take over the cleaning.

Thank all that is good for parents that taught me how to do chores when I was growing up. It was expected that I would help my mom clean our house, up through high school. Dusting and polishing was, in fact, my main chore, but I experienced all of them. Let me tell you, my parents have a LOT of wood. It took at least a couple of hours to do it all and do it right. I am sure that I grumbled at least a few times, but in retrospect, I am glad they made me pull my weight and valued my contribution as a family member. Moreso, I am thankful they instilled the discipline to do and finish a job right, even in moments when I didn’t want to. It taught me to pull myself up and get-er-done. How many more times I have had to “get-er-done” with respect to many parts of my adult life, I cannot even begin to say. I am grateful for the training.

It’s those old farm values again.

I am a little bit sloppier, now and then, dusting my own wooden pieces, I’ll admit it. Yet every once in awhile, I get back into my groove with my polish and my rag and let my mind wander. I dust my the big picture frame on the wall, and I let my mind wander over the images inside: the lighthouse at Point Reyes, one of my favorite places in the world; my mom and I hiking in Muir Woods; the California coast. I polish my hanging curio cabinet and dust the tiny china teacup and saucer inside: it belonged to my great-grandmother Sarah McClain (who was later Sarah Matics—like me—when she married Guy), and she earned it in 1909 for perfect Sunday school attendance. It is over 100 years old…. Eric tries to suck on my finger, woops, it is too oily…better finish up here and get him settled. Katie is ready, too, for her doggy birthday party.

My friend Sana recently wrote in her blog about this human quality of work and of caring for her home (“Feeling Human. Get to Work.”) She opens her piece with a thought that, I think, is profound:

“Some days, I feel more human than others.  Today was one of those days.  ”Chalk full,” as my Aussie-friend says, with stuff.  Started when I got up with the usual dishes, laundry, breakfast and such.  Thankful for it you know.  Means we’re living here.” (Sana Johnson-Quijada, posted 12/22/2010)

This part, here: “Thankful for it you know. Means we’re living here.” It has stayed with me. I thought of Sana’s words again today. Just at the moment when I was thinking about how there is always cleaning and tidying to be done, how it never is all perfectly returned to order, along came her words of wisdom. Means we’re living here. Yes, yes. Just at the moment when I was tempted to dust off my old nemesis perfectionism… The dishes by the sink, the dust that gathers on the sideboard while I spend days playing with my children instead of polishing, the blocks strewn on the floor, the couch pillow that toppled off: signs that we are here and are alive and rolling with the flow. The signs of my children, and my husband, and myself. Even chores that never end can be perfect in their own way.

Even mess can be beautiful, interpreted through a joyful, open lens.

Today there was a way to gather joy amidst the gathered dust.

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