Every day life tests our resolve. Two weeks ago, I posted that my goal over the next year is to practice greater self-acceptance. The other day, I found myself wavering in that goal.
I took a much-needed day off from work, and so I picked up my 11 year old son from school. Before we even got in the car, he asked to go to his friend Jack’s house. I didn’t know Jack or his parents, plus my son mentioned that Jack’s mom wasn’t home from work yet. No way was I going to let him go to a strange house with no adult supervision. I said no, but told him to have Jack’s mom call me.
Back home, I got involved cleaning my grandmother’s old mirror that I’d taken down from the loft over the garage. As I was prying thumb tacks off the back cover of the frame with a butter knife, my son tells me, “Jack is coming over in a few minutes with his mother.”
I looked around me. Dirty dishes in the sink. School papers, bills, and newspapers strewn about. Piles of shoes thrown near the back door. Dried cat food stuck on a dish. Loose ends that needed tying up from a remodel – and that was just the kitchen!
I wanted to throttle my son, but I was too busy panicking over the horrible first impression I would make on Jack and, more importantly, his mother. The impression of a disorganized, scattered, messy mother who is too busy indulging in personal activities, like fiddling with a 50 year old mirror, to keep her house in good order.
I should add that my son goes to parochial school, where a large chunk of the student body come from families who are well off. I’m just an ordinary, middle-class educator married to a blue-collar guy, who sometimes struggles to pay the tuition. Our house is in an older, working class neighborhood that I sometimes fear may be going down the tubes.
My inner demons kicked in: Will the mother look her nose down on me and my home? Will she think we’re not good enough for her son?
Then my goal came back to me. So what if my house was messy? I preferred self-care and creative projects to cleaning on a day off. We might not live in the best section of town, but our 1930 colonial was charming and in a friendly, down-to-earth neighborhood that we enjoy. That was what mattered, not the opinion of a stranger.
I thought back to the family with five girls that used to live in the little ranch behind me when I was a girl. Their house was the place to hang out. They had a Roly-Poly, a round, wooden contraption with bench seats and bars to hold onto while someone rolled us around the yard. There was an underground fort where we would bunker down, in the pitch black, and pretend to be hiding from danger. Their basement was finished into a recreation room where we would put on plays for their parents. The girls’ dad made us homemade potato chips, and on Halloween night he would pile us into his station wagon and drive through a nearby cemetery while we screamed in terrified delight.
In retrospect, they probably didn’t have much money, and their house was way more messy and disorganized than mine, yet I loved being there. The chaos was part of the charm.
Suddenly, I was excited that Christian’s friend was coming to hang out at our house. If he and his mom saw me as messy and scattered, all the better. To hell with perfection!
They arrived, and I invited the mom inside so we could get acquainted and exchange phone numbers. Her eyes scanned the kitchen, just as they’d scanned the neighborhood.
“We’re at the tail end of a kitchen remodel,” I said, feeling the need to explain the plywood backsplash over the counter, the lack of trim by the floor, and the box of silverware on the kitchen floor.
“It’s cozy,” she said, leaving me to decide if this was an insult or a compliment.
Then it dawned on me: I knew nothing about this woman. Not where she lived, where she came from, what her story was. I was making all kinds of assumptions based on my own insecurities. Hadn’t I resolved to end this bullshit?
I smiled at her, and felt warmth and acceptance spread through me. “Thank you.”