What Works For Us In This Season

I think there are a lot of good ways to attack housework. Before we had kids, we’d take a desultory whack at the most egregious spots on the weekends, together, especially right before someone was coming over. When Pippin was a baby, we’d set a timer for 20 minutes every evening after we’d put him to bed, then accomplish as much decluttering, sweeping, dog-walking and dishwashing as we could before the timer sounded. Now that Pippin stays up till 8 and I’m no longer balancing library work in the evenings and we have all of us making an unholy mess all day long, we’ve developed a new approach.

Some of the set-it-and-forget-it work of the household I accomplish in the gaps of my day with the kids: starting the slow cooker or bread machine, tidying the bedrooms, running the dishwasher or a load of laundry, slapping together the rest of dinner in the dreaded 5 o’clock hour.

But the bulk of the housework — cleaning up after supper, putting away everyone’s clean laundry, vacuuming and wiping down surfaces and taking out the recycling and a thousand other small tasks — I knock out with one fell swoop in the space between finishing dinner and Pippin going to bed, with a small break somewhere in there to put Scout down.

And here’s my secret to enjoying it: THERE ARE NO CHILDREN AROUND.

I put on an audiobook, and I carry with me any leftover bit of wine or cider I might have from dinner, and I tackle whatever seems most important at the moment, steering clear of the playroom or yard, wherever the rest of the clan is hanging out. Unlike the rest of the day, I’m not simultaneously answering impossible questions (“What are you made out of, Mama?”) or removing choking hazards from a baby’s clenched fist, but can work uninterrupted. I can think things through, and choose my own (humble, cleaning-related) adventure.

This requires not getting mad at J for not helping. He made the mess, too! When is the last time he even used his dishwashing gloves? These are not helpful thoughts. During this time, he’s still working, because he’s spending time with our children in a way he can’t during the workday, roughhousing in the way they love and I hate, or adventuring outside, or visiting the neighbors. It’s important to remember that we are both working in these evenings, and also both having fun, because our evening work is different than our daytime work. It’s divide-and-conquer time, and I want the housework part, because by 6:30 I can use a break from the kids.

And then, finally, both the kids are in bed, and we’re finally free, free for real, to catch up, and to relax in the order and calm we’ve created together.

Real talk: One evening assignment is periodically tackling the clutter and toddler toothpaste foam of our bathroom vanity armed only with half a cider and a bottle of Windex.

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