My Apologies for the Mess
We recently moved to a new town which we intend to make our forever home. We rented an adorable, tiny, antique apartment within walking distance of the beach and the best chocolate croissant I’ve ever had. For our little family, this two-bedroom apartment with its uneven pine floors and clanky radiators is perfect.
Or at least I thought it was, until we went for a playdate and were pressed to reciprocate as hosts.
We made fast friends with another little family at a playground across town. Their son is only weeks older than ours, and both boys have an affinity for kitchen tongs and climbing up the slide the wrong way. The mom is funny and smart, and the dad shares the same fitness interests as my husband. We honestly and truly hit it off, each one of us. I was so thrilled when we were invited to their home for a playdate, because I hoped this was the beginning of what could be a lifelong friendship between our families.
Of course we had a wonderful visit at their home, a dreamy open-concept with tons of natural sunlight and stylish mid-century modern furnishings. The boys ran like crazy and rode their mini-bikes around in loops while we enjoyed conversation in their three-season porch overlooking the manicured and fenced backyard. Later that night I sent a “thanks-and-let’s-do-it-again-soon!” text to the mom, who promptly responded that she’d love to get together again later that week, and should they come to us this time? My heart sank. I looked around this apartment I loved and suddenly it felt inadequate, embarrassing, and shameful. It felt like a reflection of everything we don’t have and an advertisement for how little we have it together in the conventional, adult sense. I checked the weather app on my phone and suggested we meet for a walk in the bird sanctuary, a beautiful spot between our two homes. When she agreed, I literally breathed a sigh of relief. We kept on this way for a few months, meeting at the local family-friendly coffee shop (you know, the croissant place), or the playground, or the trails of the bird sanctuary. We got to know one another better, and opened up about the real stuff: meddling in-laws, the challenges of having an older stepson, the utter exhaustion of mothering a spirited toddler. This woman was quickly becoming my closest friend, but I was terrified to welcome her into my home.
January came and it never left. Here in New England, the days of winter are short but the hours are so long. Cold snaps, with temperatures below freezing, kept us inside and isolated. On a Thursday morning during one of these cold snaps, I answered a desperate phone call from my friend, the mom with the perfect home. They were out for a drive with no destination, too stir crazy to stay home, and none of the local shops were open quite yet. She was in our neighborhood and begged to come to our apartment. I panicked. I hadn’t vacuumed in a few days, there were crumbs all over the coffee table, and in our own stir craziness, my toddler had every single toy we own on display in the living room. Our tiny, old, embarrassing living room. Alas, I am more of a people pleaser than I am prideful, so I couldn’t say no. Before I could grab my stick vacuum, they were knocking at the door. Filled with dread, I welcomed them in and immediately apologized for the mess. I started blathering on about how it’s a short-term situation, and we’re looking to buy, and we need more space, and please don’t feel like you have to take your shoes off, because it’s mess. When I finally stopped talking and felt the red flush of embarrassment disappearing from my cheeks and ears, I noticed her eyes welling up with tears. She sat down on the couch and cried. Cried about what a hard morning they’d had, at the end of a long week and a long month. That no one was sleeping, and her stepson was having difficulties at school, and her husband was going away for a guys ski weekend with little sympathy for her exhaustion. She cried about living so far away from her mother and about lacking real support from her in-laws who live nearby. She cried about being a mom and losing her professional identity and wearing leggings everyday. Then, she apologized for being such a mess.
That’s when I realized it: motherhood is messy. Sometimes it’s messy like a tiny, crumb-and-toy filled rental apartment. Sometimes it’s messy like a long, hard month of being stuck inside with a heavy mental load to bear. No one has it all, no one has it all together, and no one has either all the time. On that freezing January morning, we didn’t accept each other’s apologizes because it wasn’t necessary. She was grateful for a change of scenery and a listening ear, and I was grateful for the company and the ability to hold space for a suffering friend.
I stopped hiding my “mess” and I stopped apologizing for it, too. Since that morning, we’ve spent at least two mornings each week together, often at our apartment. Sometimes we’re still in our pajamas. Sometimes we let the boys eat cookies for breakfast. Sometimes we spend the entire time venting about our husbands. All the time, we are honest and accepting of each other. When I finally set aside my insecurity, I set aside loneliness too.