The following is a piece originally written with intent on submission to a few online outlets. As they proved themselves not worthy of publishing it, I will do so myself. Written in a moment of sheer frustration over the struggle to feed a toddler as well as the semi-clean/mostly-dirty state of our house, and the demoralizing decision to bring in a cleaning service just to see how much better they could do than us, the content continues to be absolutely relevant now (except for the sad discontinuation of the cleaning service due to cost–coming home to a clean house, on the other hand, was glorious.)
Dear Current Self,
The box of Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese sitting in your cabinet is not in error. Do not worry if it is pre-packaged or only takes 10 minutes to make. Do not stress that you did not have to grate real cheese or craft a roux of milk and flour. Do not scold yourself for neglecting the healthy, real-food, whole-grain, low-fat, reduced-calorie, from-scratch recipes you spent so many years finding and perfecting. Do not wallow in longingness to peruse the easy-to-use recipe database you created to sort all the enjoyable meals, snacks, and drinks. Refrain from comparing those recipes to the frozen pizza, Goldfish cracker, and Lean Cuisine-filled kitchen you now keep stocked. Back then, you only cooked for two adults. Back then, you had time after work to focus on yourself and your interests. Back then, you did not have a 21-month-old who needs play-time, story-time, dinner-time, snack-time, bath-time, physical therapy-time, and snuggle-time all crammed in the few precious evening hours between school and bed.
As a child, the boxed macaroni, Spam slices, frozen TV dinners, and a dish so aptly named “beenie weenie” were the norm for you. Once a week, a meal from scratch appeared on the dinner table, lovingly prepared by your mother’s hands–a mother who so graciously found time on Sunday evenings to cook longer than 15 minutes. As for the rest of the week, some of the meals were good, some were amazing, and some you would happily never torture your tastebuds with again. What you did not realize was that while those hastily made meals were nourishment for your growing body, they were also nourishment for your parents’ sanity.
While we are at it, do not try to stack up to the fictitious world your Facebook friends create through their perfect pictures of family, home, and a beautifully colorful yard with flowering bushes in the corners of a pristinely manicured lawn. In this online world, they appear to have seemingly endless energy to clean. In reality, they don’t. When the dog hair from the carpet sticks to your child’s face, the dust on the coffee table shines in the morning sunlight, and the spots on the kitchen floor remind you of how long it has been since you last got out the vacuum, furniture polish, or Swiffer, push the guilt aside, suck up your pride, and call the cleaning service. Sure you have the human ability to clean; what you lack is any reasonable time to execute these skills. The cleaning woman’s cheeriness that carries her through a deep cleaning of your couch cushions will overshadow your fleeting contentedness when you find 10-minute bits of time to clean one corner, one floor, or one tub at a time. Her cleaning yields her well-earned money and your well-earned time to enjoy your child.
Do enough laundry to get by for the week and do not worry about the other hundred piles on the floor, in the hamper, or sitting on the washing machine. Shirts and pants do not need to be ironed into an obediently flattened state that creases just where it’s told. The necessities for the family–shirts, pants, underwear, socks–need to be cleaned, dried, and put away. Fold it in a systematically careful fashion if you want–or don’t (however it looks in the drawers is not a concern to anyone but you).
Do not worry if desserts brought into work for Christmas parties, cookies sent to the toddler’s daycare classroom for Valentine’s Day, or birthday cakes for your husband are no longer homemade. Bakeries are as good (or actually better) at baking than you anyway. Do not stress about looking lazy. Do not worry about what other parents think of you. They do it too and worry about what you think (believe me). Be grateful you remembered the event, you found a few minutes to get yourself to the store, and you could share a sweet moment with others. In fact, be grateful you did not have to slave away in the kitchen, sweat over the hot stove, and dry out the skin on your knuckles during a 20 minute dish-washing session.
Most importantly, take a moment to reminisce and relish who you were and will be again. Take a minute to think fondly of your favorite homemade pizza crust and how its whole-wheat doughiness crisps just right in the oven; then remember how good delivery pizza is too. Take time to inhale deeply when your carpets are actually vacuumed, your tables are polished, and the dark streaks have been scrubbed from your toilet bowl. Take a moment to be thankful there are people willing to clean for a living. Take a moment to remember your sanity matters too. Acknowledge who you used to be and what you used to accomplish: to your former self say “I miss you”, to your former self say “I am so hungry for your glorious cooking (and leftovers during the week)”, to your former self say “I miss your energy, your enthusiasm for cleanliness, your drive for perfection”. To your former self say “I hope you see you again–someday when my child is grown and I no longer have her beautiful innocence to cultivate”.
Until then, cherish your mental health by looking forward to the next pre-packaged meal, the next bakery cookies you buy, the next day the cleaning lady shows up, and the next time you have enough clean work clothes for the week.
Your Former (and Future) Self