On Housecleaning and Rocking a Baby and Hospitality


My grandma – my dad’s mom – used to recite poetry to us. This statement probably gives you a false impression, maybe brings to mind an image of my cousins and me gathered at her feet as she shared the lyric wonder of Yeats or Whitman or Dickinson with us, so I will dispel such notions immediately: Grandma tended toward the quirky and the goofy, loved Shel Silverstein and Ogden Nash. I’m sure she appreciated more refined verse as well, but my memories all center around the silly and the fun.
There are two pieces in particular that, without question, say “Grandma” to me. The first had something to do with an unfortunate insect – “Poor little bug on the wall, he ain’t got no mama at all” it started, with the first word long and drawn out and said with an expression of woe. Verses varied depending on Grandma’s mood, everything from “no one to tie his shoes” to “no one to wipe his nose”, but she’d always end with “no one to brush his hair,” and we’d join in on the last line: “He don’t care! He ain’t got no hair!”
The other poem was not unique to Grandma; I’ve heard it quoted many places, seen it cross stitched on pillows and wall-hangings. I’m sure you’ve come across it:
Cleaning and scrubbing can wait ’til tomorrow,
For babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep!
(I’ve learned since that there is an entire poem, of which this is only the final verse, but Grandma only ever quoted this part of it.)
This verse and by extension, Grandma, have been on my mind lately, for obvious reasons. While I can’t take it entirely to heart – there are, unfortunately, tasks that must be done, even when there’s a little one to rock – some of the lesser chores have fallen by the wayside, been completed less often than perhaps they once were, and I am slowly realizing that this is ok.
* * * * *

I’ve never been one for housework. I say this as though it is a valid reason for a messy house, as though there are people who actually enjoy cleaning grout and scrubbing toilets and that this is why they have such sparkling clean homes. Still, I have a tendency to not see dust, to ignore cobwebs, to forget to notice grease accumulating on the corner of the stove. My threshold tolerance for acceptable levels of dirt is, perhaps, much higher than it should be, and this natural inclination is not helped by having a baby, and two cats who are shedding, and now also a puppy.
All of which to say: my house won’t be featured in Better Homes and Gardens any time soon.
(Wait. We’re in the 21st century. What I mean to say is that my house won’t be considered pin-worthy any time soon.)
* * * * *

My world has narrowed since Katie’s birth, become more centered around our home than it has been at any time in the past, and I’ve found myself thinking about my role in life and in our family, about circles of influence and the way I spend my time. Taking care of a little girl is my primary responsibility, of course, but there are other ways I might contribute, other means of touching the world and making it a better place. My husband and my daughter are the most important people in my life, but there’s no reason – indeed, it would be unhealthy – for them to be the only people in my life.
So I’ve been thinking about hospitality, about relationships, about being purposeful in spending time with people. To be honest, these can be big things for an introvert; though the benefits are many, though I know the importance of community, though I truly enjoy spending time with the people in my life, it can take so much energy. Some days, it’s much easier to curl up on the couch with a girl in my lap and a book in my hand and to pretend that the greater world doesn’t exist than to make a phone call or to meet a friend for coffee.
Despite my recluse tendencies, however, there’s an ideal, a desire within me to make my home welcoming. I want it to be open to friends and those who are not-yet-friends, to be a place of laughter and joy and real fellowship, real community. I want it to be a place where people can relax, enjoy a meal, discuss the hard stuff and the not-so-hard stuff. To get there, it’s necessary to take that first step – to start inviting people to come, to extend our table to others on a regular basis.
I mentioned all of this to Jonathan, told him I thought I’d like to start practicing hospitality more often, said I thought it would be valuable to start growing relationships in this way.
Lesson learned: don’t tell my husband I intend to do something unless I really mean it. Since having that conversation, he’s consistently asked, “Do you want to invite so-and-so over for dinner tomorrow?” and I have had to fight the excuses I would normally make in order to follow through on this thing I really do want to do.
* * * * *
Which brings me back to housecleaning, and baby rocking, and how the two do or do not fit together.  There are many reasons for striving for a tidy home when inviting somebody over, not the least of which, I will admit, is pride. But there are also more noble motivations for cleaning, for preparing a special meal. I’ve always associated the work that precedes a dinner guest as a sign of respect, a sign of value. “You are important enough to me,” it says, “that I want everything to be perfect. I will exert extra effort to prepare for your arrival because you matter.”
I still think that, when possible, this attitude is valuable. Cleaning the house and cooking a special meal put me in the right frame of mind for having guests, and I would hope that it makes those who come feel more appreciated, more comfortable. At this stage in my life, however, when my baby’s smiles trump laundry every time, when rocking a sleeping girl is more important than cleaning the refrigerator, it’s hard to make the time. If I waited until my home were perfectly in order, we would never have dinner guests.
And yet, the desire to practice hospitality remains.
* * * * *
I suppose what I am trying to say is this: if ever you come to visit and the dishes are stacked in the sink and the laundry is overflowing in its basket and the floor desperately needs to be mopped, I hope you will think not that you didn’t merit a little effort, but rather that I value our friendship too much to let such trifling things as a messy home get in the way of us spending time together.

3 response to "On Housecleaning and Rocking a Baby and Hospitality"

  1. By: Janet Posted: August 2, 2014

    Ignoring cobwebs is a must when you have little kids, the things that are truly important don’t require a spotless house, (just a place to sit down)!

  2. By: Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) Posted: August 2, 2014

    I think you’re right on both points. Cleaning up and cooking something nice certainly can say “you’re important to me”, and there is a time and place for that. But I also think that a not-so-sparkling home can be a welcoming and comfortable thing. I aim for a clean bathroom (rather important, with so many little boys around…) and a happy and unapologetic attitude. After all, you don’t want to be apologizing for your messy/dirty/whatever home, because your guest might be secretly thinking she’d better not have YOU over to judge her even messier house! I think that a level of realism can be part of putting your guest at ease.

  3. By: sarah marie Posted: August 21, 2014

    I say that little poem to myself quite often these days! And tickle my baby’s belly and say to her time and again, “babies don’t keep! babies don’t keep!” I too am trying to find a place that balances hospitality and practicality, I suppose you could say. And am trying to come to terms with the reality that my “AFTER” picture of my home will always look like the “BEFORES” of magazines and successful beautiful blogs. Ah well.

    Can you tell I’m seizing an opportunity with my laptop to catch up on old posts? 😉

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