This is a guest post by Heather Griffiths, a feminist, environmentalist, poet, stay-at-home mother of two daughters. Do you have a story or tips to share with So Damn Domestic readers?

Painting With a Smaller Brush: What my Toddler's Artwork Taught Me About HomemakingIs it morning time?…

Behind the blackout curtains a faint blue light peeks around the edges.

“Is it morning time? Can I nurse?” Her small hand reaches out for me, finds my arm.

Her soft strokes would feel so loving if it weren’t 5:45 in the morning.

“It’s almost morning time. Will you wait until the sun is up?” I reply.

“But pleeeease?”

I know if I don’t scoop her up now she will wake the baby and then I will have two crying children to tend to. I take her to the living room and we sit on the couch and nurse.

The sun hasn’t climbed over the mountains yet but their silhouette is black against the lightening sky. Blue light touches the sink of last night’s dishes, paint supplies, a dozen abstract toddler paintings left out to dry, and two laundry baskets full of clean clothes that need to be put away.

I sit on the couch holding my oldest daughter while she dreamily nurses. I make my mental “To Do” list and give myself a pep talk for when I can get started on the day.

You can do this…

You can do this. If you can just empty the dishwasher and load it thats enough for this morning.

If no one needs you you can put away the laundry. That’ll only take two minutes.

You can do this. Today you are going to get so much done.

We have Forest School this morning and need to be out the door by 9 AM. It is now 6 AM and my husband is making coffee and hash browns. His delicious homemade hash browns. Oh how much I love that my husband makes breakfast in the mornings. We have a hot breakfast every morning because of him.

She climbs out of my arms to finish her painting from yesterday. I fill my coffee mug and stare blankly at my phone.

We moved into our new home only weeks before our second daughter was born.

We are still working out the kinks, trying to figure out where everything belongs and settle into a routine. It’s been five months but no two days are the same.

Some days I feel like Wonder Woman and I manage to clean the entire upstairs in under an hour. Other days I am drained and barely manage to change my shirt.

I wanted to be completely moved in by six months. No more boxes, no more piles, no more “where should this go?” We are finally in our forever home and I wanted to feel settled as quickly as possible.

But that hasn’t happened.

Our forever home is only 1200 square feet, 600 upstairs and 600 down. The upstairs has two bedrooms, the living room, a full bathroom, and the kitchen. The downstairs has one bedroom, a quarter bath, and the family room.

I’ve realized that my expectation of being “settled” by six months was grossly unrealistic. We are four people sleeping, eating, and living in 600 square feet. The downstairs is getting there but it isn’t really a “living space” as of yet. Living in such small quarters has its pros and cons.

Pro, it literally takes me only an hour to clean my entire upstairs. Con, only one person can be in the kitchen at once. My husband is making his delicious hash browns and I just want to load the dishwasher but both things cannot happen simultaneously.

Hash browns win. They will always win (they are that good).

I look up from my phone and realize it is 6:45. Breakfast has been eaten and dishes are sitting there. The baby wakes up and now for the next hour I will be wearing her in the wrap while I get my oldest ready for Forest School.

I reframe my pep talk.

If I can get both kids dressed by 7:30, then I can get dressed and pack our bags by 8, then that will give me an hour to clean up last night’s dinner, breakfast, and put away laundry. The house will be clean when we get back and we can go to the library.

She has been asking to go to the library for a week.

I set down my coffee and start getting ready, pulling clean clothes out of the laundry basket for myself and the kids. I might as well take this laundry basket into the bedroom so I can at least set it up to put the clothes away. Thankfully, I folded the clothes the night before so half the job is done. I put the laundry basket in front of the closet, look at it for a moment and sigh. I might as well put it away now. All of a sudden my living room is clear of laundry and my oldest is halfway dressed (I don’t want to put a clean shirt on her while she is still painting).

Now it’s time to pack our bags for Forest School.

Snacks, change of clothes, wetbag, diapers, shovel, magnify glass, and water bottles. I start collecting the list of things and now the baby wants to nurse. I’ve figured out how to nurse in the wrap so I latch her on and keep going.

Toddler is done painting but refuses to put her shirt on. I set her new artwork atop her stack of paintings to dry. Our limited counter space is completely taken over with toddler art. Part of me is excited that she really loves painting lately. Another part feels anxious that my counters are consumed with toddler artwork.

I tell myself at nap time I will go through them and pick out my favorites and throw the rest away.

Baby starts crying. Toddler has her shirt around her neck but wont put the sleeves on. I still haven’t brushed my teeth. Somehow it is now 8 and I am only half way through my check list.

But at least the laundry is put away.

We manage to get out the door on time

…but the dishes were left in the sink. Paint supplies are still taking up the dining table. Empty laundry baskets are sitting in the living room. An egg-and-hash-brown-encrusted pan is sitting on the stove top. This may not sound like a lot, but when it is confined to 600 square feet it can feel overwhelming.

But we still have a good time at Forest School.

Toddler digs a hole and pretends it is full of dragons who need her help finding a new home. She finds an earthworm and runs up to her friends to show them. She climbs a steep hill by herself and jumps up and down when she reaches the top, proud that she could do it herself. We both get some fresh air and a chance to start the day over.

The stress from trying to pick up the house and get dressed is forgotten and I am amazed at Toddler’s imagination, physical capabilities, and empathy as she shows concern for another toddler who has fallen down.

When we get home naps are fairly easy.

Baby only nurses for a moment before she is fast asleep and transfers to the bed.

Toddler and I are in the rocking chair and I am going over my mental To Do list.

I can’t load the dishwasher cause it’s too loud and will wake the babies. But I can go through the artwork. Maybe I can pick up the playroom a little bit. Maybe I’ll go downstairs for fifteen minutes and just do Something to get it together.

Toddler is finally asleep and I sit down on the couch.

I stare at the artwork splayed over my table and counters.

Some of it is recognizable as a dinosaur or a family portrait. Most of it is just fun mixing colors. I feel like this is a fairly accurate depiction of my attempts to keep my home in order, to make our new house a home. Some of them are recognizable and successful attempts, like telling myself to just do one step at a time.

If I think, “I need to put the laundry away.” I see it as a drawn out chore that I have to drag myself to do. If I telly myself, “just put it in front of the closet.” I see that step as done and the next step becomes visible, attainable. Which often leads to the laundry being put away the moment I set it in front of the closet.

But many of my attempts, my mental pep talks, look like I am just mixing colors together to see what it looks like, globs of ideas like paint splattered on canvas trying to make an art of homemaking. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that not every attempt will become a recognizable piece of art.

Not every housekeeping technique will fit with me. I used to have a printed out schedule on the wall of chores to do daily. It was broken down into sections: morning chores, afternoon chores, and one daily chore like cleaning a bathroom or mopping the floor. But for me having a cleaning schedule on the wall only became part of the background and was overlooked.

But if I can get outside, take a deep breath, come back in and try again I know I will eventually find my groove, my artistic and imaginative style of homemaking.

I sort through Toddler’s paintings.

I pick out the recognizable dinosaur and flower paintings and one painting that is full of color, broad strokes of green, purple, and blue. I may not be able to see her process in it, but I can appreciate that there is one. That she is figuring out her artistic style. I put the dinosaur and flower on the art display shelf in the play room, pick up the dirty socks and put the building blocks back in their basket. I put the painting of green, purple, and blue on the table.

Like any art, in homemaking there is a lot of trial and error.

I’ve had to let go of some ideals, try something different, find new ways to motivate myself. I’ve had to lower my expectations. I don’t know why I thought I would be completely moved in six months after having a new baby. I’m not THAT naive, am I?

I’ve stepped back and am now taking baby steps. Using a different paint brush. No more broad strokes of “this is how I am going to get my life in order. This is how we are going to live.” I’ve picked up a smaller paint brush. Only small brush strokes now. The painting may take longer to complete, but it will have so much more detail. “This is how I am going to complete two tasks in the next two hours. This is how we are going to get to the library today.”

My house isn’t perfect. It won’t be perfect for a long time, if ever.

But it is my house and it holds the people most dear to me. My home doesn’t have to be perfect for me to enjoy it.

I’ll keep painting. I’ll make my own stack of art.

Some of it won’t be recognizable, just a smear of colors in broad strokes.

But some of it may look like something.

It’ll look like home.

Heather Griffiths - What my toddler's art taught me about homemakingI am a feminist, environmentalist, poet, stay-at-home mother of two daughters. When pregnant with my first daughter the idea of raising a girl felt daunting. How do you raise a strong, independent woman in today’s society? I worried the princess culture, pink craze, gender pigeonholing would be too powerful for me to raise a girl to be a woman. But one day I realized that the only thing I needed to do was to be the type of woman I  hope my daughter could become. And that is what I am about. Becoming a mother has made me a stronger person, a more devoted feminist, secure in my identity. And the mountains, the mountains are where my inspiration comes from. Living close to the mountains again I feel grounded and strong. I feel I can be the mother I need to be.
All I have to do is take my daughters into the mountains and let the mountains speak for themselves.
Follow me on Instagram @mothermountains.

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