I moved a small bookshelf in my apartment on Saturday, and was greeted by a dust bunny so large that it was more like a dust Flemish giant rabbit. I was moving the bookshelf in the first place because I’d decided it was time for some redecoration: I had framed some posters and pictures, and had some others I’d just never gotten around to hanging, so I enlisted Dakota in this fun project for the long weekend. We were trying to finalize the placement of the print from the recent Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum when I found Harvey, and in some ways, it’s been downhill ever since.
No one would ever accuse me of being an enthusiastic homemaker. I’m decent enough at keeping up with what I’d class as the “hygiene”-type chores (dishes and kitchen, bathroom, cat litter, laundry), but I’m remarkably good at not seeing stacks of clothes or books for as long as I need to not do so for my mental health. I have a full-time job that has, for the past nine months, included some very lengthy commutes, and I try to maintain social and creative lives and occasionally go for a run, so housework is rarely at the top of my to-do list. And if you’re thinking that I do have a spouse, after all, and where is he in all of this, well, all the same applies to him also (except the running part), and he’s very good at doing dishes and taking out the trash and folding laundry and running the vacuum cleaner he picked out himself, so this isn’t a gender thing. It’s just two people who have busy lives in the big city and who perhaps even like a bit of clutter doing the best they can.
So. We hung the pictures, fiddling around with level and tape measure and pencils for a while, and oohed and aahed at the results of our work after an hour or two of all that. And throughout the long weekend we managed to really clean the whole apartment—you know, including the corners and the awkward spaces between the stone tiles on the kitchen floor and the back of the bathroom sink and the floor of my closet where Sookie likes to pull clothes off their hangers and fashion a lair for herself so that some portion of my wardrobe is always rumpled and covered with little white cat hairs.
I stayed close to home for most of the long weekend, venturing out only as far as Prospect Park for a run and a picnic with friends (two separate trips). It was a long week at work indeed, every single day featuring a meeting at least four hours in length, and I desperately needed to stay home and watch most of a season of Call the Midwife. I even stayed away from church (sorry, those of you who are here for the Judson recaps, which is more than you might think), as some friends of ours who have already moved out of the city and are moving even farther away at the end of the summer were going to be at the picnic and we wanted to see their new baby. Idolatry, a violation of the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath; or, loving our neighbors as Jesus loved us, offering gift cards to the new (again) parents and sliced strawberries to a charming toddler who counted each piece of fruit out loud on her fingers with no small measure of pride? I’m barely even an amateur theologian, so I won’t make the call. I’m only reporting here.
That anguished post-game analysis is familiar to so many of us, especially those of us who struggle with anxiety and especially those of us for whom shame rides closely beside it. As I took a lunch break today, I pushed cubes of leftover butternut squash around a small bowl, a toddler myself again, this time embarrassed that I hadn’t been able to find so many of my headbands and barrettes because they were scattered sundry in an area around the bed that Dakota (affectionately!) refers to as my “nest.” I tend to have about three of these going at any given time: the aforementioned one next to the bed; one composed mostly of shoes in front of the closet; and one made up of purses and tote bags next to a small sofa in the living room. Some degree of containment of my tendencies to be both acquisitive and slatternly is necessary, and these nests do seem to have invisible borders they mostly observe. I’m aware that these tendencies aren’t charming anymore, if they ever were, but in terms of trying to get a handle on things, I’ve had bigger problems for the vast majority of my adult life. And so the terrible energy sink of an invisible friend that is anxiety finds me at the end of a (productive! happy! much-needed!) long weekend still trying to shake off the memory of Harvey, and the seventeen pens I found in The Nest™ and the beloved sweaters Sookie had claimed as her own and who knows what else, rather than taking pride and satisfaction in so many jobs well done.
I’d like to joke that I was looking for God when I scrubbed those corners this weekend, but maybe the better meaning to take from all of this is that God sat with us on that picnic blanket, laughing right along with us at our friends’ beautiful little girl, and that God is with me in my nests and stacks and dust Flemish giant rabbits and understands when I just can’t deal with them for another day. I’m not saying I’ve learned this lesson. A thousand words in this blog post are here to argue otherwise. I’m just laying it out alongside tomorrow’s (clean, ironed) clothes and (freshly emptied) bag, to consider as I head back to work, to find the space to keep what I need and clear away the rest.