Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Home Should Be Lived In

My wife has a funny story about the dog her family had growing up, the cat her family had growing up, and a room in the house in which she grew up. The cat knew the dog was banned from this room, and would go and sit just over the threshold, taunting her. One day, as pets will, the cat was playing its game, and Tandy, their dog, was quite fed up. Having already chased the cat through the rest of the house, the dog charged in to the room and the cat, realizing that something was not quite right, took off. Tandy, however, knew she had done wrong, ran through the room and out. She stopped, sat, panted, with a look on her face, as Lisa says, that seemed to say, "I really hope no one saw me do that."

I've always wondered, though, about that mindset. Some rooms are off-limits. Take your shoes off when inside (don't want to get the floor dirty, you know; just your socks from all the dirt that settles on the floor). Don't throw stuff in the house, because you might break something. Don't drag your toys to the middle of the floor, even though that is where there is room to play. God forbid, of course, that company arrive while a child is shoeless, playing in the middle of the floor, say, tossing a ball around.

These attitudes, to my mind, betray a kind of bourgeois striving. This is not to say that keeping a clean, neat house is unimportant. Obviously for reasons of both health and safety, these are not just important but necessary. To worry about the appearance of one's home in the eyes of others, however, to the point where a house can cease to be a haven, a safe place for children and adults to relax (with their shoes on!) and play, really has nothing to do with "home". A home is to be lived in. If it's cold and you want to keep your feet warm and clean, wear shoes! If you want to play, do it in the middle of the floor! For crying out loud, I used to sit and bounce a superball against a covered chimney in our TV room with my parents sitting in the room with me!

Every once in a while, Lisa will declare, with vehemence and disgust, "This place is a disaster area." On some of those occasions, I have said, "No, honey. This place is lived in." That's all. Our home is lived in. We keep it clean and neat, although we're still working on getting the kids to put things away without needing reminders. We vacuum because we have a long-haired dog. We even dust! Ours is not a pigsty, a dump, or a disaster area. It is a home. Anyone and everyone is welcome here, to live and laugh and enjoy. No place is off-limits (although it would be nice to have a few more pictures hanging in our bedroom).

I have known many people who act as if any sign of human habitation is some mark against them. Their houses, while certainly beautiful, are not homes. They are museums, the velvet rope narrowing the space for movement so much that one wonders how anyone can get from one room to the next. Next week, our house will be open to the congregation from Cornerstone UMC, and it should go without saying that we will clean and straighten and neaten our home. All the same, it will, I hope, look lived-in, rather than well-preserved. The spot on the carpet where the dog lost his cookies will, alas, be a bit darker than the rest; there might even be some stray cat hairs on the couch. This doesn't mean we've failed as housekeepers or human beings. It just means that our family lives here.

Virtual Tin Cup

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