Friday, November 14, 2008

Cleaning Checklists and Community

When I look through my box of old files and papers, I feel like I'm on an archaeological dig of my past years as a mother. Printouts on liberal education and Marian devotion jostle "how to schedule effectively" and math grid paper. You see a big stack of scholarly documents on Neonatal Hemochromatosis next to recipes and "career planning for your teenager". It makes me realize again how much of an adventure my life is. When I was a teenager, even supposing I could have predicted the internet and personal computers and home printers, almost none of these documents would have been anywhere on my list of projected interests and abilities. Deo Gratias. The life I have been given is a far vaster one than I would have asked for.

Anyway, I decided to leave all that aside for now, and deal with the forms in the picture above.

These forms are from the Chart Jungle (scroll down and look on the right hand side) and I probably liked them for the same reason I still like them, because they are pretty and streamlined.It took me a while to track down the site where I had originally gotten them, because I had clipped the name off the bottom and the site doesn't show as far up in Google as it used to -- I suppose the "chore checklist" has proliferated online since 1998 when I first printed this out. There are a lot of people out there looking for resources and a lot of people who are willing, even eager, to share their own creativity and energy and skill asking no return.

These checklists, as you see, I backed with cardstock and sealed with contact paper back in 1999 when we were living in a 3 bedroom apartment in San Francisco (off 19th Avenue a few miles from University of California: San Francisco, if you want to know the details).

Now, did I use these forms which I so carefully assembled? No.... (small voice). I never did. I think I envisioned either hanging them up in the relevant room, or carrying them around with me as I cleaned. No reason why it shouldn't have worked. It just didn't. I didn't use them.

Why then have I kept them for almost 10 years? Well, I did invest that time in sealing and backing them, which I think always made me feel guilty about tossing them. Also, they have memories associated with them. Somewhere else in my boxes of old things, I have an "Aidan's Room" sign made in much the same way, with stickers on the sides and contact paper sealing. Most of the and Long Term Parking parents in the hospital pediatric ward tended to put up signs on their childrens' doors, just like you tend to decorate your college dorm door when you're a student. I got in the habit of making a new sign every time we showed up for the long term. I have several of those, and I probably won't throw them out.

I probably WILL throw away these household forms, though, now that I've photo'd them and pondered over them and released them from my emotional keeper list. I think I never used them because even though I tried to personalize them, they were not mine. What DID I end up using at San Francisco rather than these forms? I used a list of jobs written on 5 X 8 index cards. I wrote these out in the NICU after I had rocked Aidan to sleep, and I had one taped in every room of our apartment right above the lightswitch. They were simple 1-2-3 format, and strictly necessary. When I got home from the hospital every afternoon I was exhausted. Almost every day brought a new crisis -- a bleeding episode, a failed IV and a whole series of new "tries" in tiny exhausted veins, a temperature spike, a drop in infant weight that pushed the transplant time back further, an oxygen desaturation caused by retained fluid pushing on immature lungs or by drastically low hematocrit. Over it all, the mingled pain and joy of holding the dearest infant in the world, seeing his large brown eyes fix on mine in that deep golden-from-failing-liver, suffering, trusting face. The cards I wrote out when the eyes closed in sleep and the little body nestled in my arms gave me a procedure, a cleaning protocol written for a complete zombie-mommy who would stand stock still in the bathroom wondering where the cleaner was, for hours, if it was not specified on the list "take cleaner out of top shelf in closet". Plus, as a bonus, the kids could do some of the jobs since they were so carefully written step by step. My brother in law saw them and remarked how organized I was, but I was not organized. I needed something that would work, and this worked.

The household forms above, cute and simple as they were, weren't ours. My index cards WERE ours, targeted to our own needs and situation. The printed forms were helpful as idea-starters, but not as actual guides.

This is something I have internalized slowly through the years since then. .... that I get lots of good ideas from outside sources, that these are valuable in helping me do things that otherwise wouldn't occur to me, but they have to become mine, OURS, somehow. These days, when I look online for ideas I consider this gathering process the "research" or input phase; the second phase is to personalize the ideas that I like, customize them, adapt them. Usually only THEN can I actually make it work for us. Nowadays, looking at those household forms, I would take what attracted me -- the clean simple format, the cute little pictures -- and transfer those things over to something that would be MINE. It takes longer and I have to work harder but it is a creative work.

Though it has taken years to sink in, I think I first discovered that consciously during our stay in San Francisco. We had brought hardly any of the kids' toys, so one weekend I made a sword and shield for my 6 year old out of stiff, high quality dark cardboard from a packing box. We didn't have our Christmas ornaments, so we made our own out of paper and scraps. It was makeshift. But it was meaningful, too. The time and creativity we invested was brought back to us. At one dear nurse's suggestion, the kids made a tape for Aidan to listen to in the hospital, and the nurses played it for him while I was gone, again and again. We took ideas from other sources. But the time and work and care made them ours.

That was also the year I first realized we were pretty much outside of the statistical average of EVERYTHING. We were literally the only people from our small town in the mountains who had EVER had a sixth child born with a rare liver disease. We were homeschooling into the bargain. We were Catholic. As our child was out on the stratosphere of the medical statistics, we were out on the stratosphere of demographical statistics.

No sooner had I realized that then I realized the obvious corollary: that everyone is like that, unique and yet participating in that main stream. They start out with many things in common, but the details, the flowering of their lives are completely individual. The hospital really brought that out. So many people from very different lives, united in their love and worry for their children. The more you live a "real" life, with its various eventualities set by love and commitment, the more you get out into a zone where every detail is an individual treasure. The saints take that to a measure beyond the rest of us... living with a common purpose, they are yet, each of them, a true individual. Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assissi and Paul of Tarsus and the Little Flower of Lisieux -- through the catalyst of life, their own individuality and the integrity and lovingness of their service to God, they become living treasures.

Even while being original, though, they do not move away from what they share in common; in fact, they enrich the community and are emblems of the universal things we share.

Now the body is not a single part, but many.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.
If they were all one part, where would the body be?
But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

A far journey, from cleaning checklists to First Corinthians and community! But I do think that the variety of household helps you can find online is one token of both the commonality and the individuality of our lives.

In case you are interested, here are a few more checklists I found while I was looking for the other ones -- I have not lost my interest in seeing how other people do these things, just gotten more insight into how the process works for me:

Here are a couple of approaches I've taken this past year:


Laura A said...

I don't have anything insightful to say, but this was helpful to me today. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am finding so much about HSing and motherhood in general is a process of discovery. I look back and often wonder why I didn't figure certain things out sooner. Yet, I find there is often no way around it. I need to figure them out for myself- to try and falter and reflect and reassess.

I can so relate to what you have to say about falling outside the statistics, too.

Tracey (Connections)