By Jennifer Richardson
I remember being in college and hearing my mother say that she loved it when all the kids came back home. She loved having all six of her children back under one roof.
I would smile and laugh, but I didn’t really understand. Once I teased her about how it must be so nice that she and my dad had so much more room since all the kids left. She would smile mysteriously and say something like, no amount of clean space is better than a full house.
Clean space became something of a rarity as I embarked on the adventure of my own family life. We gave birth to our oldest daughter one month before our first year anniversary, so with the exception of a couple of very quick months after we married, we have been looking forward to a baby’s birth or raising children, getting someone through college, or getting someone married for the last twenty-five years.
The memories of the baby days are a little indistinct. Three precious little girls joined our world in three and a half years. My life, for a few years, was filled with sleep deprivation, diapers, and those baby grins that make even the most difficult day worth it all.
Every turn of our home was filled with the evidence that tiny people lived with us. Bottles and baby food spoons were always in the sink, and toys were sometimes scattered throughout every room. Every time the doorbell rang I felt a flash of panic about whether or not things were tidy enough.
The blur of those years gives way to the toddler years and the beginning of school. The bottles disappeared and were replaced with sippy cups and a tiny backpack here and there. An endless parade of tea parties, bedtime prayers, and laundry baskets of little girl clothes filled our house. And somehow little girl shoes migrated into every room including the bathroom.
A few years later everyone was beginning to make craft projects and learning to bake and clean. There were always dishes in the sink and cookies in the cookie jar.
The remnants of many projects floated around our kitchen and dining room tables. I never felt like I had the pieces of everything picked up or put away. And more than once I came upon the evidence that a little girl had decided to cut her own hair.
The junior high years turned our home into a storage space for clothing, curling irons, and every hair accessory ever created and sold in stores. And shoes were still everywhere, except now some of them had high heels.
High school turned our home into a storage space for activities. Dance team and cheer-leading gear, sheet music, and several instruments seemed to always be floating from the kids’ bedrooms to the living areas. Personalized duffel bags and uniforms could be found on any given day.
Our table held the occasional deliveries of flowers from someone special, and our shelves held pictures of dances and first dates. We were stuffed to the gills with textbooks, homework, cellphones, and the ever-present pile of ladies shoes.
It is safe to say our home was full. More than once we had to clear items off of our table so everyone could sit down to dinner. We joked about how nice it would be to have more space when all the kids were gone.
And then the day came when we began to pack it all away in boxes. And then the day came when we delivered it all to the places our married children would be living. Even the piles of shoes.
On that day, and every day since, I have finally understood how my mother felt. Time becomes measured in the spaces between the kids’ visits; watching them walk over the threshold of the front door is wonderful. My house is never really full again unless they are all home.
We are empty-nesters now. Even with all the available space and the calm of no more messes in the corners of the house, there is still nothing better than watching my home fill up with people I love.
If your home is now filled with the clutter and belongings of your family members remember that it simply means that your loved ones are within arm’s reach. This messy, cluttered, busy time is better than any amount of clean space. Enjoy your full house, you are going to miss it.