My mum used to say, when I was a child, that the state of a person's home reflects the state of their life. She said this in an ominous way meant to imply, I believe, that the disorganization that was always pulling at my ankles would probably end up ruining my entire life if I didn't learn how to combat it more effectively. It was never clear which part of the warning was the cause and which was the effect. That is, I'm not sure whether a messy house was a symptom of a messy life, or whether having the messy house was actually the cause of the messy life. I'm not sure my mother was clear on that either.
I know that her house reflected her life. It was spotlessly clean. Rigidly clean. There was no junk drawer and there were no Saturdays off.
I have inherited some aspects of her personality, some signs of her OCD. I wish, however, that mine was as productive as hers. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder doesn't have to be debilitating. For me it's like an inner fire that gives you energy when you're tired and keeps you moving even when you want to stop. An inner fire that would drive me to do a better job of keeping the house clean would be far more useful than an inner fire that urges me to pick my cuticles.
It didn't turn out that way for me. The disorder is diluted, perhaps, from one generation to the next. If I have a child perhaps she will have thoughts of picking her cuticles but be too lazy to actually do it.
Once I start cleaning, though, I understand the obsession. There is a kind of simple peace that comes over me when things are ordered and tidy and clean. It makes me feel in control of my life, and I imagine it's why my mother was so addicted to it. It feels good to be in control. Once I start I feel like I don't want to stop.
So we cleaned today.
Being able to look back on one's childhood from an adult vantage point is a blessing in my case. I know this isn't true for everyone. But in my case when I put aside the childlike feelings of rejection I am able to see that they did their best. This, above all, is what matters to me.
On the phone last night my mother talked about the way things were when I was a child. She said that it may have been wrong.
It may have been wrong.
It probably doesn't sound like much of a concession to anyone who doesn't know my mother the way I do, but to me it was the kind of revelation that makes your head swim. My mother never admits she might be wrong. Never never never ever.
And being able to hear that admission through adult ears is healing. Perhaps it even filters down through the layers to the inner child who still just wishes she felt loved by her mummy.
What's most important, though, isn't anything I am given externally. It is the growth beyond the limited vision of a child and the ability to look back and remember without judging them or feeling angry anymore. Because I have the adult ability to forgive them for making mistakes and to empathize with how difficult things must have been for them as well.
For me these are confident steps forward.