Paige Schilt

The Chaos, Hubbub, and Order Scale

Filed By Paige Schilt | October 13, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: female artists, gay parents, LGBT parent, Queer Parenting, reading

6:30 comes early when you go to bed at 2. Last night, my wife's heavy metal band played to a packed house of head-banging lezzies. Of course we had to go out for triumphant post-show pancakes. Now it's my turn to take our son to school, and I'm feeling decidedly less celebratory.

On the clock radio, an NPR announcer is explaining, for the umpteen billionth time, about credit default swaps. I think I understand: as a mother, I'm always struggling to balance love, work, creativity, and the mundane obligations of domestic life. I know the temptation of a little creative accounting. Right now, I'm trying to leverage the possibility that I might know the location of my son's shoes for ten more minutes of sleep.

I roll out of bed, start the coffee, and search the living room for my hat. Blue hair seemed like a great idea when I was plotting to be the belle of the freak fest, but this morning I have to walk the gauntlet of parents between the car and the door of my son's kindergarten class. Four hours of sleep have not prepared me to make small talk about my hairdo with friendly straight people.

After the drop off, I call the dentist's office and reschedule my son's appointment. I tell them Waylon has the flu, which is a lie; I don't want to pay the $25 cancellation fee. I feel a tiny tickle of remorse for not prioritizing dental hygiene, but I have to get some writing done today. If I don't, maternal martyrdom will inevitably lead to greater crimes and grander regrets.

Earnest Hemingway wrote 500 words a day. Once Papa reached the magic number, he was free to drink, fuck, visit Gertrude Stein, whatever. I was immediately drawn to this measure of creative productivity. It's a humane yardstick for when to say "enough" and move on. Once Mama hits 500 words, I'm free to do all the other shit I have to do.

At 468 words, I stop to put the dishes in the dishwasher. As I'm bending down to pour detergent in the little trough, my gaze hovers for a moment at the baseboard, where layers of congealed dust are threatening to become fur. I don't allow myself to intervene, even though I recently read a study that found a positive correlation between an orderly home and childhood literacy. The authors asked mothers to rank their homes on the "Chaos, Hubbub, and Order Scale"--an instrument that I had previously imagined to exist only in the sadistic arsenal of my superego.

Intellectually, I consider this study ludicrous, its biases completely transparent. However, now that the "Chaos, Hubbub, and Order Scale" has been confirmed to exist outside my mind, its Victorian standard keeps coming back to haunt me. "What about the child?" it whispers as I walk past the mountain of unfolded laundry. Waylon's blue eyes seem to plead from every dust bunny.

I don't want to succumb to a full-blown domestic project, so I escape upstairs to check on my wife, Katy. She's still in bed, totally spent from last night's show. The blinds are drawn, and the floor is littered with cough drop wrappers. I sit on the side of the bed and try to stroke her brow, but she recoils. It's as if rock-n-roll has flayed her skin and exposed raw nerves. Attempts at conversation elicit pained grimaces and a few faint moans. Then she pulls the covers over her head and goes back to sleep.

I'm frustrated and self-conscious. When Waylon was born, Katy's hometown paper ran a front-page story titled "SHOULD WAYLON HAVE TWO MOMMIES?" Although I am generally not in favor of public referendums on my family, on a day like today, when I'm cancelling pediatric dental appointments and Katy is in a musically-induced coma, my mind tends to compose its own headline: "SHOULD SLOVENLY ARTISTIC TYPES HAVE BABIES?"

I have to remind myself that performance consumes energy in violent, catastrophic bursts rather than moderate daily units. Around here, the impact is brief, albeit extreme. In a couple of days, Katy will be taking Waylon to school and loading the dishes while I'm holed up in my room, trying to churn out 500 words.

Since grocery shopping is usually Katy's chore, tonight's dinner will be take-out. I grab some tacos on the way home from work. As we unpack the food from greasy paper bags, we discuss the big news from kindergarten: Waylon got his conduct card changed from green to yellow for kissing Tina in the reading loft. In Waylon's recounting of the story, it's Joseph who was really at fault, for "telling everybody."

"Who else have you kissed?" Katy asks.

"Oh...just Joe, and Charlie...and Frank." A few minutes later, I get a text from Frank's mom: "Rumor has it that Waylon got in trouble for kissing Tina. LOL." I contemplate telling her that Tina's not the only one, but decide to wait until after she babysits for me next weekend.

We eat dessert in the back yard; Waylon takes a bite of ice cream, swallows, runs to the playscape, climbs the latter, jumps to the trapeze, swings around 180°, and then comes back to the picnic table for another bite. His path is cluttered with plastic toys and garden tools. All the junk Katy shoveled out of the car in order to transport equipment to the rock show last night is jumbled in a trash bag on the doorstep. The bag might sit there a week or even a month before its contents are missed and sorted.

Surveying our disorderly domain, I force myself to focus on the bright side of that study about childhood reading and household order: at least one of the questions on the Chaos, Hubbub, and Order Scale asked about a regular bedtime routine. In my optimistic moments, I choose to interpret routine as ritual. I can't promise Waylon cleanliness, but I can promise him ritual.

7:30 is story time. Waylon snuggles against me in the bed, and we take turns reading to each other. After that, Katy leads the bedtime song, a customized version of "The Farmer in the Dell." In this version, the wife takes a wife and all kinds of strange pairings ensue: a block with a Lego, a horse with a worm, and (in a nod to E.B. White) a pig with a spider.

The song has to end the same way every night, or else Waylon won't go to sleep. The spider takes the cheese. And then there's a Freddie Merucury-style chant:

"Hi-ho the derry-o, the spider takes the cheese and makes a holey-wolly, holey-wolly, hole, hole, hole."

Holey-wolly, holey-wolly, hole, hole, whole.

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OUTSTANDING! Brava! Brava!
I couldn't stop giggling!
Beautifully written... about a beautiful family.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | October 13, 2009 1:18 PM

Paige, bless you! I LOVE your stories. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! You made my day. (Again!)

i'm not entirely sure my kids even notice if the house is clean or not, but they definitely earn their allowances helping our. part of our night time ritual involves collecting personal items from around the house and cleaning up any messes that may have been left. for a family of slovenly artistic types, it keeps all of us in check every day :)

Picking up personal items at the end of the day--such a great idea. Waylon loves to extend the ritual in any way that he can.

So good, so well written and so real. thank you.

Wonderful story, Paige! My own six-year-old son has a similar bedtime routine, although he often puts us on the spot with song inprov requests: "I want a song about Buzz Lightyear and Spiderman."

I would add that I think there is also danger in the other extreme of the chaos scale: Houses that don't look like they've been played in probably haven't, and that's just as bad for kids, IMHO.

Really wonderful story. So well-written.

Routine is ritual as much as we put ritual into the routine. The order of the rituals is what they seek. Not the order of the house itself. And I always relish those bags set aside for weeks on end. After a few weeks we realize "we don't need that crap" and we can put the entire bag on the curb or to the thrift store.

Love the blog Paige.

And next time I see you in the hallway at school, I'm going to DEFINITELY comment on your hair.

and i thought i was the only lez who was tortured by my superego.

i also like that 500 words/day idea. this frees me.

As a mother of three, an artist-type, someone who nearly lost her kids in a custody battle over the headline "Isn't it true, Ms. Kresha, you are now living with *MS.* Cox?!"

I am having a month of sincere mother-questioning as my house deteriorates and I want only to lay around and cuddle or paint with the three girl babes of mine. We often lack routine, find it again, lose it some more...

and this may be their plight to take over when they have their own homes, but they will also be wildly creative and happy... *despite* the chaos!!

Charlotte McCluskey | November 13, 2009 2:04 PM

As your adoring Mom, I got away with blaming our clutter on you and your sister's "stuff." Now that you have been gone from home for more than 20 years, it is still a shock that I can generate all this clutter by myself...however, my life is happier than ever, and my husband has learned not to get hives about the piled up laundry room when we watch the blissful sunset move across a 100 mile view at the end of each day.

The really great thing is that you have given me a whole new way to view living with a car that looks like it is housing a family of nomads, or a garage that looks like a perpetual yard sale: I am just writing too darn much! On a slow day, I write 1000 words or more for one client or another, and that is clearly the cause of the problem! You are a darling daughter, and as always, a great help! Thank you! xoxoMom