Sisyphus, whistling. . . (+ big giveaway)

Posted by jdg | Monday, November 15, 2010

Growing up out in the middle of nowhere could get pretty lonely. My sister was always a good sport about playing G.I. Joes, but when three boys moved across the street my life changed. It became a whole lot easier to plot elaborate war games or just play some baseball. I remember sitting at our front window watching the construction of their house. This was just before the Age of McMansions, when most new homes were still fairly modest. But this was a big house with mock tudor accents and a long sloping driveway. With a huge TV room, a home office, three bedrooms for the boys and a master bedroom suite that was larger than the main floor of my own house, it felt like a palace. It was the sort of bourgeois estate that said, We are doing well, and now you can see that.

The family prayed in Hungarian before meals. The three boys were, I think, each named after a different ruthless warlord from beyond the Danube: there was Zoltan II, Lazlo, and Attila (the middle child). We did most of our marauding out in the fields and woods around the house, but we also spent a lot of time inside (they had a computer!). As you might expect from any pack of boys, we were hard as hell on that new house, especially in winter. The boys' mother did a damn fine job keeping the place tidy, but come December there was always a sisyphean battle against winter coats and boots; scuff marks inexplicably high on the drywall. It must have been exhausting, and to this day I feel some guilt for adding to her burden.

I remember two rooms in that house that were off limits: they had cream-colored walls, plush white carpet, white-upholstered high-backed chairs, a couch where no one ever sat, and a formal dining room table always set for a meal that would never take place. From within the chaotic horde of her male offspring, I remember noticing her standing at the threshold and staring into those rooms, as if stepping in herself would somehow break a spell and we'd all rush in behind her.

It never made sense to me then, but it does now. Those two rooms must have provided some sense of tranquility while her little barbarians bounced off the rest of the walls. Now that we have some major little boy energy in our house, sometimes I wish we had a room like that, a space on the blueprint that said, Here be dragons. We live in a small townhouse designed by Mies van der Rohe, as famous for his quixotic maxim Less is More as he is for inspiring legions of architects to raise glass and steel boxes up to the skies. There is no place in our house where the kids aren't allowed. We used to try to maintain a vaguely minimalist aesthetic, but there's no way to keep sticky fingers off Spinneybeck leather or toy fire trucks from appearing where you least expect them. Even if Mies van der Rohe had graced us with an extra room I'm sure it would just be another for me to clean. Still, I make it a priority to have the first floor of our house clean for my wife when she gets home every day. The second floor, well.

I'm no June Cleaver, but my wife works hard and she deserves to walk into a clean house. I don't think I could do it in a bigger place. There is a moment every day, when my work is done and everything is in its place, that I stare at it and get some creepy sense of pleasure from all that order born of chaos. It scares me how happy I am in that moment. Then I bundle the kids up quickly and get them outside before they can ruin it all.

Because there's nothing worse for a clean house than actually living in it.

* * * * *

This week we're doing one of these giveaways brought to you by the folks behind the new Windows Phone 7. We'll be giving away (1) a brand new Windows Phone 7 (a brand new technology that seeks to simplify the smart phone), along with (2) a one year XBOX Live Gold membership; and (3) a three month unlimited Zune Pass – that will allow you to download and stream unlimited music and keep 30 songs forever. That's a value of more than $500!

To sweeten the deal, I'm adding a second prize, a 16x20 print of that "Everything is Going to Be Alright" photo (an 11x14 of which sold at a charity auction last year for $600).

Leave a comment on THIS POST telling me something about you. Do you have anything that gives you peace amid the chaos of your household? I wrote this post long before I got involved with the giveaway, but felt it generally went along with the "do more with less" theme. Do you have any tips for how to do more with less? Feel free to respond to this post, or any post I've recently written (and closed comments). I don't care what you tell me, so long as you follow these rules:

  • You must leave an e-mail address so I can contact you.
  • One entry per person; duplicates will be deleted.
  • Comments will be open for two weeks, until November 29th, 5pm EST.
  • I will randomly select two winning comments using It will not be based at all on anything that you say.
  • The winner will be contacted via e-mail and will have 5 days to respond with their contact information for mailing the phone (and I will send the additional prizes).
  • For the phone, you must be a legal resident of the United States; you also can't be an employee of Microsoft, Federated Media, or ePrize to claim the Windows Phone 7. If you are not eligible for the phone but want to be considered for the photo, please make that clear in your comment.
  • Void where prohibited, y'all.