I’m long overdue for a good panic clean. You know the kind: the we-can’t-let-people-know-we-live-like-this clean, which typically precedes hosting a big holiday meal or putting your house on the market.

Megan’s son, Oliver.

The sort of mayhem that has you wiping down the front of your dishwasher and hoisting toys by the armload into trash bags. The panicky feeling that makes moms threaten to pitch out every LEGO if a single brick is pulled out again before Grandma comes for turkey. I rely upon this pressure to keep our household in order.

With the pandemic eliminating most gatherings, my husband, kids and I have just… run amok. Even daily Zoom calls with my son’s kindergarten team aren’t enough to scare us straight.

This came to a head as the coronavirus finally invaded our bubble in mid-January. As two of the four family members we’ve socialized with since last March tested positive, our crew was suddenly home together 24/7.

Thankfully, after two weeks in quarantine, we tested negative. Our family members recovered with only mild symptoms.

What has not quite recovered? Our house.

Never have we spent so much time together — and so much time trying to entertain two children within the ever-closing walls of our home. There isn’t a puzzle that wasn’t dumped out or a stack of books we didn’t knock over. And beyond the run-of-the-mill cleaning that never ends, I feel weighed down by nagging long-term projects as well.

Spencer and I bought our house, a long-empty foreclosure, in 2014. I’ve often thought I officially depleted the last of my energy in that clean-up effort. Soon, I was pregnant and already exhausted, and any hope I had of getting organized seemed to end with our son Oliver’s early arrival the next spring. Hadley was born two years later.

Let’s just say “disarray” is a theme around here. We’re just now clawing our way out of the all-hours circus of new parenthood.

So when COVID-19 upended our daily lives, we joined many others in channeling our anxiety into finally cleaning up at home. If I lash out about anything, it’s probably the mess (and the bickering, but that’s another issue). Though at some point during the pandemic, I finally accepted that I need to temper my expectations.

We’re home all the time. All the time! And no matter how much we may talk about “the new normal,” this is still not normal. We all need grace… especially from ourselves.

Someday I’ll be able to turn the Johnson residence into a museum, if I feel like it — complete with fresh flowers on a scuff- and a ring-free coffee table.

Maybe I’ll miss the random Hershey Kiss wrappers stashed like tiny treasures in my dresser drawers. Or maybe Spence and I will joyfully downsize, choosing minimalist decor for our new all-white kitchen with contented hearts. There’s just no way to know.

In the meantime?

I’ve taken to following my kindergartener and preschooler around with a trash bag. It’s just easier to collect the empty yogurt pouches in real time, you know?

And I can still treat myself to fresh flowers… even if they’re plopped alongside the kids’ cache of art supplies, including an ever-present rainbow of uncapped markers.

 They’re colorful, at least. Pretty.

 Ah, the little things.