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Cleaning House

Cleaning House

When exactly did I become a crazy person about house cleaning? I was possibly the world’s messiest kid. (True story: once when I was about nine, our house was broken into, and the police expressed regret to my mom that the robbers had ransacked my room; she told them that my room was the only one they hadn’t touched.) But just a few minutes ago I had to stop myself from yelling at my 11-month-old baby for pulling muffin pans out while I was wiping the counters off. I wanted to say, “Can’t you see that I’m cleaning? And you’re just making more of a mess!” What kind of person wants to yell at her baby about MUFFIN TINS?

When I was in high school, a far-off aunt got married, and then had her marriage annulled soon after. I remember the only explanation was: “Turns out he was crazy. If she was reading a book, and got up to answer the phone, he’d put the book back on the shelf.” I’m sure there was more to it than that, but that was enough for teenage me. I just felt sorry that my aunt had married such a control freak without knowing it. Twenty years later, here I am, putting books back on the shelf when my kids are probably still reading them. Oh, long-lost-control-freak-almost-uncle-guy, I’m sorry for judging you. I get it now.

You give birth, and the baby comes home, and with that baby comes, at the very least, the giant car seat, some clothes, and a lot of diapers. So even though I was trying not to go overboard, having my first kid almost six years ago created a mini explosion of extra stuff, and extra mess. And now I have three children, and their mini explosions overlap so much that I think there’s only a dinner-plate-sized kid-free spot next to my bed. I spend all day beating back the chaos, but I can never work fast enough, and by 3:00 I usually just give up.

I remember Allison Janney’s character in American Beauty, and how she just sat at the dining room table and stared blankly ahead, saying, “Sorry the house is such a mess.” And she said this even though her house looked spotless. At the time, I remember thinking, “Wow, seems like someone in her family would notice that she’s totally insane and would at least have her medicated or something.” I also thought that she was a completely unrealistic character. Ha! Now she’s me! Except that my house isn’t spotless. Far from it. The moths have been living in our kitchen cupboards so long they’ve started getting mail. Someone has written “dust me” with their finger on the top of the side table. We don’t have a growth chart for our kids, but we don’t need one, because the ever-higher fingerprint smudges on all the walls show how much they’ve grown.

I would love it if my house were clean. It’s all I can do to stay on top of the mess, let alone the dirt. This is my life as a parent, and I bet it’s yours too. All we can do is tread water. Or try to claw our way up the side of the pit we’re in. I don’t think it’s even that I’m a neat person now, it’s more that I just want some aspect of my life to be in control, to not be a chaotic jumble of paper, crayons, and Legos. I want to walk across the floor in bare feet without getting toast crumbs lodged in my heel. I want to put the baby on the floor and know she’s not going to find marbles and checkers to shove into her mouth. I want to walk in the door after a jumbled errand run, tired and cranky, and be able to sit on my couch and think, “Ahhh, home.”

I know people say it’s not important, that it’s more important to pay attention to your kids. To let the laundry go, let the dishes pile up, and read them a book instead. I get this, in theory. But in practice I think my three kids need to see Mom doing something that she wants to do (this is my life: I want to spend free moments cleaning) while they look at a book by themselves. By the end of a weekend, my five-year-old son’s room looks like a giant diorama of the Rocky Mountains made out of crumpled paper and finger puppets. And when I’ve had enough, and I help him clean it up, he is always so happy about it. Now, he might be happy because he now has the space to start a new paper-and-tape project, but I think it’s because he just feels better when he can actually walk in his room. And while I’d like to raise all of our standards, to have them be something more than “be able to walk across the floor,” for now that’s what we’re shooting for, because often that doesn’t even get met.

Shifting priorities, shifting goals and needs. I’m still surprised to be responsible for so many people. Like many moms, I put myself somewhere on the list above “clip toenails” and far below items like lunch-making and bottom-wiping. I don’t think it’s wrong for me to want my house to at least be clean enough so that if someone stopped by, I wouldn’t be horrified. And I don’t think it’s wrong for me to clean off my kitchen counter, make a big cup of tea, and just stare at my toaster, pretending my whole house looks as shiny and crumb-free as that little corner, spending some time recasting myself as Bella from Twilight, and say absently to anyone who walks into the room, “Sorry the house is such a mess.”

Author: Julie Falatko
You can view her blog here: World of Julie

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