Dirt and all



I’ve been thinking, writing, and praying about some hard things lately, so it felt like a break was needed on the blog. Found the writing in my journal from not long ago (a venting piece written a bit tongue in cheek) and then this fun pic of our kids at Shedd Aquarium last fall-minus Kelly 😦   

When my children were little and I would find sticky spots of who-knew-what under high chairs and on doors and …everywhere, I remember thinking that once they got to a certain age, I would need to simply hose down the entire house.

The logic behind this was that, at that “certain age,” my children would be cleaner, neater, tidier.

Um, when is that stage?

They’re all in double-digits now, and I still feel like dirt and sticky substances literally drip from their fingertips and feet. I can clean a kitchen countertop so squeaky I would be fine eating right off it, and two hours later I come back and it looks as if a family of small animals has been living on it for several weeks.

They’ve grown more autonomous, which means they can do things like fix meals for themselves, but it also means that ketchup, flour, hot dog “juice,” bits of banana, etc.!  can be slopped across the floor, in the fridge, under the microwave, behind the sink…

And since they eat all the time and anywhere, let’s add “in the couch and on the rug and on the windowsills…”


If they are capable of fixing the food, of feeding themselves, are they not also capable of seeing the mess it creates?

And how, honestly, does a person make that much mess simply pouring a bowl of cereal? How is that even possible?

My inner “martyr mom” tells me they see at least some of the messes they create, but they assume, maybe even unconsciously, I will clean it up.

But I don’t think “seeing it” is the entirety of the problem. I am discovering there is a great chasm—Grand Canyon-sized—between my idea of “clean” and theirs.

“Wipe the countertops, please,” I ask.

When they are finished, it looks to me no different than when they started, but when I bring the offending child in to look, and I point at the offensive countertop, he or she responds, “What? I cleaned it.”

THAT is not clean!

Surely this will get better, right? I have this terrible image of my children, in their 20s, still blissfully unaware of the messes that follow them everywhere they go. This makes me want to create some giant plastic bubble suits into which I can zip them, with a little slot for me to pass food inside. All the slop will be with them in the suits and when they get disgusted enough with it (if they even notice it), I could send them outside to unzip and shake and hose down.

At times the state of our house gets to the point that I see nothing but the dirt, and every crumb-pile and crusty plate and spill in our house seems as if it’s jumping up and down, shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!” That’s when I go on a little rampage, pointing out all the gunk to whichever of my kids happens to be around. But even though I think the evidence of their slovenliness is quite overwhelming, all they do is look at me with that expression on their faces that tells me they think I’m losing it and probably need to see a doctor.

I wonder if they will ever notice or if I will be cleaning up after them when they visit me in their 30s. And usually at this point in my thinking, I indulge in a little fantasizing about a clean house, a tidy house, with everything arranged just so, staying just so.

Staying quiet.

With my introvert self being too quiet in the middle of it.

And I find I am grateful for my house being exactly the way it is.

Dirt and all.

Cleaning Confession

Dave took me to Vermont over Christmas break to celebrate our 20th anniversary. On one of our hikes, I found this natural "cross" on a tree.

In high school, I would leave nearly empty glasses of sweet tea in my room. When my mother discovered the green-fuzzed results, I told her they were science experiments. I regularly lost library books only to discover them, weeks overdue, under my carpet of clothes. In college I roomed with another self-proclaimed slob, and we posted a sign that said “Enter at your own risk.” (We really didn’t but we might as well have. No one dared come in.)
I didn’t get much better after I married. Dave shuffled my piles of books around, and once I stashed three days worth of dirty dishes in the bottom of the microwave cart because I’d invited people over for dinner and had more mess than time to clean.
When we moved overseas, though, I changed. The knowledge that people could drop into our apartment at any time (and they did) made me aware of how our home looked. I cleaned thoroughly every weekend, and I straightened messes daily. When we returned to the States and had our first child, I became a little obsessive. I hand-mopped the kitchen floor twice a week, wiped behind the clawed feet on the ancient tub, and freaked out over stray hairs in the sink. Dave suggested I get a part-time job before I drove us both crazy. I did—but I still liked cleaning.
Now, though, I hate it.
HATE it!
With six kids and their friends and the dog running through our house, cleaning is a constant battle that’s lost before it’s even begun. Why mop the floor when four sets of feet are going to cross it before it’s dried? Plus, it’s a thankless job. My kids NOTICE when dinner’s late (actually, they start asking about it at four in the afternoon), but I could put up a flashing neon sign announcing that I dusted, and they wouldn’t see it!
A few months ago I realized that every time I cleaned, I griped. “I could be doing a lot of other things.” “What’s the point of this?” “It’s not going to last.”
And if I got through the griping and did real cleaning, I turned into a bear! “Don’t you spill anything on that stovetop! I used 409 on that thing!” “Why are there crumbs on the coffee table? Can’t you see that I CLEANED!?”
Something didn’t seem right. I began to wonder if a clean house was worth having kids that twitched when they smelled PineSol because they knew it meant I would start hollering about one mess or another.
So I stopped.
Not the hollering—I still do that sometimes about other things.
No, I stopped cleaning.
I. no. longer. clean.
Well, not to the point that I FEEL like I’ve cleaned.
I may straighten. I may tidy. I may “neaten things up.”
I may even “organize.”
But I don’t CLEAN.
I don’t sweep an entire floor; I pick up the dust bunnies in the corners. I don’t scrub an entire bathroom; I grab a baby wipe and go after the yellow spots (those of you with boys know what I mean.) I don’t mop; I give Patrick a wet rag and tell him to paint pictures with it on the floor. I figure I can live with the “blank” areas of the canvas. When my girls dust, I don’t go behind and find the spots they missed.
I don’t clean.
And I think my kids appreciate that.
I hope.
Because there is a definite flaw to my system: my house isn’t really CLEAN, not even for three minutes every month.
But I’m learning to live with this. I’m still practicing hospitality. I figure I’m providing a self-esteem boost for my friends. They can walk in my back door and think: “Well, I guess my house doesn’t look so bad after all!”
I remind myself there IS an end in sight. In five years my youngest will be eleven. No more Legos on the stairs (ouch); no more Barbies on the dinner table; no more toy fire helmets on the couch; fewer spilled cups (I hope).
Five more years!
Maybe I’ll clean then.