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What does “CLEAN” mean?

March 31, 2007

I’m starting to wonder if kids ever really learn to be clean. I don’t mean “fresh out of the shower clean.” I don’t mean “scrubbed faces and clean teeth in the morning” clean. I mean clean like “germ-avoidant” clean or “rotten food in the backpack is yucky” clean. I would even go so far as to accept “neatness would be nice” clean or “wearing dirty clothes is bad” clean. You know, the kind of clean I just take for granted.

I walk through my house at night and wonder how we have arrived at this Defcon-4 level of chaos, clutter, and yuckiness. I’m thanking my lucky stars that Social Services isn’t planning an unannounced visit because I would surely be turned in, just like that crazy lady with 400 feral cats. I’m glad no one has plans to stop by any time soon because I might lose a friend or two in the deal if they saw how things ended up in my house on a daily basis. I’m amazed at how we reach this point, and it IS an every day occurrence. Just last night, when I went to bed, things looked relatively neat, relatively clean, relatively decent. The yuckiness level had been reduced to a degree that actually allowed me to sleep peacefully and, yet, here I am again tonight, wondering what happened.

I really think I need a housekeeper but since I am not independently wealthy it won’t happen any time soon. I have my own solution–the chore list. I have four young, able bodies in the house that make most of this mess, so I think they should contribute to the cleaning of the mess. We do the chore list routinely but it doesn’t seem to help nearly as much as I’d like it to. It keeps the Dirt Monster from taking the place over, but it doesn’t keep him where I’d like him, outside the door.

As I’m making my nightly rounds tonight, I stop at the table to pick up two cups half full of mystery liquid and deposit them into the sink. Note that if I don’t take this action, the cat will sneak up on the table while I sleep and topple the cups, liquid and all, creating a sticky, disgusting mess which she will then track across my carpet on her way back to the bedroom. While I’m standing at the sink rinsing down a half-eaten bowl of oatmeal that will stink by morning, I check the bottom of my sock for whatever I managed to step in while picking up the aforementioned cups at the table, even though the youngest swept the floor today, hello?

After I pass the sink, I grab two books off of the counter that need to be relocated to the girls’ room. As I pass by the entryway, I smell an odor so foul that I can barely stand it, go to investigate and find a half-eaten, very rotten, burrito in the youngest daughter’s backpack that has likely been there since before Spring Break started (count the days–8 since the last day of school), grab the whole kit and caboodle and drop it outside the front door until the smell wears off–I’m thinking that will work better than a “No Soliciting” sign any day.

I notice as I come back in the door that not a single coat has made it to the coatrack. All four of them are instead deposited on the floor directly under the coatrack. The shoe closet, with a very nice hanging shoe bag on the inside of the door that is capable of holding 20 pairs, has one lonely pair of shoes in it. The rest of the shoes are shoved willy-nilly inside the closet and the shoe mountain has grown so large now that the door cannot be closed. This gets added to the to-do list for the kids tomorrow because, if they do not sort it out before it is time to wear shoes again, there will be an argument about the reason behind someone’s shoes coming up missing. No one seems to have grasped the concept that the shoes might be in the mountain somewhere. No one seems to have grasped the concept that the shoe bag actually exists for a reason, either.

I head up the stairs and find underwear (underwear?) in the middle of the stairs. The hamper is easily accessible and directly inside the door to each bedroom, so I’m mystified. Maybe it fell out of a laundry basket hauled downstairs by one of them today. It is laundry day, after all. It’s also possible that it fell out of a pile of freshly laundered clothing on the way back up the stairs, but I don’t want to guess and I’m NOT taking a whiff to determine if it’s clean or dirty. I pick it up off of the stairs with the corner of the book in my hand because actually touching it might make me throw up a little in my mouth, and head for the bedroom to unload it in the hamper.

I stop in the bathroom to turn off the light and see that there is toothpaste from one end of the room to the other. I rinse a giant blob of it down the sink with a note to myself to purchase cheaper toothpaste next time due to the incredible amount of toothpaste wasting that happens in this house. As I’m sweeping Band-Aid wrappers off of the counter and into the trash (note that the trashcan is just down beside the counter so the sweeping effort would be extraordinarily minimal for the actual Band-Aid wearer), I notice that there is toothpaste on the base of the toilet. On the base of the toilet?!? Not even wanting to imagine how that happened, I add it to the kids’ to-do list for tomorrow. I scoop up two pairs of pants, some mismatched socks, an inside-out shirt and three towels, and deposit them by the door in one pile so that no one will fall and kill themselves in a midnight potty run (to-do list again).

I leave the bathroom and see a pair of round-ended scissors sitting on my desk that weren’t there just 2 hours ago. I see a white washrag hanging off of the corner of the fishtank that wasn’t there this morning–God only knows what it was used for today. I see a pair of dirty socks just outside the girls’ bedroom door and stare in amazement at the fact that the pair actually matches. Mentally I add that to the to-do list, as well.

This is my nightly routine. Our daily routine is to pick/clean all of these things up again. In the morning before school or whatever other events go on, we straighten up bedrooms, pick up the bathroom, clean the counter and sink, put things neatly away where they belong. All through the day I hear myself saying, “Is that where that goes?” “Did you put that away?” “Did you pick up after yourself?” “Did you rinse your dishes and put them in the dishwasher?” “As soon as we get inside, coats go where?”

We have multiple rules about putting things away before getting out something new to do, cleaning up after oneself in the bathroom (see the earlier list of clothing items found in that very room), finding the trashcan for things that actually belong in the trash (like Band-Aid wrappers, but NOT like your sister’s toothbrush, hairbrush, or favorite stuffed animal), and the like. All of the kids do chores partly because they belong to this family and they help make the mess, and partly because I would lose my mind (and my one, remaining, frayed nerve) if I had to clean all of this up myself.

I keep thinking that they will learn to take some pride in the things they do if they become responsible for keeping it clean, but it doesn’t happen. Just as soon as someone has swept the floor, the whole crew has popcorn for snack and every single one of them is perched on the chair like a monkey, legs folded up underneath them, turned sideways (implying that they are absolutely not leaning over the table or over the bowl that sits on the table), shoving great handfuls of popcorn in, dropping far more onto the floor than ever makes it into their mouths, despite the oft repeated “Lean over the table,” and “How do we sit in the chair?”. There the popcorn stays until someone is asked (told, reminded, prodded, nagged) to sweep it up. No mention of the ten minutes one of them just spent sweeping less than half an hour ago. Incredible.

I have heard horror stories of my messiness as a child, so perhaps this is just payback time. I keep hoping that one of these days soon I will be able to go to bed without making the rounds. I want to believe that someday I will be able to sleep peacefully knowing that they have all learned that germs really are disgusting, that they should put things in their places, that they should pick up after themselves. Someday I’ll be able to let go of the nightly “Tomorrow’s To-Do List”. If I’m honest with myself, I think I was about 26 before this cleanliness thing really set in. I think that means that I’m stuck with the rounds, the chore list, and the reminders until the Good Lord takes me away… or until they move out, whichever comes first. I guess I’ll replenish the Lysol supply tomorrow.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Christine permalink
    April 2, 2007 3:54 am

    I think we have children of kindred spirits. My personal favorite is the ice maker, and fact that only 70% of the ice dispensed from the door actually makes it into the destined cup. Ahhh, as I slip and slide past the fridge on melted ice, I have bittersweet feelings: bitter because I’m about to rip the limbs from my child and sweet because I’m thankful to have them and then reconsider the limb removal plan. 🙂

  2. Lynda permalink
    April 3, 2007 5:45 pm

    It sounds like it’s time for the House Fairy to start showing up! 🙂

    http://www.housefairy.org/

  3. Christine permalink
    April 3, 2007 10:56 pm

    I LOVE the housefairy idea! That’s awesome!

  4. April 16, 2007 10:14 am

    two weeks and two dollars short on a comment….What a visual! I will never forget wondering what the putrid smell in the basement was on a Sunday evening, 30 minutes before returning the girls to The Mother. I find that the toilet overflowed on FRIDAY, and they never said a thing – just closed the door!!!!!!!!!!!!

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