Here’s a dirty little secret that many women aren’t willing to share: we aren’t all neat freaks. Despite my mother’s best training and ongoing exasperation, I am one of them. Here I am, firmly in mid-life, and my mom, who turns 75 this year, still feels she can come over and clean my fridge, or wash the walls, to “support me”. In the world of mother-daughter relationships, this signifies all kinds of anxiety-ridden, passive-aggressive baggage – I know. And I have let her, because it is one way that she can express her love for me. You can imagine what a pre-cleaning cleaning frenzy I go through each time this happens. My sons know this as the “Grandma clean-up”, and I am certainly passing my neuroses onto them.
Here’s the pattern. Grandma is coming over, so we make sure the dishes are picked up from the table, the bedrooms and the living room, and put in the dishwasher. We consolidate game controllers and make sure all those green rectangular game cases are back on the shelf. Books! They are everywhere – and I make piles of them, and banish the ones that don’t have a home yet off to my bedroom, with the mismatched socks and the laundry that hasn’t been put away yet (at least I have already folded it). We run around with a grocery bag for wrappers and straws, and a damp cloth to take the sticky bits off the tables. I sweep and mop the floor, and one son runs the vacuum while another attacks the bathrooms. All this can be done in an hour or less – so why do I wait for an occasion to do it? Why do I teach my kids, tacitly, that a consistently clean and tidy home is for OTHER people?
This is no epiphany. I have recognized this pattern in my life since I left home nearly 30 years ago. But this year is the first year that I am the Adult in my home. Before, I was waiting for some Prince Charming that I could serve (oh yeah, let’s not go there), or I was in a relationship and hoping that Prince Charming would lend a hand (one did, and one decidedly didn’t). This year, there’s me and my kids. And sometimes, like this weekend, there’s just me.
Well, guess what? I like a clean kitchen. I’m not waiting for anyone to come over to wash and put away the pots and pans, to get rid of the compost and to sweep up the crumbs from toast. I am worth a shiny sink or two. It calms me and helps me concentrate to be in an orderly house. Cleaning it is not an act of subservience if I’m doing it for me. I may never be a neat freak, but I can give myself the gift of a home that I love to be in.