I come from a long line of unenthusiastic housekeepers. My maternal grandmother was known for blowing up kitchens (a particularly awkward situation as my grandfather was a clergyman and they were therefore always residents in church-owned homes). My paternal grandmother’s culinary ambitions began and ended with Jell-o mold, albeit the dressed-up variety with fruit cocktail bits suspended within like edible gems. Growing up, my house was a preferred place to play among my friends because you could make a mess, which made it ideal for craft projects of all sorts.
So perhaps it’s unsurprising that I have turned out to be the kind of stay-at-home mom (I mean, I work but let’s face it, I’m at home with the baby all day) whose attitude towards housework could be best described as “fatalistic.” I’ll be on knees flaking shingles of dried squash and baby oatmeal off the kitchen floor and think, Meh, this is just going to get dirty again later, leaving an opaque ghost of the original mess. Because, I mean, it is. Whether I do a stellar job cleaning it or a crappy one, tomorrow the baby is just going to joyfully fling more food onto that same floor. Lying on the floor playing with Harper I’ll go into a kind of a trance looking at the inch of dust underneath the couch. Man. Gross. Someone should really sweep that. But the kind of cleaning that involves actually moving furniture is just completely beyond my capabilities. I will passionately vacuum the living room rug, because I hate linty rugs (aesthetically speaking – our colorful Iranian rug that does a better job of camouflaging dog hair goes basically untouched), but every time I look at the couch and think, Nah. Because, I mean, I just moved the couch and mopped beneath it in, um September. Last September. How I wish I were exaggerating here for comic effect.
The sad part is, I actually like things to be clean and tidy. Maybe this is true of everyone, although I am pretty sure I count among my friends some slobs who truly don’t mind their own slobby piles and clutter. I hate open cabinets. I hate crumpled pieces of paper and stacks of mail, to the point that, much to my husband’s dismay, I would rather stow mail in a closed drawer or send it straight to the recycling rather than actually go through it. I hate an unmade bed, but I do not much enjoy making beds either. I love a sparkling clean countertop, but I also tend to scatter water glasses and mugs around the apartment to the point that when my husband comes home it looks like I’ve had a rollicking tea party.
To me, one of the mysteries of life has therefore always been, does anyone actually like cleaning? And if so, would any of these people like to come over and wash my city-dust-dimmed curtains? (Just kidding! I washed them. Last spring. No, the last last spring.) I always suspected that no, no body likes cleaning, and that some are just more disciplined than I. Then I met my mother-in-law, who seems to actually enjoy it. This woman’s house is spotless, and she knows tricks like how to get out weird stains using only baking soda and positive energy. I know she reads this blog, so maybe this is as good a time as any to find out once and for all: Ellen, do you actually like cleaning? If so, do you think it is possible to learn to like it? If not, how do you get yourself to do it?
Luckily for me, most people seem to expect very little of a household containing a small baby. I rarely have many people , anyway – the weird exception being a writing workshop I teach out of the apartment one night a week. Fortunately this class is at night, and the room is not terribly well-lit, and I’m hoping most of the people are too preoccupied with their life’s work being dissected in front of them in that inevitable, wonderful, dreadful manner of workshops to examine very closely the tops of my bookshelves, which I have never personally seen but which I expect might be quite dusty.
In the end, I feel that is a kind of curse to both like tidiness and feel overcome by a lethargic sense of hopeless when performing the Sisiphysean task of cleaning the toilet (which, I’m sorry, but is just going to get crapped in again anyway, probably sooner rather than later). My only hope is to strike it rich and get a cleaning lady, or maybe to hypnotize my husband, or possibly to wait until Harper is old enough to bribe with allowance. Then I’ll be sitting pretty, reading a novel with my feet up while she wipes down the refrigerator handle blackened with fingerprints. I’m pretty sure this is how it works once babies become children, and I’ll thank any parents of older kids not to disabuse me of this delicious notion.