Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Jenny Lures Herself into False Complacency

I just returned from enrichment and I feel ashamed and dirty. I'm not sure that's what they had in mind when they set the whole thing up, but it happened.

Tonight's topic was "Spring Cleaning" (that should have been my first warning). The sign in the foyer was bright and cheery--yellow posterboard with bright green letters with pink daisies growing out of them at opportune points. Capital letters at the bottom proclaimed "NURSERY PROVIDED" and "SPECIAL GUEST SPEAKER." It was the second of the two announcements that really caught my eye. You have to go through a bunch of church tape to bring in speakers from outside the ward or stake, and so they must have really felt this person would be able to unlock the secrets of spring cleaning in order to bother to bring her in.

So Lucy and I arrived at five till seven and chatted around until things got started right on MST (mormon standard time) at seven ten. The Mia Maids running the nursery asked if they could take Lucy, but looking around at the other women I realized they already had seventeen kids in there under the age of eight and I thought better of it. So she sat on my lap, or on her blanket. When things started the seats were only half full, and I was called over into the center seats, away from my "quick gettaway in case the child explodes" seat by the back door.

I think I can pretty well sum up what happened next by relating a few key images: Lucy playing on her blanket and deciding she has forgotten how to sit ... the resulting nose-dive noted aloud by the speaker in "Oh! The baby! Oh no!" ... the eyes of every other mother focused on my back as I bent to retrieve my child from her flattened position ... my realization that this shirt was not meant for bending over in front of other people ... Cries of Righteous Indignation by Lucy ... leaving my seat quickly to go stare at the lights by the door ... sitting down again ... round two ... realizing too late that the bottle was leaking ... Lucy sneezing slimey apple juice on both our neighbors simultaneously ... in other words, I was in over my head from the start.

If it had just been the typical chaos of entering into the public sphere with someone unable to control their bodily functions and movements, it would have been ok. After all, a lot of the other women were mothers too. And Lu knows how to work a crowd with smiles inbetween all the distractions. But the topic of cleanliness in the home--I was surrounded on all sides!

Kelly, the guest speaker, has cleaned homes professionally for twenty-two years. And she enjoys it. And she doesn't know how to surface clean. Her main tools: an Oreck vacuum, an extendable feather duster, rags, yellow sponges, blue sponges, and many, many toothbrushes. For every question that night, her answer was "use a toothbrush to really get in there and scrub that out." She had many good points (start by cleaning the ceiling of a room to get rid of cobwebs and such that cause dust). I learned much (you can clean ceilings?!?). She systematically took us through every room in the house and talked about where the toothbrushes would come in handy. As I mentally accompanied her on her tour of (my) home, I began to realize that, despite all my efforts, I live in a really dirty home. Not just messy--although it tends to be that too--but dirty. I began to feel the pressure to wipe down baseboards weekly, as Kelly does in the homes she cleans. I realized that orange tinge to the outer wall of our shower wasn't caused by the lightbulbs going out in the bathroom, but rather an insidious invasion of mold. I have dust in my swamp cooler; I haven't cleaned my blinds; my carpets have spots; the wall next to my stovetop needs degreasing; I have never taken a toothbrush to my toilet ...

I don't normally think of myself as dirty, but by the time the presentation was done, I could feel the filth of my house waiting to welcome me home.

Meanwhile, Lucy began to tire. (Women get very excited about cleaning. They ask a lot of questions. They share tips they heard while listening to morning talk shows. They talk some more.) By the end of the presentation I was up with her again. Finally, her blanket and bag out of reach in the front row, I ended the evening with what I felt to be a rebellious irony. I put her down on the gym (carpet) floor to play. I tried not to think of all the dirt that was inevitably waiting for her on that floor, searching for its chance to hop onto her yellow striped t-shirt dress and mockingly follow us into our home that evening. She loved it.

This whole evening has made me rethink (again) my relationship to housework. I really do enjoy and appreciate living in a neat, clean, organized, sanitized home. And I don't necessarily mind working to get it that way. But I despise the fact that I can never really ever catch up and be on top of it. And so I continually feel guilty about the fact I haven't taken q-tips to my window tracks and that it's been weeks since my vacuum made it out of the basement. I have enough things in my life to guiltify over--I resent the fact my brain takes up time with this one.

When I returned home I put Lu down for the night and looked around at the stack of dirty dishes and the pile of laundry and the crumbs on the kitchen floor ... and then I came here to post. You see, it's late, and if I start cleaning now I'll be up all night and then be grumpy tommorrow. Much better to just write about cleaning and sleep on it: I'm sure I'll forget most of the guilt tonight, sleeping between my non-ironed dirty sheets. :)

15 comments:

erin said...

Jenny, I'm with you all the way. I like cleaning, too, but when it becomes Bunker Hill and I'm the British and I don't even end up winning, you just have to wonder, right? For example, this morning at the crack-o-dawn (I don't have children, so I can do this) I was scrubbing in the bathroom. It started out harmless enough--there was a little spot that had been gnawing at my conscience every time I saw it for the last...well, honestly several weeks. The little spot had practically grown into an intelligent life form weilding a club at me, but luckily I disarmed and disinfected using stuff that foamed and sizzled. I was up to my wrists by this point and on my knees and since the shower was right there and I could see the reflection of the orange lights there around the bottom, I went to work on that, too. I really wanted to get that hard water off, so I went off in search of something "a little stronger" I believe were my exact thoughts. I found it and got into a rhythm of scrubbing, showering (Hah! no pun intended!) myself with bits of white foams that instantly started eating through both skin and clothing. I tried to rinse down the walls and doors of the shower, but turned the water on full blast and got everything wet, soapy, and probably radioactive. It looks great now, but you should see me. Is there no balance? Is there no reason? Is there no was to live a healthy, clean life without having to declare yourself a veteran of the Clorox?

Jenny said...

Erin, it's nice to know I'm not alone. As for your shower power cleaning experience this morning, it brought back memories of living in the condos. There I'd be in my bedroom, reading and reading and reading, and suddenly "BAM POW SCRUB SCRUB SCRUB SHH SHH CLANK"--and there you'd be, happily scrubbing away at some poor unsuspecting spot. It was great :) I like the battle metaphor you employ here in your comment--it makes it all so much more noble somehow. And it changes my nagging (poor Nick ...) into, you know, tactical commands (Honey, quick, grab the windex and attack the mirrors--while they're distracted, I'll chip the hard water off the bathroom sinks and they'll never know what hit them!).

JonnyF said...

Now I'm no expert on cleaning. Those of you who have been my roomates know how annoyingly high my tolerance for filth and general untidyness is. Fortunately for all involved, Katie is working on me. Despite all that, I will say that it is possible to care too much. You shouldn't feel guilty when you don't. There are things that are more important than ironing your sheets and scrubbing the logs in the fireplace. It's all about balance. And if Nick isn't helping enough, you wag your finger at him and tell him to stop waxing the kitchen floor and tell him to start doing something useful.

Nick said...

But it's so FUN to slide around on the kitchen floor in your socks!

Jared said...

I can attest to that. Just make sure Jon doesn't hit his head on the doorframe as he gets his running-jump start from across the hall.

Jenny said...

Wait a minute--Nick knows how to wax the floor?

All seriousness aside, I agree with Jon's point. And I'm aware that at times I'm over the top in terms of how "perfect" I want my home to be. My sister and I both agree that this is a family trait, engineered and ingrained by my mother. If there was only some way to achieve balance without feeling that somewhere, somehow, my mother is disappointed in me for my lack of precision cleaning ... (and yes, I'm aware how ridiculous it is to be sliding towards thirty and still feel this way, but I'm sure you all have your own quirks in your relationship between your adult self and your upbringing. Right? Oh ...). Guess I'll just have to grow up and, you know, form my own identity.

Jared said...

Wait a minute--Nick never waxes your floor?

I would come home from class or work ALL the time and find a warning sign outside our kitchen (and only) door that we had to stay off of the floor to let the wax dry. Nick would wax or otherwise clean whenever he had a test to study for or a paper to write. The habit partially rubbed off on me and continues to this day. Not that I wax the floor often, but sometimes I'll put off doing something I ought to be doing by vacuuming the house or reorganizing my DVDs.

Nick's legacy lives on in many ways.

Jared said...

Wait a minute--Nick never waxes your floor?

I would come home from class or work ALL the time and find a warning sign outside our kitchen (and only) door that we had to stay off of the floor to let the wax dry. Nick would wax or otherwise clean whenever he had a test to study for or a paper to write. The habit partially rubbed off on me and continues to this day. Not that I wax the floor often, but sometimes I'll put off doing something I ought to be doing by vacuuming the house or reorganizing my DVDs.

Nick's legacy lives on in many ways.

Jared said...

Sorry, I don't know why that comment came up twice.

JonnyF said...

Nick,

As your legal counselor, I advise you to say that you no longer wax the floor for safety reasons.

Nick said...

I no longer wax the floor for safety reasons.

Nick said...

Amd also because I just don't have very much homework anymore.

Jenny said...

If you need homework to motivate housework, I'd much rather give you homework that doesn't get done than housework ... :)

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