Me + Mom, 1974
Growing up, I vowed I would never be like my mother. True, she was loyal, loving, and put us before everything, but she also spent her days agonizing over messes. The house was always clean, not because we had company over–she was too shy and nervous to enjoy hostessing–but because a cluttered room really and truly sent her over the edge. As did stains, wrinkles, children dressed like orphans, drinking, and broccoli. The woman hated broccoli.
I speak of her as is she has passed or, better yet, changed in the slightest. She’s still here and exactly the same, down to the unreasonable loathing for cruciferous vegetables.
It’s me who has changed. For a very long time, I was the mess that drove her crazy. I couldn’t put my clothes away. My toys were everywhere. I spilled drinks, left stains, and fought bath time with the strength of a thousand Pig Pens. As a teenager, I was a bit cleaner, more organized, but really only to avoid a battle, one where she yelled about a cluttered room and I yelled back about mountains and molehills.
Ironically, or maybe not, with my friends and colleagues I developed a reputation for order, structure, and cleanliness. I had pens for certain tasks, a complex color-coded highlighting system while studying, and a fully packed and prepared pencil case. One day I was studying in the law library when I heard a fellow student a few rows back notice with a laugh that the pockets in her winter coat were functional. All she needed was a pair of scissors to snip the threads, but where would she find scissors? The male voice next to her said, without skipping a beat, “Go find Jules. I guarantee she has a pair.” I did, right next to my hole puncher and retractable ruler.
But outside of work, and maybe my writing style, I am still a bit of a mess. No one finds this more disappointing than me because, sadly, I’ve developed my mom’s intolerance for clutter. I see a pile, and I hate the pile. It’s getting myself to do something about the pile that I find challenging. Unlike my mom, who wouldn’t stop until every last dust mote disappeared, I see even a suggestion of disarray and become thoroughly overwhelmed. I don’t know where to begin, when to take a break, or how to make it all disappear. And I get very, very crabby.
Some things I can handle. The kitchen is almost always clean, unless I’ve been baking. Even then I tidy it up quickly because I just can’t stand dishes in the sink. I sweep and vacuum at least once a week, but we have dogs and allergies and floors that highlight pet hair. You can only walk by a dust bunny so many times before you’re compelled to sweep it up. I make the beds every morning unless I am sick or extremely busy. I find that a made bed makes the rooms look 75% cleaner, even if the foot of a made bed is a bit of a mess.
The toy room/den, on the other hand, kills me. I have a pile of school paperwork and recently referenced books on my desk. A pile of homework supplies sits on Mikey’s table. A pile of frames now sits on the built-in, next to the fish tank we bought last month. The frames were usurped by the tank and I haven’t quite figured out where to put them. The floor of the room isn’t piled with toys, it’s strewn with toys. Mark my words, this room is turning me into my mother.
For years, we had a woman who came to clean the house. With The Mister’s change in jobs, that ended. Over the last year I have learned the best way to mop a floor, dust baseboards, and which tool allows you to extract dust bunnies without having to move the furniture. Sometimes I love it, especially when the house looks great thanks to my hard work. Other times, like this past month since Mikey’s been back in school, I hate it. I look around the house and feel short of breath thinking about everything I have to do. I clean every day, and yet it is never enough. There is always something that needs to be done.
And for someone like me, who is almost like her mom, it’s stressful. That sounds silly, especially when there are so many more important issues I could devote myself to, but it’s true. And that’s part of what makes it so stressful. I know it’s stupid to fret over piles when I have so much to be grateful for and, yet, that’s exactly what I do.