Housecleaning – Move that Chi!

I rewatched The Sixth Sense.  The most disturbing scene in the movie happens when Haley Joel Osment sits in the kitchen trying to talk to his mother about his “gift” of having to see dead people in whatever state of physical decrepitude they were in at the time of death.  His mother leaves the room for but a moment.  When she returns BAM-A-LAMA – all the cupboards and drawers are open.  Impossible feat for the 4 seconds she was gone.  Something mysterious….something peculiar….something Bruce Willis.

(Not for nothing, but I think that the technical aspects of filming that scene are kind of fascinating. I’d love to know how they did it, as it appears to be one continuous shot.)

This scene is not troubling because of the ghosts, but because the leave-a-clean-room-and-return-to-a-disaster-only-moments-later is my very real nightmare.

I grew up with the illusion that most houses were like the ones on television – perpetually tidy with the exception of the comically disastrous teenage bedroom.  My friends’ homes were clean when I came over to visit. Same story for the times we went to my parents’ friends homes. Clean. Tidy. Fresh smelling.  

It never occurred to me that since we never dropped in on folks, they cleaned up before we arrived.  And I never looked in closets or opened closed doors.  Who knows what actually lurked in the great dark beyonds?

I assumed all houses were supposed to be tidy.  I also assumed that cleaning house was just a giant pain in the ass.  The kitchen in my house was cleaned every night.  Giant piles of laundry were ironed for hours every weekend.  Toys were put away.

 My room was not allowed to be a mess.  I longed to just close the door and dwell in my smelly, rebellion.  In an effort to keep my folks appeased and to keep from spending what always seemed like hours cleaning, I did what most red-blooded American kids do – I crammed all my clothes – clean, dirty, or otherwise – on the floor of my small closet and, if desperate, jammed them into drawers without folding them.  I threw things under my bed. I shoved things into other things.  I had some sort of Container Store Problem.

This clever ruse never worked, despite five years of repeated efforts.

I resolved that housekeeping was going to be a daily act of love for my family.  Keeping my home my haven, keeping things organized enough for me to be inspired by the set up of a room or the view out the window rather than blocked by clutter and dirt.  It was not going to take over every moment of my free time.

In true Taoist fashion, I was going to MAKE MUCH OF THE LITTLE.  I was going to demonstrate my love by caring for the house quickly, efficiently, and without much ado.  The act of cleaning would be a daily and brief meditation, a gateway to more creative outlets and to play.  Homecare would allow me to find a rhythm for the rest of the day.  I would use these small acts of picking up, decluttering, and putting things in their place as a small act with great importance.

I wanted to marry reasonable expectations for a clean-ish house to reasonable expectations for lack of rodent infestation

This, of course, was before my boys were mobile.

Getting my house clean is easy. Keeping it clean?  Sisyphean at best.

I am working on training the boys on cleaning up.  We have clean-up songs and storage and routines.  They have other plans, of course.  Mostly, with military precision and wicked senses of timing, they can undo 30 minutes of cleaning.

For the hours I put into the house, I do wish it would stay straight for more 4 seconds when I leave room. 

My prayerful cleaning intentions have gone to hell in a handbasket.  I now have a plan that is one part damage-control, one part roll-my-eyes-to-heaven, and one part aggravation.  The result ranges from muttering to full-on indirect cross-examination of Huzzy, the kids, or God.

After my morning cleaning “meditation” where I purposefully focused on other rooms than the kitchen because Huzzy had offered to clean up after breakfast before mowing the lawn, I walk into the kitchen, a little high from the bathroom cleanser fumes.

“Where did these socks come from?”

“I was going to put them away…I just wanted to wash my face after mowing the lawn.  The big backyard. On a walking mower”

“Why do these socks have grass stains on them?”

“Good question.”

“Well, now I have to go soak these, I suppose.”

 Three minutes later

“What are you two doing?”

“Mama, you scared us!”

“Did you put drop these eggs on the floor? Look at me, did you….what is that on your face?  Is that…lipstick? Is that Mommy’s lipstick? Mommy’s only tube of expensive lipstick?”

“Look Mama, I’m a kitty cat.”

“Don’t change the subject.  Where is my lipstick…where are you pointing…the bathroom? Is it in the bathroom? Don’t answer that, I’ll just follow the line you conveniently drew on the wall with that lipstick…which it seems is now in the toilet, along with an entire roll of toilet paper. Great. Go wash your faces while I figure out the best way to keep these ants from moving into the raw egg pile on the floor. Let’s hope they don’t like the neighborhood too much.”

My kids, in an uncanny preview into their adolescence, just walk away to lay low until this storm is over, knowing that opportunity to push Mama into The Sarcasm Zone will rise again. 

Once I clean up the bright red kitty-cat stripes on walls and toddler cheeks, wipe up raw eggs, relocate the sugar ants that seemed to come out of no where unclog the toilet, and mourn the loss of the one $20 tube of lipstick that I have prized and used on special occasions for the last five years, I look around the kitchen.

The unrinsed breakfast dishes have been carefully, artistically stacked next to the sink, mere inches from the dishwasher.  Cloths are crumpled up on the unwiped counter, inches from their hook.  The dishwasher has been unloaded, except for the silverware container, which he conveniently placed on the counter right above the  silverware drawer.

I stammer. “What is this? You said you would clean up the kitchen!”

“I gave you a head start.”

Huzzy walks out to tend to the yard, which he does beautifully.  He is the breadwinner, the best father I’ve ever seen, and the man who has loved me through many storms.

But as I walk around the house, seeing a trail that would make our egg ants jealous – shoes everywhere, remotes on the back of the toilet, clothes on the hamper – I remember to regard the small as important. 

And since “small” at this moment is my ability to cope with wiping another surface, lifting another lid, putting another thing in its place, I am tempted to cartoonishly chase him around the neighborhood, menacingly wielding a frying pan. 

Don’t worry – I’ll give him a head start.


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