Tag Archives: cleaning

Pre-dawn Mopping

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Is it wrong to mop at 5:30 am? What if it’s the only time I have to mop? Does that make a difference? Is pre-dawn mopping a sign of mental instability? After threatening to do so for years, am I finally, truly, losing my mind?

I hate summer. I do. I don’t care if all the rest of you love it. I dread it. It’s one long, hot, humid slog for me. Sure, I can summon up a vodka-and fruit-juice-induced smile when I have to, but my heart’s not in it. I don’t like to be hot. Even as a kid, I never liked baking in the sun like a beached whale. I like schedules, a bustling routine, and the threat of wind, cold, and the warmth of hearth and home to look forward to when the sun goes down early on winter evenings.

I know I’m in the minority on this, maybe a minority of one. Heard it. Don’t want to hear it again. When all my kids are home for summer, it’s a madhouse here. Nobody gets up at the same time. My kids have camps, activities, and summer jobs with weird hours. My teenagers believe they are entitled to stay out til curfew every night and then come home at midnight, turn on their stereos, shower, chat with friends, and watch movies til the wee hours—never mind that my husband and I still have the same work schedule as always. There are so many seatings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that I feel like the cook on a cruise ship.

I tell you this to explain how I ended up mopping at 5:30 am like it was a perfectly reasonable, sane, smart thing to do.

Every day, my goal is to do a bit of cleaning, about an hour’s worth, whenever I can fit it in. Mondays, I dust and clean glass. Party on! Tuesdays, it’s sweep and vacuum fun. Mopping and cursing on Wednesday. Thursdays are the worst: bathroom atrocities. Fridays are kitchen duty. Fridays are horrendous if I clean the stove and do a major fridge clean out, or they can be a slacker day with a mostly countertop clean. Depends on my mood. I like to keep Fridays flexible. It’s the beginning of the weekend, after all.

OF COURSE, I have to skip some days. The price for that: double dip with chores on another day. It’s not a perfect plan, not by a long shot, but it’s something—a bone to throw to the cleaning gods. I like to say I clean like the maid. In other words, I do a so-so job. I don’t clean like I live here and personally care about how clean things are. I clean like it’s my job to do it, and I do the least I can get away with and still get paid.

I’ve tried all sorts of mind games with house cleaning over the years, like splitting jobs with my husband and kids and hiring outside help when I could afford it, but I’ve never really found anything that worked for our family. The truth is: I’m a neat freak. My husband is neat, too, but only because he’s been married to me for 26 years. He does it to make me happy, but he doesn’t NEED the clean like I do. My kids are messy, filthy, disgusting creatures who feel no natural inclination toward cleanliness at all and who don’t care one bit what I think about that.

Therein lies the inevitable conflict. Although I awoke with joy to Wednesday morning mop day, I knew from experience that my kids would be racked out in bed until noon. I could wait around all day on their rooms to be vacant. I don’t know how this happened, honestly, but I have somehow been reduced to the status of highly educated hotel maid. I wait around every morning for the occupants to check out so I can clean their rooms, gather laundry, pick up trash and half-eaten food items, collect glassware and assorted flotsam and jetsam, and generally wonder how anyone who shares my DNA could leave a dribbling pudding cup in the bathroom.

I sat on the stairs to contemplate my options: Would I get the chair or life if I went in my kids’ rooms and knocked them into next week with my mop? Would it be worth the hassle of rousting them out of bed and getting them to pitch in, which is certainly the lesson a responsible parent would teach? Nope. I’m just too tired for that, I decided. Suffice it to say, even though I probably should have been, as usual, counting my blessings, I was not.

And, yes, I even make myself tired sometimes.

Then I had a mopping epiphany. My three teenagers sleep like the dead. (Which is another thing I blame them for, even though it’s illogical and unfair. They can sleep through anything: a noisy burglar, 4th of July fireworks, and tornado sirens. I battle insomnia on a nightly basis, and I’m convinced I could be a nicer parent if I could just get more sleep.) I knew without a doubt that I could open those bedroom doors, cruise in like a woman with a plan, mop, and the ungrateful wretches WOULD NEVER KNOW I WAS THERE. The floors would be dry before they poked their entitled tootsies from under the covers.

Grabbing my mop and bucket, I decided to go for it. I charged into my son’s bedroom, a woman on a mission with a space-launch-worthy deadline. Sure, it was a little early, but I was up, and I wanted my jobs out of the way. I made it all the way around the bed without waking the 6’3”, 185-pound lump sprawled diagonally across the bed. I finished the bathroom in between my boys’ rooms and was just about to retreat gleefully when I accidently slapped my soaking mop into the side of a long arm dangling over the edge of the bed.

An eye peeled open. I decided to brazen my way through the early morning interaction. I didn’t have a lot of choices.

“Mom?” my son growled.

“Good morning, son! It’s a beautiful day!” I announced.

One hairy eyeball slid from the top of my mismatched exercise clothes down to my hot-pink house slippers, over the mop I held defensively in front of me like a sword from Braveheart, and finally landed with a blink on the bucket of dirty water I clutched tightly to my side like I’d just baptized someone with it in the Jordan River.

“What are you doing in here, Mom?” my teenage son asked.

I decided to go with a cheery response.

“I’m mopping, of course. It’s Wednesday. I’ll be out in two minutes,” I responded.

“Seriously, Mom? It’s 5:30 in the morning. This is totally whacked. You know that, right?” he demanded in a sleepy voice.

“Well . . . yeah. Possibly. I’m doing the best I can, son,” I admitted with a sigh.

Sadly, this is who I am. I’m afraid my well-deserved epitaph is going to be like the ones we chuckle over while standing in line for the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World: “Here lies Mel. She did the best she could,” or maybe, “Here lies Mel. She meant well.”

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The Virtue of Neatness in the Midst of Life’s Hot Mess

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I am by nature a neat and orderly person. I have always been this way. Blame it on my genes. I was folding receiving blankets in the hospital nursery shortly after my birth. I feel a primal urge to straighten, neaten, organize, and tidy clutter of any kind—in my house, your house, even department store dressing rooms. I think my natural neatness is a charming facet of my personality. Not everyone agrees.

Occasionally, I feel the urge to tidy-up real live people. When I encounter young men wearing low-riding pants, for example, which display their underwear to grandmothers, nuns, and preschoolers alike, I feel a strong compulsion to tuck their shirts in, pull their pants up, tighten their belts, and generally boss them around a bit.

I don’t, of course. It would embarrass my children. Also, I might get shot or arrested, and that would interfere with a number of fun social outings I have planned with my friends. The point is: I think about doing it.

Just this week, while I was having my hair cut, a woman came in to the salon to apply for a job. Like every other Southern woman in the joint, I openly eavesdropped on her interview with the owner.

It didn’t go well. First of all, the woman was smacking a huge wad of gum when she walked in the door. She was really enjoying it, too. When she blew bubbles, it was apparent to all that she could use some dental work. I did not feel optimistic about her chances of being able to afford that, based on her salon interview.  She had chosen a T-shirt urging others to “get a life” to wear to the interview. Her hair was piled haphazardly on her head and secured with a chip clip. Clearly, she was not worried about first impressions.

I wouldn’t have hired her for anything. All those messy details are a sign from God. If this was the effort she expended for a job interview, I can’t imagine what she’d do on days when her kids are sick, her car won’t start, it’s raining so hard the kids are wearing life vests, and her husband is needling her last nerve.

It took every atom of self-control I’ve amassed in my life to remain under that cape in my salon chair with my mouth closed. I’m telling you—I could have changed her life if she’d solicited my counsel. However, she didn’t ask for my opinion, and I have nice manners, so I didn’t offer any pearls of wisdom. Not everyone has been taught to interview properly, you know. I was tempted to offer to mentor her myself, but, instead, I minded my own business. I’m not sure I made the right decision.

I could have changed her life—just by tidying her up. I don’t know why some people are so disparaging about neat freaks. Messy people are plenty excited when neat freaks like me know just where to find: the security code to silence a blaring alarm, a copy of the flood insurance when the water starts rising, batteries for the television remote right before the SEC championship game kicks off, a Living Will when there’s talk of pulling the plug, emergency cash to bail someone out of jail, and shotgun shells for . . . whatever needs shooting. My neatness obsession benefits my family and friends—even perfect strangers.

Invite me over to vent about your cheating husband, and I’ll advise you AND organize your kitchen spices. When I am worried, I clean out my bedroom closet. It gives me a sense of control over something in my life, albeit a small thing. Try it. There is nothing like instant gratification to give your brain a tiny adrenaline rush of satisfaction; it’s the same feeling you get when you pop a chocolate truffle in your mouth.

I believe that we are who we are from birth. I come down on the side of nature in the nature v. nurture debate. I think the “nurture” part is just what well-mannered humans do to manage our natural tendencies to resolve our differences by bonking each other on the head. Nevertheless, DNA is no excuse for bad behavior.

Unfortunately, I live with three teenagers who did not inherit my neat-freak trait. I have tried to overcome Mother Nature’s hardwiring with a variety of time-tested social conditioning tools—fussing, nagging, yelling, begging, bartering, cajoling, and bribing—with little success.

As a result, we have a volatile mix living under one roof: messy kids and a neat-freak mom. Nothing good comes from that. Every day, when I wake up and wade through the detritus of my children’s rooms where half-eaten sandwiches, empty water bottles, candy wrappers, dirty socks, cell phone chargers, smelly shoes, hair ties, athletic equipment, musical instruments, half-finished homework assignments, and other items, which do not belong on the floor but seem to end up there on a regular basis anyway, it infuriates me anew.

The whole neatness conversation makes me want to take to my bed with a cold cloth on my forehead. Life doesn’t have to be this messy. Sadly, it usually is—literally and metaphorically.

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Death By Vacuum Cleaner

I was nearly killed by my vacuum cleaner today. In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that this wasn’t my first potentially lethal encounter with a household appliance. Upon occasion, I have been known to stick a fork in the toaster, and my gas logs and I are barely on speaking terms. I also had a close call with a professional carpet-cleaning machine a few years back (which inspired a chapter called “The Big Red Cleaning Machine” in my book Southern Women Aging Gracefully). It had me trapped against my car for about half an hour. Dicey.

What do such run-ins say about me? Nothing good. How exciting could my life possibly be if I have near-death experiences–not by bungee jumping in Belize or soaring over the Grand Canyon–but by vacuuming?

Here’s the story: I was vacuuming the stairs to my second floor, backing my way down, manhandling the vacuum awkwardly down one stair at a time. I had the cord wrapped around my neck so that I wouldn’t accidently suck it up in the vacuum. I’ve done it this way a thousand times before WITHOUT INCIDENT, I’d like to point out right here, so . . . don’t start with me.

You can guess what happened next. I accidentally knocked the vacuum cleaner over. It immediately tumbled to the bottom of the stairs. I rocked back and forth for a few seconds on the stair tread; there was just enough time for me to feel smug for not falling in the wake of the vacuum, when I was suddenly jerked off my feet as the vacuum cord necklace I was wearing tightened into a noose worthy of the Wild West. I reacted as any panicked vacuumer would react—I grabbed the cord and started yanking, trying to prevent a suburban garroting. It was immediately obvious that my only chance for survival was to follow the vacuum free fall. I needed some slack, and I needed it bad.

As I allowed myself to be tugged like a misbehaving dog on a leash to the first floor, I had time to reflect upon how truly distasteful my obituary would be: “A local writer and mother of three was strangled in her home today by her vacuum cleaner.” Every single person at my funeral would be fighting a serious case of the giggles. Who could blame them? My teenagers would likely be too embarrassed to attend the service.In general, I am not a prideful person. I’m known for my self-deprecating humor, in fact. I have to admit, however:  death by vacuum cleaner—that’s not the way I want to go. Even I can do better than that.

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