March 2006

Cleanliness is next to ... something

By Suzanne Strazza

I love to clean.

(Insert tongue in cheek)

I love the satisfaction of wiping down toothpaste-covered sinks, scrubbing mud, jelly and ground-in lettuce off the pergo floors. Vacuuming the living- room carpet is particularly satisfying when, in March, I am still sucking up needles from the Christmas tree.

Living in a houseful of boys, I can count on the privilege of getting to wipe pee from the toilet seat, the edge of the bowl and the floor around the toilet. Especially great is scrubbing it out of the grout. Soap-scum rings in the bathtub prove a task that I can tackle full force.

Especially satisfying was my day yesterday when after scrubbing the boys’ bathroom floor on my hands and knees, plus removing every last cat hair off the side of the bowl, the toilet overflowed (and overflowed and overflowed and overflowed) right after a number 2. Not only was I literally ankle-deep in toilet water, but I got to use every towel in the house to sop up the drink. The towels, fortunately, were extremely handy since I had just finished the laundry and they were on the living-room floor waiting to be folded and put away.

If anyone had told me that getting married and having children would mean that I would spend every minute of my time cleaning up after one person or another and that often those clean-ups would involve rotten food or bodily fluids, I would have skipped the whole girlhood dream altogether.

Why is it that motherhood suddenly makes a housewife out of the best of us? Growing up, I knew in my very fiber that I wanted to be a mother. My clock started ticking at about age 5. I even thought that marriage and Happily Ever After sounded pretty darn good. But scrubbing toilets and mopping the kitchen floor twice a day was never on my radar for ultimate goals in life.

I know that when I got married I had visions of sharing all of the duties, cleaning, earning money, chopping wood. We bought our house and planned on working side by side to remodel it. Then, less than a week after the closing, I started to feel queasy and within days I knew that that vision would change as sure as I knew that my belly would swell.

So here I am, 8 years later, having had a glorious time being a stay-at-home mother bonding with my children and hanging out with the other neighborhood mothers. And, I am the housewife that I never dreamed of being. Tom has worked full-time throughout the years, so someone had to deal with mopping, dusting and laundry, grocery-shopping, changing sheets and cleansing the fridge of mystery food in Tupperwares. Hell, I even buy the Tupperware.

Having been extremely anal and tidy before co-habitating, there are times when I do enjoy the return to an organized and clean house after a long day of getting it that way. Then, I hear the school bus stop outside and within 3 minutes, there’s mud in the kitchen, backpacks, books, papers, coats, hats and mittens strewn from the front door all the way to both boys’ bedrooms. Lunchboxes with spilled yogurt and juice are thrown on my freshly scrubbed kitchen counters, innards oozing down the spotless fronts.

“Can we have a snack?” results in Fruity Booty crushed all over the pergo and just a few more dishes for me to do. By the time my husband gets home from work to add his chaos to the fray, there is not one spec of evidence as to how I spent my day.

When he has spent the day cleaning up all of the wood scraps, shovels and broken plastic toys in the back yard, he makes it really clear to the kids that they will not scatter to the four winds any time soon. If they do, he vents to me.

“You’re preaching to the choir, buddy…that’s the story of my every day.”

I spent yesterday, my day off from my day job, cleaning and groceryshopping. We were out last night and got up first thing this morning to go to Durango. When I spontaneously asked a friend over for dinner, I thought, well, at least this time, the house is clean, I just have to cook. I was so proud of myself. This is how my mother lives. In such a state of tidiness that an unexpected visitor doesn’t throw her into an apoplectic fit of shame.

I just returned home and the cats have scattered litter all over the laundry room, mud got dragged all the way across the kitchen, there is a fresh pile of laundry to manage thanks to last night’s toilet epic, and there’s a slightly offensive smell emanating from somewhere in the back half of the house.

I’ve tried so hard, I feel so defeated; I’d thrown in the towel if I could find a clean one.

Suzanne Strazza lives in the Mancos Valley.