Written 13 November 2014 and once again too fell asleep before getting it here. A pattern emerges.
Didn’t write yesterday because I was . . . um. . . um . . .cleaning. I don’t at all mean that I am ever a slave to my house but there are a few weeks in the spring and the fall when the garden takes precedence. The garden might always take precedence if I lived somewhere where I could garden year round, but Wisconsin demands an obvious respite from the garden in the winter and somewhat of a respite when the bugs of high summer ignore clothing and chemicals to feast on dedicated weed movers.
During those weeks when I am “taking out the garden” and then “putting the garden to bed,” I passionately want to be doing those earth based chores. There is little that is more satisfying than emptying the compost bins and covering a bed with a few inches of that gold. Or clearing away what is left over from the late fall and seeing the smallest shoots appearing.
So, enough romance! Suffice it to say that during those times, meals get cooked (only because I have a kid), dishes get washed, clothes get washed and dried and no other inside chores are even considered. And when those times are over, the house is usually in great need of attention. And because the before and after are so noticeably different, I can almost get some pleasure doing the work.
I come from a line of hearty cleaners and did my best throughout my life to prove that I had not inherited the cleaning gene. I think my sister might say the same. My mother cleaned and my grandmother cleaned. They both professed to love it. Really. I questioned each one closely and could not get them to budge on their passion for it. My mother, in particular, took so much pride in her clean house, where eating off the floor was completely possible but would never happen. Way, way out of the box inappropriate, and no, we never had an indoor picnic or ate anything in front of the television. Not because she was adverse to watching tv but that box was in the tv room and no one brought food into the tv room.
It was not that my sister or I are/were dirty, actually when company came over, especially when mother was due for a visit, our houses were close to spotless. There was always a bit of not so secret white glove testing and I, at least, always came up rather short. But day-to-day in my life, I’ve been kinda’ messy, kinda’ negligent as to the exact measure of dust that induces the Pledge and rags to appear.
For the first year after David died, I had someone clean my house. She was not that good or that honest — inadvertently catching her leaving after spending less than 45 minutes at my house (small house, but never done in 45 minutes) — but every other week that house was moderately clean having been vacuumed and scrubbed in the worst places. I was grateful and I wish I could have that again. I get no joy from the process although I do enjoy a bare foot worthy floor and a sparkling bathroom. I keep imagining that if I could boost my monthly nut by just a bit I could afford someone but month after month something much more needed or interesting comes up and I resign myself to the dust.
During that time, the year before David died and three years afterwards, my cleaning profile was also raised because Julia was in intensive autism therapy and we had therapist in the house, playing on the floor with her about 30 hours a week. I really couldn’t have someone shaking the dust off their clothes (or worse) when they were working so hard with my kid. So, when I let my cleaner go, I took up the task with more vigilance than in former times. Now, a year and a half post intensive, I’ve somewhat slid into my old ways, especially, during the vital gardening weeks.
Yesterday, as I put in the day, getting bedrooms and bathroom done, I pondered: cleaning a metaphor. Possibly, but I don’t know for what in my life. But cleaning as a way of getting control. Yes, indeed. I have needed to keep a passably orderly house much more orderly when the rest of life slid out from under me. It was work I could see, it was change I could effect, it was something I could do and not think much about it. These day, as the need for iron fisted control slips away, these mindless tasks are so much less satisfying.
And so, I am grateful for the work that was there when I needed to do it. I can also be grateful for the mother and grandmother who always made me feel like such a slob. I don’t know if cleaning was anything more than the tasks that they enjoyed, but it became a tool for me. A tool that I could easily grab and put to use when I was in great need.