Chacos column: The dirty joy of cleaning
Enjoy the Ride
I boarded a flight smelling faintly of Pine Sol and headed on a two-week trip leaving my family at home. Admittedly, I was skeptical what would become of my impeccably tidy home upon my return. I knew the kids would be OK, but that my home would take a beating. Obviously, the latter had me hesitant to leave.
On many levels, the family didn’t disappoint. Everyone was healthy, filled with love, and well-cared for daily. Assignments were turned in on time and the crucial dentist appointment wasn’t forgotten about. The dog was fat and happy. I was relieved and filled with gratitude as my husband and parents delivered. Years of training paid off, and the house was considered passable by most standards.
The night I returned, I was so excited to hand out presents and share tales of my adventures that I failed to see the accumulated dust on my white baseboards. The next morning, still foggy with jetlag, I opened the pantry door and was appalled. When I finally accepted my fate ready to organize its contents, I was predictably nervous. Hours later, I was found nodding my head muttering the same thing over and over again: “Who leaves one chip in a bag?” and, “Is it so hard to throw the empty box away?” Most poignantly, “Who do they think they’re scamming, anyway?”
A few days after that, I steeled myself with disinfectant and rubber gloves. I was finally prepared to tackle the bathrooms. On my hands and knees, scrubbing grout mere millimeters from the porcelain throne, I looked up and said to a higher authority, “I have a master’s degree in education, but I do not possess the skills to instruct my children how to use a toilet. Please enlighten me, what am I doing wrong?”
While waiting for my reply, I was reticent to re-teach my children how to use a toilet, because I also wanted to lump my husband into attending the mandatory class. Maybe I was wrong, but I figured he didn’t want to feel left out.
For my first lesson, I noted the dimensions of the area between the seat. Coming in at approximately 8 inches wide by 12 inches long, I reasoned that my 11-year old could make the shot easily. I’ve seen kids play video games employing accuracy similar to a veteran sniper, so a lesson in fundamental elimination should be quite rudimentary.
Unfortunately, assuming the same level of concentration is used in both activities was audacious. Coaching bathroom etiquette continues to be a failing, splattering mess. I decided to move on to more measurable tasks like chasing rapidly reproducing dust bunnies instead.
Within a week of my return home, I buffed glass mirrors until streak-free and straightened the pictures on the walls. I’m convinced someone comes in at night to put things askew while I sleep. I find immense satisfaction in hospital corners and deep cleaning the refrigerator after work. Most likely, I have an undiagnosed disorder when I go into one of my lockdown modes of deep cleaning.
So when my dad called a few days ago asking what I was doing, I tried to sound nonchalant. “Oh, just a bit of cleaning. I have the toaster oven upside down dislodging those pesky bits that get in all the crevices that cause a four-alarm fire.”
My dad quickly replied, “Doesn’t it feel good to clean?” I hated his rhetorical question for the feminine gut punch it was and the brutal honesty it delivered.
“Yes,” I sheepishly admitted. For I see the dust, crumbs and the detail all the time. This housewife feeds on a dopamine drip of spick and span.
Within a few short weeks of my return abroad, I became belligerent in my behavior, and unwilling to clean up after myself or anyone else. I’m in a stage of revolt. I throw dirty clothes precisely in the vicinity of the hamper and leave dirty dishes in the sink. I forget my shoes in the living room and sadistically snicker when someone trips over them. What started as an act of defiance morphed into resentment and anger at my domestic role. I’ve become my own worst enemy, so I start the cycle all over again.
Yesterday, I desperately dusted around the house. I know I’m the only one in my family who notices perfectly lined books on a shelf organized by theme. I take ultimate responsibility for a clean home and allow it to be a reflection on me.
I wish my masculine counterparts would find ways to understand that many women see themselves this way, and we simultaneously curse the forces that make it so. And as women work more and more outside of the home, and in more demanding roles, we still bear the brunt of domestic responsibilities. Equity is increasingly out of whack, and balance seems to be a thing of the past.
Next, I will try to clean webs of emotional baggage elusively hiding in my home. But before I do, I will leave five measly Cheerios in the cereal box for the next fool that thinks they’re getting a whole bowl for breakfast.
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.
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