I mean, we do clean. If you ask us, we’re always doing the dishes, or throwing in a load of laundry, or sweeping up some unidentifiable crumbs of something or other from the crevices and darkened corners of our kitchen floor and pantry. We are forevermore raking and burning leaves, sometimes to the considerable consternation of our neighbors. Or we are clearing out two weeks’ accumulation of junk mail, Burger King wrappers, half-chewed pencils (who is chewing the pencils?), scratched-up DVDs, a mostly empty bag of gummy worms, and an array of crumpled menus, church bulletins, and leaflets from two or more area schools.
Or we are scrubbing tubs and toilets, the kids’ bathroom in particular, which can only be attacked by the four of us at once, armed with scouring pads and bristled instruments that look like weapons from “The Game of Thrones.”
As the entire area is prepped for battle with a layer of Comet, someone mutters bitterly, cursing the uncertain aim of the resident menfolk, while, simultaneously, thanking the Lord Almighty that the resident menfolk are not hunters, since if their aim is as poor in the woods as it is in the bathroom, how many manslaughter charges might now be pending, how many neighbors felled while hiking or picking wildflowers or looking for ginseng?
Since we moved into a larger home several years ago, the prospect of keeping it clean has been, to be absolutely forthright, a bit overwhelming, so we are more apt to spend an hour or two on those days when we have an hour or two — which are not many, given our various and sundry extracurriculars — tackling one room, one project, one task. The trouble is, as we throw ourselves into completing the chosen room/project/task, all of the many other rooms/projects/tasks remain unattended, very often increasing in dirtiness/complexity/size all the while.
It is a perplexing problem, to say the least. Imagine that you are washing your car, and that every time you make a circle around the car with your hose, spraying it down with soap or rinse, there is some demonic force on the other side spattering it with handfuls of mud or grape jelly or Nutella, and that you move at exactly the same rate of speed, like two planets orbiting the sun. You can keep washing all of your life, but your car will never, ever be more than halfway clean.
If you’ve never had kids but always wondered what it is like, this is what it’s like.
You may think that we are using our children, as one of my students put it so fetchingly in a recent composition, as “escape goats.” Then again, you haven’t seen their rooms, have you? We have a miniature dachshund who is not allowed in their rooms for fear that he may never be seen again, although his chances of survival in those waste lands are good due to the food rations that are scattered about, and yet so cleverly and artfully concealed in the chaos of clothes, clutter, and contraband.
I admit that it is not entirely their fault. We, the alleged adults, also deserve a fair portion of blame, inasmuch as in addition to the overwhelming nature of house and grounds upkeep, there is also this — the list of things that we would sometimes rather do, which includes reading a good book, watching a good movie, drinking a good bottle of wine, or taking a good nap, and might, on other occasions, also include reading an average book, watching a tolerable movie, drinking a bottle of anything that is not toxic, or hiding under the covers until the day gives up and goes away.
When it gets to be just too, too much — the dishes trembling in towering piles, the leaves devouring the yard completely, and the kids’ bathroom requiring a hazmat suit to enter — we throw a party. In fact, we have already scheduled one for later in the summer, and just like that a spreadsheet has materialized on the kitchen counter, one that outlines six weeks’ worth of daily projects, assigned tasks, and measurable outcomes.
We have already put down the flooring in the guest room and cleared out the storage area under the deck. Next up — pausing now, to mourn that bottle of wine — is the basement. There simply are no words to describe what that will be like — think “Apocalypse Now” with cobwebs and boxes instead of napalm and helicopters and you’ve basically got it.
If there is an escaped goat on the premises, I bet he’s hiding in there.