Friday, June 6, 2008

The anti-cleaners

I came across this today. I wrote this about 3 years ago in October of 2005. This is proof of survival!

As a stay-at-home mom to four young children, keeping my house in order is one of the most difficult parts of my job. I fret over keeping the house clean. It's my job for pete's sake, I should at least be able to keep the house in some sense of order! Right? The biggest strike against my efforts are my kids. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard I try, they are right behind me undoing all my work as quickly as they can.

Small children are anti-cleaners. I think they are born that way. From the time they wake up to the time they go to sleep, they are anti-cleaning. Even when we are having “clean up time” they are mostly busy anti-cleaning.

Here’s how it goes. “Ok, everybody clean up!” I say in my most happy and excited tone of voice. After which I sing the clean up song, which is “clean up clean up, everybody clean up”. I know there are more words to this song, I have just never committed them to memory. My four year old will start to put toys in the toy box by chucking them across the room. “We don’t throw toys!” I say. Then he says, “Mom, she isn’t helping!” in reference to his sister. “Please help clean up the toys.” I say patiently. Then my toddler begins anti-cleaning by taking everything out of the toy box that was so thoughtfully thrown in by my four year old. So I am putting those back in as fast as I can. Then it is “Mom she STILL isn’t helping!!” “Help, please!” I say, not quite so patiently. Somehow, miraculously after about ten minutes of battling the anti-cleaners, we get the majority of the toys in the toy box. It is exhausting. But I am trying to instill a work ethic in my anti-cleaners. Some day they will thank me.

My toddler’s favorite anti-cleaning activity is “helping” me wash dishes. As I am slaving away trying to wash the dishes, he is busy creating chaos in the kitchen. He begins by taking the pans out of the cupboard. Then he turns to the “toy drawer” and empties it. (I actually wonder why I bother with a toy drawer anymore. They don’t play with the toys. They want anything sharp that is off limits.) Some days, he will walk around banging on the pans for a while. Then he turns to the lazy-susan. His favorite activity is to locate the spaghetti and start taking it out of the package one by one, until I realize what he is doing. I take the spaghetti away and put him back out by his pan and say, “Play with this.” Back to the dishes I go! He is back to the lazy-susan with lightening speed. This time he has found a box of macaroni and walks around shaking it. This is my opportunity to open up the dishwasher and load it. I have to do it quickly while he is distracted. I feel a little like I am on Mission Impossible. I can hear the music in the background. NOW! GO! GO! GO! I start to load as fast as I can. Only to be foiled by my toddler who is ecstatic that I am loading the dishwasher. He starts taking all of the silverware out and handing it to me. He is now “helping”. So I spend the rest of the time loading the dishwasher and fighting off the anti-cleaner.

Laundry! Now there's another task that can make even the strongest woman cringe. You can't just throw the kids clothes in the laundry and expect it to come out clean and stain free. No! You have to treat nearly everything they have worn for the last week. This can take a good hour. You must tediously inspect each shirt for the stain you know must be there. Then if you are lucky, you'll get someone who wants to "help" with the laundry.

My two year old is my biggest laundry “helper”. "Mom, I want to help." I think, Ok, fine, and I hop him up to sit on the dryer while I continue my search for stains. But he gets antsy and wants something to throw in the washer. So I have to speed up my stain search to give him something else to chuck in the washer. In my efforts to appease my toddler, I miss many stains and wash a few extra items that have no place in the washer. Some of which I'm sure were contributed by him, other items were left in pockets I didn't check. I've washed Mr. Potatohead’s glasses. I've washed rocks and crayons, and my four year old's purple Chap Stick. I've washed pennies galore and even a few potato bugs. To date, I haven't washed any animals, but the children are not grown yet. There's time.

Whenever I am feeling daunted by the never-ending task of keeping up with the house, I try to remind myself that the children’s memories won’t consist of how clean mom kept the house. They will remember our trips to the zoo and the park. They will remember the time we spent together playing and doing activities. While it is still important to me to provide them with a place that has some sense of order and neatness, I have learned that it is not the most important aspect of my job as a stay-at-home mom!

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