Tuesday, June 3, 2014


     I hated when my mom used to say, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” What she really meant was, “Not clean enough—do better, do more.” She'd go on these cleaning jags whenever special guests were to arrive, which I found hypocritical. Weren't we good enough, as is? For what purpose were we attempting to impress them beyond treating them well and with dignity?
     Besides having us clean toilets, mirrors, and sinks, she'd go over-the-top by adding jalousies, screens, windows, and sills. I'd say “Do you really think they're going to inspect?” After all, they were arriving at night and the drapes would be closed. She'd response, “It doesn't matter, I notice the difference.”
     “Then why now? They're hardly even dirty?”
     When she ignored the question that meant “Hush up and get to work, you're doing it because I said so.”
     Now, with older and wiser (foolish) eyes, I understand a bit better her motives, because I find myself becoming slowly cleaner.
     When Braden, our first, was a newborn, we let our place get pretty decrepit—toys left strewn across the floor along with burp cloths, books, papers, and diaper cleaning accessories and supplies, stains dotting the greater portion of our living room carpet. We were just too worn and exhausted to expend the energy to “do things right.” Only after those first few (they seemed forever) sleep-deprived months did I stop and think, “This is getting disgusting” and hand-cleaned the carpet and tidied up with Deanne's help the living room every night before bedtime.
     Things held steady like that for the next dozen or so years during which time Penelope came, then Jaren, and we raised them all through toddlerhood and beyond. Now that they are quite independent and helpful (one of the best ways to prepare children for adulthood is to assign them chores—see my prior Chores essay—which means less chores for Deanne and me as we offload more to them) we've got time on our hands. How to fill the hours?
     I, like my parents, am not one to sit idle for long—too much restless energy. While they filled countless hours watching TV and Dad read a fair amount, I watch zero TV now and instead play guitar, exercise, do some black and white digital photo processing, and odds and ends projects around the house. Even so there are still too many hours to fill. So, cleaning beyond usual chores (it never ends) is a productive, satisfying way to fill some of the void. Odd isn't it? I've become one of those that “enjoys” cleaning. My wife and I (mostly her) even do extra cleaning before the arrival of special guests and before we go on trips (to give ourselves the treat of a clean house to return to—always a pleasant surprise. This started for me when I was a bachelor fresh out of college and I once came home exhausted from a trip to a sink of filthy dishes—never again!) Such cleaning, I have found, makes the time go by faster before the anticipated event—not necessary, but quite harmless, though cleaning before the arrival of special guests is cultural: Don't look bad before others and always put your best foot forward; if they're impressed, so much the better.
     An engineer friend once said something that surprised me. I had been sharing about Braden's struggles in school and how I supposed it would be okay if he ended up doing yard work for a living. He said, “I'd do that,” smiling a rare heartfelt smile. “You would?” I asked, stupefied. He nodded. “I enjoy working in the yard. I find it relaxing.”
     It was then that I realized that my dad hadn't spent all those weekends and vacations doing yard work—mowing, trimming, and spraying poison; painting; wiping down the exterior walls with Clorox to free it of mold; washing and polishing the car; cleaning windows, screens, sills, and jealousies; and endless other chores ad nauseum because “they needed to be done,” as he had so often claimed, but rather because he had enjoyed them, all the while lost in thought, listening to his tiny transistor radio, earbud attached if he was operating noisy machinery.
     In that regard, I've become like my parents, sans radio (I work in silence), though not yet to their degree. And I don't know whether to feel proud or embarrassed.

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