Do you know those ads that trying to make us feel like everyone is judging us on the cleanliness of our homes to make us buy their products? The Harpic toilet clean ads with the line “What does your loo say about you?” ads, or the “Ajax Spray and wipe” ads where someone has unexpected visitors and runs around cleaning their house so nobody ever knows that they live the way they live! Am I alone in thinking that your toilet says nothing about you? Except that you clearly have indoor plumbing! Winning! But otherwise – I know I’ve never inspected anyone else’s loo and judged them as a person on it’s condition.
On Sunday, I cleaned my house. I packed away all the toys, vacuumed and mopped the floors, cleaned the bathroom and toilet, had all the dishes done, wiped down the benches, we had the laundry all packed away – it wasn’t even particularly messy to begin with, but the whole house had a thorough run through.
On Monday I got sick, I didn’t do any cleaning at all, and that evening it looked like a herd of kittens had been through the house, there were dishes piled up on the sink, toys, paper and craft all over the floor, along with crumbs and other food-related mess. It wasn’t pretty.
It reminded me of that joke, where a husband comes home to find the whole house a mess and when he questions his wife she says “You know how you asked me yesterday what I do all day? Well, today I didn’t do it.”
And I had a little chuckle the first time I heard this, but on Monday, surrounded by mess, I thought – what a load of bull crap.
Cleaning is such a small part of what I do every day. I raise small people. I feed them, I dress them, I change nappies, supervise them and keep them safe, play with them, love them, and cherish them. That’s what I do all day. That’s what takes up most of my time, energy and focus.
Even if I’m sick, I do it because it must be done. But sometimes that doesn’t seem like there’s any tangible success – because it’s pretty much the same thing every day. I think for most parents meeting your children’s physical and emotional needs, day in, day out, while often can be exhausting, it’s automatic, it’s the stuff of just living and breathing. I couldn’t not look after my children even if I tried not to. It’s simply not an option.
A clean house, in contrast, is tangible. It either is, or it isn’t clean. Even if I don’t enjoy cleaning and it’s not something that comes naturally to me – I do appreciate that I can stand back for the 35 seconds that it stays clean and think “Ah, job well done” (though now I wonder how much of that satisfaction is conditioned into me by Ajax ads!).
Whereas the raising children job is never done.
Until it’s done.
There’s a beautiful poem called “Baby’s don’t keep” and part of it goes:
The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
This does help to set mothers free from the idea that cleanliness is more important than what is important. Encouraging us not to feel guilty about mess gathering up, when we’re busy cherishing babies, because babies don’t keep! But I’ve seen mothers turn this on each other, and then say a clean house means that children are being ignored or neglected. And it doesn’t. It just doesn’t. A clean house no more (or less) says a child is cared for and loved than a messy house does. It doesn’t even necessarily even reflect the same thing every day.
Sometimes my messy house says “I’m drowning in mess, and I need someone to step in and help me!” but it could also say “We had such a great day! Look at all the activities we did today! They’re spread out all over the bench, table and floor, because we’ve been having too much fun to stop and tidy up!”
A clean house could say “The kids have been so good today, helped pack away, had good sleeps and gave me plenty of time to clean up what little mess they made!” it could also say “I’ve banished the children to the backyard, and I’ve been cleaning furiously to let off steam because I just can’t deal with them today!”
Or it just says “It’s Wednesday and children live here!”