Saturday, July 17, 2010

Adventures in Real Parenting: Not Guest Ready

She woke up with a start.  Oh my god! Her daughter's friend used the bathroom at the end the hallway last night!  That bathroom was commonly referred to as the Kids' Bathroom so now you know all you need to know about it.

She rummaged around in her mind for the date when last she cleaned that bathroom.  Had it been a Quick Clean(TM) a couple of weeks ago?  Or was it a month or so ago when she'd bribed her youngest to do it?  That was the day when she didn't feel like cleaning it even though it was beyond a health hazard.  She'd just painted her fingernails and there were no rubber gloves to use to protect them.  They'd all gone missing.  Again.  The last time she'd had some, they became part of some neighborhood performance piece - filled with water or pudding and painted up to look like chickens.  Something like that.  Maybe they were supposed to be roosters.

So she asked the youngest to clean.  The oldest was at work, the middle at some baseball field getting covered in red Georgia clay.

When she approached her darling, she didn't seem terribly interested until some payola was introduced as an incentive.  Negotiations ensued.

"I'll give you two dollars for a thorough job."

"Make it ten."
"Two fifty.  Three."
"You're being ridiculous.  Seven."
"Three fifty and don't push it."
"Five and if you say anything other than okay, the deal is off, I keep my money and you run in place carrying two full jugs of water the whole time I'm doing it."
"You've been watching Malcolm in the Middle again."
"Going, going..."
"Done.  Five dollars.  Do I have to do it now?"

And so she did and she did a thorough job.  For one brief, shining moment, her lust for money took hold and she asked if there might be more she could do.  So her mother paid her an extra two dollars to dust and vacuum the living room.

But that was then.  This was retro-active panic gripping her this morning.  She sprang from her bed not to fly to the window and throw up the sash to look for evidence of a jolly little fat man carry a sack of gifts on his back, but to fly down the hallway to confirm just how embarrassed she should be on this otherwise calm Saturday morning.

It was worse than she thought.  She lifted the toilet seat and lid and died a thousand deaths of shame.  Mucky.  Yellow stains.  Flecks. A brown skid decorating one side of the bowl.  Dark, short curlicue hairs scattered over it all.  It looked as though Jackson Pollack had found a new canvas.

"I've been in back road truck stop restrooms cleaner than this," she muttered.

Her husband walked out of the bedroom scratching his belly and yawning.  "Did you say something?"

She could clean now and at least feel as though she learned her lesson.  Saying out loud to three teenagers and assorted cats "Some one needs to clean the bathroom and I do NOT mean me" was too vague, too imprecise.  Such a loose statement made to children and young adults amounted to an anachronism.  Everyone assumed that "someone" was always somebody else.

She thought of her many mistakes as she cleaned that bathroom and moved on to the next - the basement bathroom.  That was where they kept the litter boxes.  As always happens in these moments of crisis cleaning, one thing led to another.  She scooped out the chunks from the litter, cleaned the sink and toilet, shined the mirror, swept the floor and ultimately got on her hands and knees to wash it.  That lead to the same thing in the kitchen, three loads of laundry, vacuuming and spot cleaning the living room carpet, wiping down the stove, fixing the loose screws on the coffee table, boiling eggs, putting a table cloth on the dining room table and carrying out the trash.

Toward the end of the frenzy, she inspected her damaged manicure and shrugged.  It was time for a redo anyway.

Her daughter finally emerged from the cocoon of her bed and sauntered into the kitchen.  Normally one doesn't speak to this person before she's been awake for two hours, but there was no time to waste.  She had to spread her shame around to someone who might be capable of relating to it.  Later, she would realize the folly of that idea.

"I can't believe you let your friend use that disgusting bathroom."

"Mom, he had to pee.  What was I supposed to do?"

"Well, tell him that it doesn't always look like that."

"But it does always look like that."

She opened her mouth to protest, but saw the futility of it.  Of all of it.

Her daughter sensed her dismay.  "Don't worry though.  He pees a lot.  It's what he's known for among our friends.  The last time a bunch of us went to Six Flags, we had to stop three times so he could go pee."

"Okay so what's your point?"

"My point is that he's probably seen far, far worse."

"I am not comforted by that thought."

"I know, but it's the best I can do."


  1. You are my people.

    Like my friend who, on the rare occasions she vacuums, is asked "Is grandma coming to visit?" by her children.

  2. OMG; I saw myself in this one!

    I'm also a member of "The Clean This One Little Thing and it Mushrooms Out of Hand" club. I think it's a form of insanity!

    The pic is great!

    (I love Malbec.)

    Ask my kids how I fold towels and about my hangar obsession.


  3. Precisely why I never allow guests.

  4. I'm so glad I have a tiny apartment and only my husband to clean up after -- although as my sis says, he is worth two small children and leaves a distinctive circle of "debris" around wherever he perches. ;)

    Good story. The description of the cleaning frenzy was golden, the way something *always* becomes something else. Who hasn't been there?

    Is it okay to say I miss the first person voice that comes through you? Yours is inimitable, and somehow sharper, to me. But then, what do I know? As long as you're writing it, I'm coming to read it, Lisa.

  5. Sometimes I wonder just how many paintings I've left undone simply because one little cleaning job led to another. Nobody remembers you for a tidy bathroom and, if they do, it's with pity for a wasted life.

  6. Ubermilf - see now that made me laugh! Thank you.

    kkryno - We are so much alike! I have strict rules regarding the folding of towels and my hangers have to be color sorted in the laundry room. Like that? Yeah, my kids find it "amusing," as well.

    Randal - I'd like to not allow the children, too.

    Meridith - Isn't it funny how some people really do just leave debris wherever they go? A couple of people here are like that. And of course you can say what you like about the writing. I appreciate it. The nice thing about this piece is that if I ever want to use it in first person, it's a quick fix!

    susan - I know that in my heart. And yet, the idea that that poor young man lifted that lid and saw THAT makes me cringe. There must be a happy medium. For example, did I really have to vacuum the dust bunnies from the laundry room? Of course not. That's the impulse I need to control.

    1. Haha! My thing with the hangers has a story attached to it. My mother in law came to visit and, of course, HAD to "help" with laundry, etc! We have 5 kids, and I was she said, "Don't get up, I'll do laundry, I see you are behind." I have to say, I HATE her help with laundry, I am very picky when it comes to how it is done!
      She finished putting things away and went to relax.
      Now I have always had my clothing hangers color coded for each person. She found me, looking like a deer in the headlights, re-doing all her hanging! (Oh why couldn't I just let it go til they left?)
      WHAT?! Purple hangers in the boy's closet just wouldn't wait!
      That was back when I still thought I was in control!
      Oh geez, all my inlaws heard about it immediately, and years later, I still get teased!

    2. My mother in law has always insisted that "A clean and tidy home is the sign of a happy housewife!"
      I disagree! She was never happy, as her kids can attest to!

      My own mother was never happy. She had a beautifully kept house, that she spent all her time inside cleaning, while everyone else had a good time, so she was upset and left out!

      I'm known as having a clean, but messy, house. I'm proud when my kids, nieces, and nephews, tell others that they remember me as fun loving and always having fun with them!

      I say if you don't like the mess, don't look!

  7. I operate under the theory that a tidy home is the sign of a bored housewife!
    WE do keep the dishes moving along in the dishwasher- or at least stashed out of sight till we can fill it- but other things seem King Kong sized.... the laundry basket overflows.
    the incoming papers are like a neverending deluge.... as I tread the waters... I find coupons & things that expired last month. Every now & then I go on a rampage and get rid of stuff.... but more keeps coming. Don't get me started on trying to keep up with weeds on a corner lot. Let's just say the weeds are winning.

  8. That bathroom sounds just like our "kids" bathroom and I have owned the same the feeling of shame.

  9. She scooped out the chunks from the litter


    Don't your cats have you trained? A human's function is to wait dutifully outside the door, eyes averted for our privacy, until we have used the facilities. Then remove the chunk instantly. Then wait for us to return. Breaks are permissible only for feeding us.

  10. A brilliant sentence, That bathroom was commonly referred to as the Kids' Bathroom so now you know all you need to know about it.' But, "It looked as though Jackson Pollack had found a new canvas," cracked my shit up (sic). Plus, the dialogue. A brilliant bit. If it weren't for shame, I'd probably get nothing done. Is there shame in that? Let's hope.

  11. I like how your daughter tried to console you. Bless her heart.

    Obvs she didn't care, or she would have cleaned it before he went in there.

    They're old enough to clean their own shit skids. I'm thinking she wouldn't have wanted the boy to think those were HER skids/pubes. If she doesn't care, why should you? Right? Right.

  12. Gross and hilarious. And you made me grateful that my cat litter days are behind me---thanks for that. xo

  13. Oh yes, I have been bribing my son to help me clean for years!

  14. I'm sure it's not going to make you feel any better but guys seldom notice stuff like that. I know I don't. I barely notice the things in my house let alone things in other people's house.

  15. She's probably right. The boy probably didn't notice. Just loudly mention around him that the bathroom is the kids' domain and leave it at that. Well, I mean bring it up to them often, but don't beat yourself up.


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