Invisible Cleaning


Traveling most of the summer has left the house in various states of disarray.

Magazines never read; stacks of untossed mail; cheese (ewwww) that needs to be… uch.

The refrigerator created small nations of strawberries that sprouted mushrooms, old queso, celery wine.

All of this which begs the question: AM I THE ONLY PERSON WITH THUMBS AROUND HERE?!


Apparently I am.

This paints a bad image of Mr. GrassOil. He’s a good guy, he worked to keep things orderly, but when you live in a house with three boys who like to return the empty milk jug BACK to the shelf from whence it came (and I don’t mean the dairy), there is only so much you can do.

So they were fixing to go on a nice long bike ride yesterday.

During their ride, I would reclaim my home.

A bike ride means CamelBaks.

CamelBaks mean water.

Water means mess.

It was inevitable.

Water pooled.

“Oh! God!”



They had to leave.

That meant I had to deal.

I pulled the ‘fridge from its cave.

Dust bunnies and candy wrappers and mess.

The refrigerator: its chassis hadn’t been vacuumed in months.

So while they were apedal in the woods, I was planning to steam-vac the carpets, vacuum the wood floors and do some dusting.

I was planning to unload all the magazines. Forgive me unread issues of “The New Yorker” and “The Week,” I just can’t do it. I’ll read you on my iPad! Egads, did I just type that?!

That was to be the cleaning of the day. I’d spent a couple days regrouping from the trips, a couple days writing as I felt fit. This was going to be my intention. To do the unseen cleaning; much like that of “mission impossible: 50% junk drawer reduction” and “baseboard wipe down and cleaning” and “front hall shoe basket recon” and “bathroom delousing” — cleaning beneath, behind, around and upon the refrigerator is what no one notices but from which everyone benefits.

In a houseful of men, many don’t notice.

It went too fast. Maybe I was in a state of blissful domestication, for the hours flew by.

They returned from their sojourns: muddy, sweaty, pink-cheeked and happy. Thing 3 rode nine miles, almost non-stop, save for a few moments at the ice cream bar.

“Omigawd! It was three dollars a scoop! Highway robbery, Mom!” he squeals.

“Yes, but did you enjoy it?” I ask as I high-five him.

“Heck yeah, I did! I earned it too! Rode four-and-a-half miles each way pretty much without stopping. Saw a snake too.”

“Well then you did earn it. Enjoy it. Don’t worry about the money…” I said, wincing and smiling, (not really) as I thought about the snake.

“Oh, house looks different. You cleaned up the water spill. Nice,” he said as he took off his helmet and threw it on the cleared leather couch, between the freshly folded blankets and fluffed down pillows.

“Yes; I did some cleaning. I managed to get some things done.”

“Yeah. Maybe next time you can come with us on the bike ride; get some ice cream for yourself. You earned it too, after cleaning up the water!” he said, now throwing his crocs into the corner of the room and wiping his slick bangs into irreverent spikes from his sweaty, freckled forehead. He flopped himself down on the couch, and shoved his helmet on to the floor. I heard it clang, hollow plastic, loose fittings. Time to get a new helmet, I thought to myself.

His little chest slowed its breath. He grew quiet. He looked out the back window into our yard, twirling his spiky hair. He was on Jupiter. It’s where he goes when he drifts away, deep in thought.

I thought too.

I thought about the fact that I’d missed out on another moment with my sons and husband to take care of things that were bothering me but of which they had little awareness.

“They don’t remember the mess,” a friend of mine once said when we were talking about trying to keep a clean house in the midst of family busyness. “They just want you. Think about it. They won’t remember what you call a mess.”

So it got me thinking: If the cleaning is invisible, and we do it anyway, what are we tending to? The ghosts in our heads?

My childhood was vastly different from that of my sons’. It’s been a mission of mine to create that distinctive world for them.

I suppose however, that the mission could include myself now. That yes, mess is mess and clutter can be distracting, but need it be so distracting that it steals away an opportunity to ride bikes with my sons in the park and get some ice cream?

Would I rather be distracted by the ice cream or by the clutter?

I intended this piece, I wrote the headline first, to be humorous, about the work we parents and mostly mothers do to ‘keep house.’ To write about how so much of what we do is unheralded — but that’s not because our children / spouses / friends aren’t valuing us and our attention to these details, but because they’ve got bigger things on their minds.

They’ve got Life on their minds.

The clutter was not in my imagination, that onion in the bag is the mascot. But I realize now that it could’ve waited. The boys will all be back in school in nine days.

The invisible cleaning could’ve waited.

Life is what happens when we are making other plans.

Lesson learned.

Thank you.

4 responses »

  1. I hit a new level this week… Decided to have guest over this weekend so I WOULD clean my house! Just can’t seem to DEEP clean unless there is a GOOOOOOOD reason! (See all the O’s that means business)

  2. Yes. I feel this. I miss so much by trying to keep things somewhat clean. It’s impossible. The clutter bugs me. I hear voices in my head chastising me for not “keeping house” better. It’s tough. My grandmother always tells this story about her mother winning “The Neatest Clothesline” award. She was known for having her clothes hung neatly to dry. This was a smart woman. A woman who painted landscapes and trees. She ran a business from her home. She made her own clothes. Her legacy is a neat clothes line. Women have been short-changed in the thinking about bigger things department. Well, at least short-changed in getting credit for it!

    • yes; we have been shortchanged a lot. that’s a topic for another post. all i know is that one of the women on the retreat said, “if you love what you do, you don’t have to work a day in your life.” i want my moments of domestic ephemera to be so blissful, feeling purposeful, but not at the expense of family time. toddlers are a tough age, Lil. it’s mess everywhere. but they don’t remember the mess. promise.

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