November 19, 2010

"And that's how you do it..."

Featured here and in all the other photos are what I consider
more important than clean stovetops, at the ages they were
at the time of my little story

Nearly every time that I notice how filthy my stovetop is, I find myself remembering a dinner with friends at our home several years ago that taught me things about the viewpoint of the young, my own pride, and accepting that sometimes something’s got to give.
At the time our children were 8, 2, 2, and 0, which was what the 2 year-olds would say back then concerning their infant sister’s age.  I had worked very hard that day cleaning up the mess that accompanies such household occupants to be ready for our guests, and put a great deal of thought and effort into the meal we would have, planning carefully how I could time everything to be ready all at once, and be both hot and delicious.  Somewhere between two different nap schedules, which clearly mean two different awake schedules, school for our older son, normal household responsibilities and so on, I tried with all my might to make the house and the meal as lovely as possible.  I set the table with our best dishes early in the afternoon to be sure it got done, cleared the air of the smell of three diaper-producers, swept up the dust bunnies which were exactly as old as our baby, vacuumed, scrubbed, polished, wiped down, and/or washed every surface I could think of and find time for in an attempt to make the house sparkle.  As for the meal, it needed to be something easy to make, but tasty, so I went with a dish our family just calls Swiss Chicken.
Shortly after my twelve-hour juggling act of preparation our guests arrived, and I brought the Swiss Chicken and all its companion side dishes to our table, ready to be enjoyed as a backdrop to great conversation.  I had already fed our children something else before they came, and put the younger  three to bed for the night with the oldest playing nicely on his own, so that my husband and I could enjoy a quiet evening with adults.  Our friends that came that evening are closer to our parents’ age than ours, but we had a wonderful time together.  Their youngest daughter was with them, only about twenty years old at the time.  A thoughtful and sweet young lady, she stood up when dinner was done, cleared the table and set to work doing the dishes, with her mom pitching right in too.  I tried to insist on helping, more from my control-freak nature than anything else, but they quickly got the job done without me.
As I got our coffee and dessert ready, I turned to see this thoughtful young woman taking off the removable parts from my stovetop.  She was cleaning the used-to-be-white surface with vigor and determination.  I tried to stop her, informing her that 97% of the encrusted grime was not from this evening’s meal, and I would get to it later.  Apparently in my juggle-a-thon that day I had missed that spot.  She continued on, dedicated to her goal of restoring it to like-new condition.  Unable to thwart her mission, upon its completion I simply thanked her and complimented her on how clean she had gotten it.  With a well-intentioned demonstration and explanation, she proceeded to “teach” me how it is that one goes about cleaning a stovetop.
I had listened to the whole cleaning lesson feigning interest, as she finished it off with, “…and that’s how you do it.”  I resisted the urge to scream out, “Now tell me how you do it while you’re also homeschooling a third grader, taking care of twin toddlers and a new baby, changing twenty diapers a day,  getting five hours of sleep on a good night and running a household that has way too many toilets!  Tell me, how?!?!”  I knew this young woman had meant no harm or insult.  She just simply didn’t understand what she was seeing, and couldn’t have.  In her young, single, and living with her parents world, she had only herself to take care of.  She was generous enough to be a help to me that night, for which I was grateful.  But she couldn’t relate to my world, and couldn’t see that sometimes you just can’t do it all, even if you know how to do each part of it.  I knew the work I had put into preparing for their visit, and I’m quite sure my pride was injured that she had pointed out the one place I missed.  If she had seen the house at the beginning of the day, or dropped in unexpectedly sometime and saw how we really live, she would have cringed at the true level of ignored filth.
To me, the kids come first, and the rest can wait.  I cleaned that day because people were coming over, and wanted to look like I had it all together.  As much as I’d like to say I’ve grown since then and don’t worry about what people think of how clean my house is anymore, I’m sorry to report I still do.  (Although posting your nastiest toilet for the world to see is progress in the pride-dropping department.)  But day-to-day, when no one outside of family is here, I don’t really care what the place looks like.  I keep our house clean enough to prevent illness, tidy enough to not cause injury, and organized enough to maintain sanity.  But I’m not going to spend my life making the house sparkle.  To this day I only spruce up the stovetop when people are coming over, provided I remember to.
Taking good care of my children is by far my highest priority.  And though I certainly don’t spend every waking moment with them, and there are plenty of lazy reasons why the cleaning isn’t done more thoroughly, I like life this way.  If only I could bring myself to let other people see that my house is just as messy as theirs is.  Writing about it here lets all of you in a little, but I’m thinking maybe some of you should just stop by unexpectedly – it would be good for my personal growth.  Please just don’t show me how to clean my stovetop.


  1. It's so nice to hear from someone who has the same thoughts about cleaning as I do. I come from a family of cleaners. My grandmother used to clean the house daily, and my mom cleaned the house every Saturday. I clean once a month or so - or whenever someone is coming over. I guess that gene mutated when I got it.

  2. Oh laura I enjoyed this one very much.I feel the same way about kids come first and I could care less what people think of my cleaning skills,because my kids will always come first.that being said I also get annoyed when people come here and try to tell me "easier" ways of doing things.I don't need or want their advice,but I do thank them as it goes in one ear and out the other.when you guys come to visit us I will clean,but I will not go nuts like I usually do knowing that you understand how "real" life is,and not making our homes look like a thank you for making me feel better about not always having the cleanest house ya,can't wait to see you guys!

  3. Lisa, I hear you! I hate cleaning! I don't think previous generations liked it any more than we do, they just had a different standard for themselves. I'm content with mine!

    And Shelly, I'm glad to know my "sister" thinks like me on this one! Your little Wilburs and our little Wilburs come first. They grow up so fast... why waste that time on things that just don't matter?