November 23, 2010

Perpetual filth...

Audra gives herself a dirt shower

I’m one who can easily feel overwhelmed by my perception of the magnitude of any problem.  I’m emotional by nature, and decidedly illogical when I react on instinct alone.  So when I face a challenge and this feeling comes over me, I have to fight that nature and force myself to take a deep breath, step back, and examine what’s in front of me in a more analytical fashion.  This is what I have to do on a regular basis when it comes to coping with the never-ending supply of dirt and germs one does battle with in the role of homemaker.  I stand by my claim that some cleaning jobs can wait, and that time with our kids is more important, but houses do need to be kept somewhat sanitary.  With four kids who are home all day every day, it’s nearly hopeless.
Zach tries to catch minnows by hand
It is very easy to feel in-over-your-head on this one.  Kids, by virtue of how they live their carefree little lives, are dirty.  First of all, depending on their age, they have little to no regard for the microscopic germ world.  They also love to play outside and drag it all back in.  When it comes to eating, the messier and stickier something is, the better it tastes to them.  When they’re babies and toddlers, their pants are a port-a-potty.  I could go on, if it weren’t for that overwhelming feeling of helplessness creeping in.
What family doesn't have a picture like this one?
But as with other times when I feel inundated and incapable of finding my way out, when I break this down into smaller, more manageable pieces I can survive and somehow keep the filth level at a minimum.  Let’s look at an only somewhat fictitious scenario and watch the mess move into and out of a home:
Grandma comes over to drop off a little something for the kids: blue frosted sugar cookies with sprinkles on top.  The kids come running in from building a fort outside, kicking their shoes off by the door in their feeble effort to help keep the place clean.  Chunks of mud can be heard falling off them as they rush to the kitchen.  Before you know what’s happening, they dig in to the cookies, hands covered in dirt and countless outdoor microscopic enemies.  They scarf down the cookies, “clean” the table, scramble to put those muddy sneakers back on and run back out with big blue grins.  Grandma goes on her way, pleased  to have brought such cute smiles to her sweet grandchildren’s faces.
Five minutes have passed, and suddenly the landscape looks different in the house.  The kitchen that was just cleaned before Grandma got there is now covered in rainbow sprinkles, crumbs, sticky milk spots from the kids pouring it in haste to go with the cookies, blue frosting smears, and little chunks of mud.  There’s also a Hansel-and-Gretel-style trail leading to and from the door, not of bread crumbs, but of dried mud.
This is about the time I’d be ready to cry in frustration and despair, wondering if my battle with filth will ever end.  But wait; take that deep breath and step back.  Find your inner Spock and be logical.  The mess came in, now send it out where it came from.  Start at the messiest spot, the scene of the crime, the table.  There’s too much to sweep into your hand.  Get a rag, soak it with hot water and dishwashing liquid, scrub the surface of the table, and send everything on it down onto the floor.  Do the same to the chair seats, which you discover are in the same condition as the table.  Now sweep.  Get that mess out from under and around the table, and keep sweeping your pile together, bringing it along as you follow your children’s path back to the door.
When you get there, put all that dirty, crumbly, sprinkly, sticky mess into the dustpan.  Don’t bring it to the garbage can back in the kitchen; instead, open the door, dump it in the yard or garden (bugs and birds like cookies too, you know) and take another deep breath.  Step back, and look at those blue-mouthed kids, busy once again with building a fort, enjoying themselves.  They’re talking about the great cookies Grandma brought, and how she always brings them such great stuff.  They’re as happy as can be, and couldn’t care less about messes and such.  They may be the cause of your need to clean up, but they’re also the reason you bother with it at all, trying to make a nice place for them to grow up.  Their happy little faces remind you that it’s all worthwhile.

Audra's first birthday:
just like her brothers before her,
a mess-maker in training

That’s not to say that it’s not frustrating and overwhelming to see what you just cleaned transformed into a landfill in a few short  minutes before your very eyes.  But it is the nature of running a house with children in it.  Will it ever end?  Not until they grow up.  But no mess they make can defeat you if you make sure they are doing what they can to help, and you handle it in a logical way, one step at time.  Just focus on the skirmish with filth at hand, and clean it up without letting yourself worry about the certainty of the next battle soon to come.  It will be less overwhelming that way.  Then put the mess-of-the-moment where it belongs: in the garbage or outside, and off of your mind.
And maybe mention to Grandma how much the children would like some sliced apples next time.

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