I was emptying the dishwasher when my dad died.
He was in Dallas and I was in Denver, and there was nothing I could do about it. There was nothing I could do. So I emptied the dishwasher.
And then my mom called to tell me. But I already knew.
I was reminded of that moment as I was emptying the dishwasher today. I was crying as I pulled the forks out of the basket and wiped the accumulated water off the bottoms of the glasses.
My toddler had just engaged in an epic, 45-minute shit fit, which I had handled like the most perfect parent ever (mostly). She had finally cried herself to sleep in my arms, so I put her in her bed, went downstairs and started to cry uncontrollably.
I thought about pouring myself a drink, but ever since she was a tiny baby (and routinely reduced me to tears) I have had a strict “no drinking while home alone with the baby” policy, because it seemed like a slippery slope.
So instead I just cried. And emptied the dishwasher.
There is nothing so lonely as disciplining your child. You feel like the only person on the planet. I called my husband for support. I called my mom to cry to her. It didn’t help.
I was still just as alone as before. Alone with a crying, screaming baby — which was clearly an indication of my failings as a parent and, let’s be honest, as a person.
Sweep it under the rug.
I’ve always had a tenuous relationship to housework. I don’t like it and it doesn’t like me.
But there is a part of me that loves order. I turn to tidying in times of deep emotional stress.
Once, when I worked at a magazine that was run by a psychopath, I was put in charge of getting the magazine to the printer on time for deadline. By myself. For the first time.
It was awful. I had to tell myself multiple times that night that I was NOT going to let the publisher see me cry — although I desperately, desperately wanted to.
Instead, I completely cleaned and organized my editor’s desk. She would be the first to tell you, she is not a tidy person. Her desk was a veritable landfill of papers, granola bar wrappers, old magazines, file folders, etc. And I cleaned and organized the entire thing.
I’m pretty sure she was horrified, but luckily our friendship (and my job) survived it.
It wasn’t about her, though. It was about giving me something to focus on that I could control.
When I was sixteen or so, I went through and cleaned out my bedroom. I put so many trash bags at the curb for pickup that the neighbors came over and asked my parents if we were moving. For months afterward, my family gently mocked my new drive for simplicity.
But 16 was a hard year for me. I was growing up and didn’t want to. I didn’t like the way I looked, or my social status among my peers. I was bored to tears with school and madly in love (as only teenagers can be) with a boy who just wanted to be my friend. It was rough. And so I tried to control the thing I could control, and I cleaned my room.
Airing my dirty laundry.
I go through periods where I decide I’m going to get better at cleaning in general. I decide that it’s an important part of being a grown up, or a wife, or a mom, or a woman, or whatever, and I make a concerted effort to do better. I make up lists and schedules and plans. I spend an entire Saturday getting us back to zero so I can expend less effort keeping it up (what??).
I went through a FlyLady phase when I tried really hard to drink the kool-aid that I could be the perfect housekeeper in just 15 minutes at a time. I even bought one of her purple brooms, and while it is a seriously awesome broom, I am just not cut out to be a “Fly Baby.”
The very term makes me shudder a little, I’ll admit it.
I went through a phase of trying to do it every weekend. Or every Monday morning. Two or four hours straight with the music blasting and getting my exercise in for the day by mopping. (And probably doing a really shitty job of it, too.)
Right now I’m in my hire-a-housekeeper phase, and I feel both giddy and guilty about it.
Giddy, because it’s something I’ve always wanted. Ever since I’ve been out on my own, I’ve dreamed of having the luxury of being able to hire someone else to do all the chores I don’t like to do. (OK, not all the chores: I haven’t outsourced folding laundry yet.)
Both my grandparents resisted getting housekeepers after their spouses were gone and they were “up in 80” and unable to do as much as they used to. My mother says she wouldn’t like it, that she would have to clean up before the cleaner got there.
I don’t have that particular issue. I do make sure we clean up all the clutter the day before the cleaners come — but only so that they have unfettered access to sweep and dust and spritz and spray to the best of their superhuman abilities.
On the other hand, I feel totally guilty about it.
It feels like an absolute waste of money. It feels like something I should be able to do myself. Hell, I work from home. Part-time. What the hell is wrong with me that I can’t keep the house clean?!
But I can’t. Or, maybe more accurately, I don’t. Cleaning isn’t a priority for me. I’d much rather read a book, or write a blog post, or play with my kid, or cook something, or go shopping than clean the house.
Until I need to clear my mind. And then I opt for cleaning up any day.