I’ve had the laser eye surgery. I’ve been proclaimed 20/15 in my right eye and 20/20 on my perpetually underachieving left side. But all that surgery did nothing to cure the fact that I simply cannot see dirt.
My mother swears I’m not her kid. My mother is like a grease-seeking missile. A “crud missile,” if you will. If it is time to clean the kitchen — and it always is at her house — she wipes down the counters until it looks like the builders just installed the granite. They could have renamed “The Boy in the Bubble” to “The Boy in Charlotte’s House” and the little micro-biologically-challenged guy would have had the same lifespan possibilities. When the local hospital loses electricity they rush the patients to Mom’s house to continue surgery. The Five Second Rule of Dropped Food is nonexistent at Mom’s house because she will have cleaned it up in two.
You get the idea.
My mother is fast and relentless when it comes to cleaning. When we visit my parent’s house I always feel a little like I’m going mad, because if I leave a glass in one spot for more than two minutes it disappears – poof! No “done with that?” — just gone, like she was hiding under the table when I set it down and her little claw reached up and snatched it as soon as the glass hit the coaster. I swear sometimes I catch her staring at me while I’m eating, her eye twitching, just waiting for the moment I look away long enough for her to whip the plate out from under my chin and scurry it to the dishwasher like a gold-thieving leprechaun. I think behind my back she throws small coins across the room to divert my attention. When I ask where my dish went she bamboozles me with: “Do you want dessert?” knowing I am powerless against the Jedi Mind Trick of a chocolate brownie suggestion.
Conversely, when I wipe down a kitchen, it is more like a relocation service. My cleaning style is like a hurricane and FEMA all rolled into one. First, I uproot the grime from where it was living, and then I find it a new place to settle nearby, maybe even have a family. As a bonus, I usually leave a trail of it from one spot to the next so it can find its way home again someday.
I don’t do it on purpose. I really do think I’m cleaning. But then someone like my mother will come over and point out my shortcomings.
“You missed here,” my mother will say, her lips barely able to keep from curling with disgust. “Here. And Here… and HERE.”
I hunch over and look where she is pointing. (She is shorter than I so she notices the spots about waist-high, which hardly seems fair. Clearly, I am cleaning for the normal-sized world.) As I squint where she is pointing, ever so slowly, the object of her disgust will come into focus for me, like disappearing ink she just doused in lemon juice or held over a candle.
“Oh,” I say, studying the pork chop stuck to the cabinet door. “How did I miss that?”
These episodes always end with some variation of: “Oh Amy. You can’t possibly be MY daughter.”
While I am a much more successful “straightener” than a cleaner, I certainly don’t police my surroundings like Mom. The cup collection that grows on my bedside table alone would give her spasms. Every night I bring a new glass of water to last me through the evening; every morning it is abandoned to huddle with its brothers, forgotten. They sit there, each with a different level of water, until it looks like I am preparing to play Christmas carols on them. “One more sip out of this one and I’ll have the D flat…”
Being a guy, my husband Mike is easier to impress with cleaning than someone like my mother. He doesn’t totally mind that he has to play “find the wine glass without the dishwasher residue crusted inside of it.” Sometimes a little too much food finds its way into the dishwasher, where it miraculously turns into beach sand, which then stuccoes everything it touches during the drying cycle. He understands that is just the circle of life.
This sort of nonsense doesn’t happen to my mother, though. She will actually WASH a dish before she puts it in the dishwasher. When I point out that I think she is misunderstanding the purpose of a dishWASHER, she just pulls a spoon from my drawer, points out the tomato skins dried to it, and declares victory. I dunno. I think we have to call it a draw.
My husband is neater than I, and he’s instituted Saturday Morning Cleaning to be sure the house stays in some sort of order on a week to week basis. Every Saturday morning the two of us scrub down the kitchen, change the sheets, do the laundry, and clean the bathrooms. This keeps me from just moving to a neater room when one gets too messy for me. It was actually very clever of him. I don’t loathe doing it when I know it is Saturday Morning Cleaning, it just is, and the faster I get it done the faster it will be over.
But even he will sometimes look at something I’ve declared clean and ask, “Really?”
Mike claims it is all my mother’s fault. She was SO good at cleaning that I never had to develop that particular skill. Cleaning, for me, is like the atrophied eyes of a cave dwelling fish. Simply unnecessary and consequently, unused. I am a dirt blind fish.
Metaphorically, of course.
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