371. Housework

I grew up thinking that the work my mother did didn’t really count – that my clothes were actually basically self-cleaning, that meals sort of cooked themselves, and that if I dropped something on the floor, it independently found its way to where it was supposed to be. If my mother complained, I thought that was just something mothers do. I thought the time she spent in the kitchen or laundry room, or behind a vaccuum cleaner, was like the time I spent on my favorite log in the woods. Everybody had their favorite things to do, and my mother’s happened to be housework.
When I got married, I quickly learned the errors of my thinking, and worked to correct the errors of my ways. I did lots of laundry, learned to cook the food my children would eat, and so on. I learned that all the work my mother had done as I had grown up was indeed work, and did, in fact, have to be done. I hadn’t grown up in a self-cleaning home after all. And my meals hadn’t cooked themselves.
Now, disabled, I often hear myself nagging. Children come to stay with me, and they put things down, expecting me to pick them up later, or thinking, as I used to, that the things would just magically get picked up. Or they tell me they’ll clean up later, really intending to. And later, they do clean. But they don’t find everything they’ve left around – not the nuts under the couch cushion or the jumprope behind the chair. When they leave, I clean up after them. It takes a lot of work, but not as much work as it would have taken to supervise their cleaning.
I’m going to get tough about their dropping things. I’m not going to let them tell me they’ll pick it up later, even though I believe they mean it. But as I’ve told you before, I have time. When children come to stay with me, they have my undivided attention. Most people who take care of children have to divide their attention. So things get left around, and cleaning up is a major job. Getting children to clean up after themselves can be an even bigger job. There are children who do it willingly, but they tend not to be great messers anyway. So they end up cleaning up the way we do, and eventually they burn out, as we do.
When I first lived alone, I created messes, knowing I’d have energy to clean them up later. No one was there to nag me to be neat. And so I learned firsthand about the joy of putting things down instead of putting them away. But it didn’t
take long for me to learn that it’s harder to find things if they haven’t been put away, and that it’s easier to put away five things ten times a day than to put away fifty things once a day.
Housework is work, and while it wouldn’t make sense to require babies to rinse and wash their own diapers, children should learn early that housework does have to be done – that it doesn’t do itself. And Mom, I’m sorry.

Comments are closed.