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Art Before Dishes

posted Friday August 3rd, 2012

“Hey Mom, why do I have to fold the laundry before I put it away?”

This question came from my beautiful 11-year-old, who stood in her room over a basket of laundry, about to shove a wadded up (but clean!) t-shirt into a giant dresser drawer filled with the same.

I just looked at her, speechless, and suddenly had a horrible thought. “Glass Castle.”

Holy crap. Ray and I are raising our kids like Jeanette Walls’ parents raised her and her siblings. Okay, so I was overreacting a bit. There’s no way we’ll end up in that  whole West Virginia scene (surely you’ve read this book, and if you have you’ll know why I suspect that section of the book is, um, exaggerated) and I doubt we’ll ever be homeless. But yeah, housekeeping is not our forte.

Most of the time I can shove the mounds into piles, spray everything with a little 409 and make myself feel better, but last week things really spiraled out of control. Our cleaning person quit without notice (but with good reason, health-related) and the washer and dryer both gave up at once. Small piles in corners soon became an Everest-sized potential avalanche of dirty clothing from two vacations and when we could no longer see the TV or find a place to stick our feet on the coffee table, it was time to take action.

It was time to clean the house.

“Boy, are you grumpy!” Ray commented last Sunday as he cruised past me in the kitchen, chuckling. “Is it because you are actually having to clean?”

Of course it was. The more I cleaned, the more dirt I found. It wasn’t enough to clean the toilet and the counters, I felt compelled to remove every bottle and jar from every bathroom shelf, clean it (or toss it) then take the glass shelves off and clean those. All of which made a giant mess. The place was a wreck and getting worse every time I turned around, since Sophie’s idea of helping is to remove every item from her dresser and toss it around her room.

I wanted to cry, and not just because I’d lost my weekend. What sorts of heathens are we raising? I muttered to myself as I batted at the bathtub with a Clorox wipe. (What’s the point in doing more than that? Doesn’t soap run all over the shower every time you use it, arguably making it the cleanest spot in the house?)

No one in our house ever makes their bed. I draw the line at leaving dishes and actual food sitting around outside the kitchen; still, it’s not unheard of to find a petrified cup of Carnation Instant Breakfast in the corner of the living room. But everyone’s clean and the house is clean (well, it was when we had a cleaning person, and when she could find open spaces) and really, beyond that, does it matter?

I was beginning to think it did, last Sunday, and then I opened a kitchen drawer to look for a new sponge and found a gift given to me long ago by a good friend, a photographer. It’s a ceramic tile stamped with the words “Art Before Dishes,” and I always meant to hang it above the kitchen sink, but it requires a screwdriver or maybe even an electric drill and I never did get around to it. I’ve kept it for many years.

Back in her room, Annabelle stood watching me, waiting for an answer, the t-shirt dangling from her fingertips. I thought about my own dresser, crammed with wadded up t-shirts and said, “You know what? I don’t know why. Do whatever you like with your laundry.”

So she did — quickly — and then she went back to her art, which at the moment involves a lot of duct tape.  

Art Before Dishes. I think I’ll hang that tile up this weekend, right after I interview a new cleaning person.

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Tags: Filed under: culture by Amysilverman

4 Responses to “Art Before Dishes”

  1. your readers should know that you come from a home with a fake antique sign: a messy kitchen is a happy kitchen

  2. you should check out the William Morris Project over on pancakes and french fries. She has been doing it for over a year now. It is a great idea, simplifying your home and living an intentional life. She tackled a lot in that first month, but the concept is solid. If you just focused on one small area each week (or month).

  3. HAAAA!!!!! Thank you for sharing. Um yeah, Charlie and I we clean up the clutter bi-weekly- you know- the night and morning before the cleaning lady comes. If we didn’t- there wouldn’t be any space for her to clean! And there is nothing that makes me crabbier then those few hours of required pointing out of why we can’t have nice things :)

  4. “Sophie’s idea of helping is to remove every item from her dresser and toss it around her room”

    Laughing out loud at this!!! Because you know, I can’t relate *at *all*. :-) Leo says, “Mommy, I help!” and then makes an even bigger mess or breaks something and I bite my tongue SO hard…

    I really struggle with this–when I think about the amount of time I spend loading and unloading that god-for-saken dishwasher (the cleaning ladies can’t do my dishes every day!) well, it makes me downright cranky. There are so many more interesting things I could be doing. It’s the day to day drudgery. I think Annabelle’s question is brilliant. I am one of those strange people who actually enjoys folding laundry. It’s the putting away that I have trouble with.

    I love your sign about art and dishes. The one on my fridge says: “a good mother has dirty floors and happy children.”

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