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Seeds of something fine

Cleanliness is next to gifty-ness

Staff writer

Friday morning got off to a rocky start. For some reason, I thought it was Saturday. In my house this would mean it was my day to keep sleeping even after I heard breakfast sounds in the kitchen.

It wasn’t until my husband started to leave the house dressed for work that I realized my error.

I know it sounds childish but the disappointment I felt in that moment put me in a deep funk I had trouble shaking.

The morning went on, Lyla kept busy with her cereal and trains, and I pulled the blanket over my head in a bit of a pout.

I felt a crushing disappointment that was more than a simple case of day confusion deserved.

I tried to explain to my toddler why I wasn’t on the floor in the thick of things as usual.

“Lyla, I think I’m in a bad mood this morning. Sorry.”

“Yes, Mommy, I know it.” She sounded so grown up and looked like she was thinking hard about the information. Then her face lit up and she looked at me.

“It’s OK. I help you!” she exclaimed. She rushed over to where I was sitting and began to pick up the toys she’d dumped all over the couch, singing her cleanup song.

It made me wonder, what have I modeled for her that makes her think cleaning will put me in a better mood? Is that really something I want her to conclude about life? That the key to happiness is a tidy living room?

I was mulling all this as Friday continued to unravel. Then Saturday’s grocery trip turned into a daylong fiasco. Sunday began with a hefty dose of frustration as a series of plans with friends fell through and I saw the start of a new work week approaching without any bright spots from the weekend.

I’m ashamed to say it but I lost it. When Lyla went down for a nap I just started weeping and railing and feeling really sorry for myself.

Then something miraculous happened: I went into my bedroom to sulk and couldn’t get to the bed for all the laundry that needed to be put away. So I did it. Right that second. I slammed some drawers along the way but it got done.

With the baskets gone I noticed how much the floor needed to be mopped. So I did that. And mopped out into the living room where toys were hiding under tables and carpeting pathways around the room. So I started to put them away and decided to do a really thorough job of it; I made labels for all our toy bins with pictures of what’s inside so Lyla can learn to do it herself. I’ve been meaning to do that for months.

As I printed the labels and tied them to her bins with yarn in her favorite color, I thought about the toys that would go in each container. I thought about how much joy my little girl gets when she plays with them, how she engages with each item in a way that is teasing out bits and pieces of her little personality and I get to witness that.

Usually when I clean, I’ll admit it’s not with a heart of joy. My sister and I joke about the phenomenon of being an “angry cleaner.” By which we mean we often find ourselves getting angrier as we clean, as though it’s some sort of slight to us.

We joke about it because we both realize this isn’t true. Things get dirty. That’s life.

The time and effort I put into cleaning is actually some of the most rewarding time and effort I spend. Whatever I put into a household chore is exactly what I get out of it. With each swipe I make of the mop across the floor, more dirt is lifted. Not many things in life come with such a guarantee.

The toy bin labels kicked off what has been a days-long streak of organization and cleaning in my house.

I like a clean and tidy house as much as any normal person but the past few days have been more like a life overhaul.

Some of the things I’ve done have literally been on my list for more than a year. They have rubbed against my soul like sandpaper every day in some cases, and yet I felt that somehow stopping to do them was accepting some final insult.

As I have attended to each task I have felt light penetrating some bitter and dark corners of my soul. I am taking care of the things that care for me and my family. Each motion has a tangible effect and feels like a gift I am giving, both to my family and to myself.

Not a bad lesson for a toddler to learn. Not a bad one for a mommy either.

Last modified Feb. 10, 2011

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