When you ask my son what my favorite thing to do is, he says, “Mom loves to clean!” This is in fact a very untrue statement, but a conclusion he reasonably comes to because….I am always cleaning. ALWAYS. Do I want to clean? No. Do I like cleaning? Absolutely not. Do I NEED to clean? Bingo.
I would love more than anything to sit and relax after dinner. To ignore the sink full of dishes. To skip sweeping and mopping before bed. To bypass wiping down the countertops. Buuuuut, I can’t. It’s like a background noise in my head, a commanding whisper in my mind…. “Not yet, there are things left undone…”
My husband tells me to ignore that nagging voice in my head, to skip the dishes, to sit, “relax,” he says. That inner voice laughs at the word “relax” and pushes me ever forward to the kitchen. I wear a step counter, and no joke, I get around 2,000 steps after dinner just from my evening clean up routine.
When I visit a friend’s house and dinner is done, I feel the need to help do dishes and clean up. A few of my friends have this amazing skill: they remain at the dinner table drinking wine and ignore the dishes. Ignore the mess! I am always so amazed to witness this, to me, unknown phenomenon. When I try to move toward the kitchen, they prompt me back to the table to a glass of wine, to conversation, to having fun. But that voice calls me to the kitchen… and all I can think of in my head is: “Good gracious! They are going to have to stay up so late to get this done!” I then suffer from cleaning empathy pains. Please do not confuse this with judgment. I am NOT judging them. I admire them. I WANT TO NOT NEED TO CLEAN.
Do not confuse this with OCD. That is not what this is. Do not assume my house is spotless or perfect, it is not. Do not misconstrue my behavior with the notion that I think I am cleaner than others, that I think others who don’t do dishes before bed are lazy, or that others are bad wives or mothers if they don’t have this nagging feeling dragging them through their house with a broom. This is just me. I simply cannot relax until my house is clean and tidy. Once my counter tops are cleared, my floors are dirt free, and my kitchen sink is empty…I can sit down, breathe a sigh of relief, and that nagging whisper in my head takes a nap until the next mess. But secretly, I am jealous of the mom who can leave a pile of laundry in a chair and say, “Oh I can get to that later.” I want to be the kind of mom who can sit on the floor and play with her toddler rather than vacuum the rug first. I envy the mom who goes on a walk with her kids rather than wiping down baseboards beforehand.
I make time for my family. We do fun things. We bake, we craft, and play games. BUT each time we do, I have to plan cleanup and organization time too. It is a shadow that is cast over every activity. It is one I am learning to deal with as I get older. I am learning the value of being present. I do the self-talk of “Live in the moment,” or “They are only little once,” and all that jazz, and it helps because as cliche as those sentiments are, they are entirely true.
But know this, if you come to my house and I am cleaning, I am not doing it because you stopped by. I am not doing it to impress you. I am not doing it because I think I am better than anyone. I am not staying busy in an effort to get you to leave sooner. I am doing it because if I don’t, I will likely not listen to a single thing you say because how can I if there are dirty dishes?