Look at this mess!”
my mother exclaimed, staring at the floor beneath the dining room table (the one we hardly ever used)
“Mother, what are you going on about?” I sighed in all of my 16-year old sass.
“You don’t see this?!” She said with her finger pointed, narrowing my vision to a spot underneath one of the chairs.
I tiptoed over to see what she was referring to, feeling like this was the only way to approach the situation, because mom was obviously in what one of my good friends would call a “tizzy.”
I bent down, squinted my eyes, even put my hands on the legs of the chair, thinking that must’ve been where the problem was.
“No, this” she said, picking up a dry grain of rice that had been there for heaven-only-knows how long.
…The struggle to resist hard-rolling my eyes and walking away was too real in this moment. I’ll even go as far as to say it was one of the toughest moments of my teenage life (ok, I exaggerate for dramatic effect), but she was dead-ass, this grain of rice was a mess in her eyes.
You see, growing up, our house was spotless. My brother and I weren’t allowed to go to bed without cleaning the kitchen (this is not an exaggeration. On more than one occasion, mom woke me up because I’d fallen asleep and the dishes weren’t done…in her defense though, I sometimes did that on purpose…like I said, I had a lot of sass). My daily chores included sweeping, cleaning the bathrooms and washing the dishes. Every other day, I had to dust and vacuum the carpets, and every week I had to do the laundry – for the whole house. Sundays were set aside for grocery shopping, sheet-changing and organizing for the upcoming week.
My mom had the house running like a well-oiled machine, and if any part of it was out of place, there would be hell to pay.
Now, you may be wondering where my brother was in all of this. Did he have chores? Yes, but on the outside of the house. He had to mow the lawn, wash the cars, and take the trash out. Every other week, he had dish duty, which mom sometimes did for him since he was almost always drowning in homework. (It was in moments like this that I very briefly considered stepping up my academic game). His chores were simple and less time-consuming than mine. I was taught that keeping a clean house was the responsibility of the woman. Before I got old enough to pitch in, my mom kept up with the house all by herself.
“If someone stops by unannounced and the house is a mess, nobody is going to look at your dad,” mom would say. In today’s society, this type of advice is eyeroll-worthy, but the fact is that it is very true in our culture – the woman takes care of the house.
So naturally, when I became an adult with a house of her own, I kept up mom’s tight cleaning schedule. I cleaned the bathrooms daily, swept, washed…it wasn’t until one random Tuesday night, as I was frantically dusting, that my husband sat me down and asked who I was cleaning for. “The house has to be clean if someone comes over!” I responded, hearing my mother’s voice come out of my mouth. He put his hands on my shoulders, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Babe, no one is coming over and I really don’t care what the house looks like.”
This eye-opening realization almost brought me to tears. I was free! (And my husband was f*cked).
As it turned out, I was interested in doing things that I just hadn’t had time for, like working out, reading and *gasp* watching tv…things that my mother probably didn’t even have time to consider because she was so busy cooking and cleaning. Most of my memories of my mother and I at home are of us cooking or cleaning something.
Now, let me be very clear, this is not a dig against my mom. Mami was the one who taught me to take pride in caring for the place where I come to rest. “When the house is clean, you don’t have to think about anything. You can just relax” she would say, emphasizing that last word, as if its’ very mention made her breathe easier. Those words still resonate with me, and I keep things tidy, but the housework does not consume me. I am a busy, hard-working woman just like my mama, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to go to work, exercise, play with the kids, cook and clean. Something has got to give. For me, cleaning is at the bottom of the list because I would rather look and feel good, read stories with my babies and, well, we gotta eat.
Besides, y’all, the way I remember it, most of the unexpected visitors never even made it past the front doorstep