I used to think my mother was crazy.
Back in the glory days of Milli Vanilli and VCR’s, my mother sported high waisted Jordache jeans and flamingo colored scrunchies around her ponytails. She had an affection for big hair and Jane Fonda step aerobics. She still has big hair to this day.
When Rod Stewart or Gloria Estefan came on the radio in the car she say aloud to every word and would swat my hand like a fly if I tried to change the station. And when the bushes of my Italian eyebrows grew too long and curly at the ends, she’d make me sit on the bathroom vanity so she could pluck away at them. I have no doubt that she enjoyed this sick ritual that destroyed every ounce of dignity I had as an eight year old.
My mother also like to clean. Actually, let me rephrase that…my mother had to clean. You’d be stealing crack from an addict if you took away her Ajax and sponges. Cleaning was her ‘high,’ a sedative pill she’d pop when she felt she couldn’t control the chaos of five kids and a mortgage.
I get it… now.
But I didn’t get it then. Who cared if I left a blob of grape jelly on the counter from my PB +J and a trail of crumbs in the kitchen? And who would think to notice the grass stained socks balled up in my bedroom corner?
My mother, that’s who. The same woman who can sing every line of “Hot Legs” by Rod Stewart.
I’m grown – up and work 9-5 and have windows and floors that won’t wash themselves.
It is I who must wipe up the blobs of jelly from the kitchen counters…
…and get on all fours to work out a coffee stain in the carpet.
Momma’s not around to holler and howl about my crumbs and dirty socks. I no longer have anyone to tell me what or how to clean.
It’s 6:45 on a Wednesday night. I dig out a frozen lasagna from the belly of my freezer. I’m hungry and haggard from a day of work. In this moment of emptiness I could pick up a book or begin a new writing project. You’d think that would be my creative instinct.
But I need to shut off my mind.
I open the cabinet below the kitchen sink and wrap my hand around the neck of a Lysol bottle. I rinse a soggy yellow sponge beneath a stream of hot water.
I think about what else I could be doing, partaking in the treasure trove of Jersey Shore reruns in my DVR or self medicating with a sleeve of these:
But I choose to clean.
Because I want to clean.
I spritz a disinfecting mist over the stove top and something strange happens. I notice that I feel nothing.
I also notice that I like it.
Soon enough, the sterile scent of the spray and the monotony of my elbow motion have helped to shut off my mind. And I notice that I really like that.
I finish the stove and move to my bedroom where I gather a mound of towels and tee shirts and throw them into the wash. I start it up and go back to m room to gather the load that will follow.
Sometimes I just need to feel in control over something. Even if its just how many loads of laundry I could pour this gooey, lilac scented blue goo into….
There may have been a lot I never understood about my mother as a kid but mostly it was her need and desire to clean so much. And of course, her need to trim the wool from my eyebrows against my will.
But as I place my Lysol back under the sink and rinse the residue from my sponge, I think I understand why my mother needed to clean. Cleaning has the ability to calm and shut down the mind. And make a manic young mother feel in complete control.
I sit down to a warm plate of lasagna and feel good. I’m proud of my laundry and polished stove top. I look at my work and see the results dazzling there in front of me, the fruit of my anxious need to be alone with a sponge.
That’s probably why my mother cleaned the way she did.
She saw results. She too could look at her freshly cleaned kitchen while eating a plate of lasagna and be proud.
As I wash the marinara sauce off my dinner plate, I realize the way my mother once was isn’t too much different from who I am…now.
I wasn’t supposed to be like my mom. I wasn’t supposed to like to clean. But after thirteen years, the paradigm has shifted.
So maybe if I knew then what I know now, I would have wrapped my hair in a flamingo pink scrunchie and whistled along to “Maggie Mae” and mopped the floors with mom.
Or maybe not. But either way, I have a feeling the next time she hollered about a trail of crumbs in the kitchen, I would have thought that maybe…just maybe, she’s wasn’t so crazy after all.