As I am writing this, my daughter, V, is consuming her breakfast: blueberries, strawberries (pronounced “strawh”), bananas, vanilla yogurt, and pancakes with syrup (or “dip” as she calls it). About every 30 seconds, I hear a whimpering, whining sound as she puts away her yummies. Why? Not because she needs more food or wants attention. No, it is because she has yogurt on her fingers and she wants it wiped off. Yes, my daughter is a neat freak, and it’s all my fault.
I know my mom is going to laugh at this post. I was the child she had to bar from the house during sand play because I would repeatedly seek to wash my hands in between mudpies. I was the child who, when arriving at our cabin in Northern Michigan for vacation, would spend the first hour unpacking, organizing and cleaning my room before running down to explore the beach or play in our backyard fort. So, really, I suppose I had it coming.
There are moments when I secretly love this characteristic of my daughter. When she asks to “clean, clean,” I am more than happy to give her a dusting cloth and have her follow along. I have pictures of her pushing the vacuum and she loves to load the dryer and push the on button. She likes to help unload the dishwasher, drying the cutting boards and Tupperware and putting the items back in their respective cupboards. And she always tells me when she spills, usually with an urgent tug to my hand. She always helps clean up when asked. For this, I feel grateful!
Then there are the times when I want to say, in exasperation, “ENOUGH, ALREADY!” When she pulls out all my washcloths to “wash the bathtub,” when she pushes the lever to close the dishwasher and turns it to clean when I want to unload the dried items. When she goes on a crumb hunt, and hands me every crumb she sees on the kitchen floor (this can be many) to put into the trash. Mostly, I just want my little chick to relax; when food, markers, fingerpaint, or dirt get on her hands, she frets like a little old lady with plastic covers on her couch. I want her to shut her eyes to the mess for a bit, and just enjoy the freedom of being a little messy for a minute.
I know the feeling of seeking control over my world by cleaning. We have lost over ten loved ones since our wedding ten years ago, and while in a state of mourning, I could be found distractedly straightening mail, or scrubbing the heck out of whatever dirty dish was in sight. Whenever my husband and I bicker, he can always gauge my emotional state by the flurry of cleaning activity in our house. When we moved out of state when V was 8 weeks old, to a place where I knew no one and was struggling with being a stay at home mom after working out of the home for 16 years, I scrubbed our foyer on hands and knees with my daughter in her Bjorn and dusted all the baseboards and crevices in the hallway doors. I wiped down all the blinds. I identified a little too much with Brie Van de Kamp on Desperate Housewives; I yearned to have that kind of perfection in our home.
Then my daughter turned one, and 15 months, and now 18 months. She’s running circles around me, talking, expressing herself, and engaging in her own cleaning frenzies. I desperately miss her babyhood, those precious moments where she was all mine to cuddle and snuggle. I knew those moments would pass quickly, and I appreciated and savored her infancy, but there were moments when I could have let the dishes pile up for a day, or swept the dust piles into a mental corner to gaze a little longer into those long lashed smiling baby eyes. I could have let myself enjoy the time more if I allowed myself to shove the mess into the background from time to time.
This is why I want my daughter to lighten up on the cleaning already. I left the marker from her morning drawing session on her hands as sort of a test: can she let herself be a little messy and savor the moments of joy in her day? I hope I can teach her more than housework as I put myself to the challenge. I’m walking away from a perpetually messy kitchen to go blow some bubbles outside with my daughter. We’ll vacuum the crumbs off of the couch later.