My house has never been cleaner. I had forgotten how having a crawler in the family affects everyone's attention to clean floors. Sarah just turned one, and she not only has attentive parents, but also hyper-vigilant big sisters watching over her. Our anxieties are heightened by two facts: Sarah is deeply entrenched in the mouthing stage, and a dear family friend of ours recently lost a toddler to choking.
Needless to say, cleaning house has become a team sport. I've always prided myself on not being overly neat. I hate to watch friends or family stress so much about the perfection of their home that they are unable to host a playgroup. Everyone in the house, including the kids, is anxious, waiting for mom or dad to snap at the slightest sign of disarray. I've quelled the obsessive-compulsive side of myself and tried to focus on providing a comfortable, lived-in home in which the kids can thrive. All the fussing over perfection in decorating and spotlessness was not going to benefit the children in any way. In fact, the stress caused by an overly neat parent could be damaging to a child's psyche.
People may gasp at this admission, but I used to clean every two weeks. That was as long as I could ignore the piles of dog hair accruing in the corners. If people happened to be stopping by and it was well into the two- week period, I'd just lower the lights. Then, a few years ago, I went to work full- time. With my newfound income and less time on my hands, I hired a cleaning lady. She came only once every two weeks, but it was glorious. She cleaned UNDER things. My house looked like a different place after she left.
When I became pregnant at an Advanced Maternal Age, she became even more important.
Tell Doug you need her EVERY week, my mother said, worried about my blood pressure and doctor-recommended bed rest. And so she came. And it was good.
Sarah was born a little early, and through her first few months, I needed my cleaning lady even more. Sarah didn't like to be put down. Her tiny, bird-like body begged to be held all the time. My cleaning lady was great with kids. She made us all feel better. And the house sparkled.
Around Sarah's first birthday, though, I noticed something. When the cleaning lady came, I found myself moving from room to room, trying to stay out of her way and keep a very active, healthy toddler busy. Then it dawned on me. I don't need her anymore. I'm not working outside of the house; I'm not sick and I no longer have a very needy infant.
There was another variable affecting this decision, my older girls. Dani and Lauren, No. 1, need to learn how to clean and No. 2, need money. They are preteens who should be getting some training in household chores beyond picking up after themselves. They don't get an allowance, they get paid for work, and there's not much work being offered to them.
So I sadly bid my friend goodbye, expressing my hope that one day, she will return to us. Then we got to work.
Vacuuming did not initially go well and it's still far from up to par. The first attempt by my 11 -year -old ended in tears.
Why are you so hard on me?! (Because when you finish a room, I expect the dog hair to be gone with you.)
Dusting, however, has been mastered. The last time I let them help, they were too young. They were preschoolers and saw it as fun, a game and the cleaning products as toys. They would empty an entire aerosol can of wood polish on one table before I grabbed it away. Pushing the button on the can was so much fun. Windex would be sprayed on the sliding glass doors with such a heavy hand that a whole roll of Bounty wouldn't wipe it dry. Now, they get it. They know where to use the Pledge, the Windex and the microfiber dust cloth. Bathrooms are a breeze and time spent with the Swiffer is both fun and productive.
With Sarah and two dogs on the floor, as well as a husband who goes hunting regularly and forgets to remove his boots nearly as often, vacuuming has become part of my exercise routine. We are cleaning so often that the girls have begun to accrue spending money. Last weekend, Dani went out with her Nana and later informed me she not only bought Christmas gifts, but also her own lunch.
I never thought I would be excited about cleaning, but I am. My older kids are earning money, learning skills and feeling good about their abilities. My baby is safe. I am better exercised and have more pocket cash. They are cheap labor, after all.
Adriane Heine and her husband, Doug, own Dublin's Pub in West Scranton and are raising their three daughters in Waverly. Contact her at [email protected] or with column questions or suggestions.