I am wildly uptight when it comes to cleanliness and basic household etiquette. Think Monica from ‘Friends,’ but maybe a little worse (and for another day, let’s discuss the ‘Friends’ Haters… just stop, people. Stop it. I’ve watched it so many times, forwards and backwards, and you’re wrong; it’s delightful, and perfect, period).
My mother has long referred to me as fastidious.
I suppose cleaning is my way of controlling the chaos of life. There are worse “habits” used to control the uncontrollable, like not eating, binging & purging, excessive exercise, and I’ve dabbled with them all; but honestly cleaning is the one that makes me feel the most in control amidst the chaos. It’s not just the act of cleaning, it’s that a clean environment allows me to relax. And as far as addiction and personalities go, I repeat, there are far worse things than being fastidious.
It’s not just cleaning. I have to set hard boundaries within my living environment, too. You are allowed to be yourself in my home and not conform to my standards of cleanliness and I’m okay with it, but if you start to impose upon my boundaries I freak the fuck out. Maybe you do too and maybe you don’t even know it…
I have an almost 2-year-old toddler. Guess what he does? He throws food on the floor and thinks it’s funny, so I laugh and also try to teach him that food stays on our plate or at least on the table or preferably in your mouth to consume. And I don’t freak out, because he’s a baby and I can clean it and it’s totally fine. But when my 35-year-old brother in law does it and doesn’t give two craps about who will be cleaning it and what stain it may leave or that it’s happened at all, I start to panic. I swallow down the annoyance that starts to build up inside of me. I push it deep, deep down and I breath and smile, and I stare daggers at him, but I bury the pending freak out because he’s my guest, and family to boot.
I stare at his brother (my husband) and wait for a signal that it will all be fine and that he will clean it up and then I take several deep breaths, plan a 4 mile run, skip the next two meals, and buy and squirrel away a giant bag of dark chocolate covered almonds to shame-eat secretly, without sharing, and it calms the monster brewing in my belly.
You guys! It’s not just dropping food on the floor with abandon that gets under my skin: it’s the week’s worth of toothpaste stains on my new dark wood bookcase; it’s his toenail clippings in my high pile shag rug; it’s razor blades on the floor of the shower my toddler bathes in; it’s a beer bottle cap in the small hands of my 21-month-old who desperately tries to shove the jagged edged piece of metal down his throat after scraping it along his tongue.
Daggers staring down a dead man walking.
It’s wet underwear strewn across my front porch and wet towels left on top of stuffed animals to grow unneeded mildew and create more laundry that will be left for me to do. It’s empty Starbucks cups and plastic straws littering my front lawn. It is used tea bags everywhere, except in the trash.
It is so much more. It’s interminable.
And, AND it is all so unnecessary. UNNECESSARY. There are towel hooks for wet towels; there’s a dryer for your underwear; there’s a trashcan in so many different rooms plus several outside for EVERYTHING ELSE!
My eye is twitching right now, you guys. Writing this out for you is almost like reliving the frustration.
I watched for a week as our baby gates were treated as mere decorative obstacles and left open for his 35-year-old male convenience whilst my nearly 2-year-old eyeballed the staircase with Olympic-gymnast-enthusiasm.
I tell you this not to be a tattletale, not to open myself up to criticism regarding my rigidity, not to hurt feelings, but to understand myself better because I didn’t handle it well you guys. I did not.
You see, I couldn’t stop him, I couldn’t clean fast enough. The mess was OUT OF CONTROL! Dirt, stains, odor… CHAOS!
I set boundaries and I believed that manners were/are self-evident. I believed baby-proofing, dining tables, and towel hooks should invite use. I expected our houseguest to know all of this without having to be told. My home is not a hotel; that’s the guesthouse out back (see that blog post) and for God’s sake the total strangers renting that out treat it better (and pay us) than my B-I-L treated our actual home while we lived in it with him for a week.
And then I lost it.
At him. On him.
I freaked the fuck out.
And I told him that towel hooks are for wet towels to be HUNG ON and baby gates are not for the convenience of adults to use at will, but to protect the life of a BABY, and that knives & razorblades & sharp jagged beer bottle caps are DEADLY WHEN SWALLOWED and that it is MY HOUSE and he should TREAT IT WITH RESPECT.
Slowly he opened his mouth and without an ounce of thought he yelled back. Absurdities such as, ‘he didn’t know that it would require work to live with a baby’ and that ‘he didn’t know that toddlers cannot comprehend basic safety.’
So I banished him to his (my son’s) room where he screamed and threatened to leave (on the eve of his flight home).
I agreed he should leave. A hotel is a much better place to treat with reckless abandon.
He said nothing.
He didn’t leave.
And after an hour of separation and a loaded dishwasher and cleaned counters later, I invited him to come back downstairs.
He picked up where he left off – sullying every square foot of surface area I had just spent a very angry hour cleaning to regain the control I had lost.
That one cleaning left me with a night’s worth of control, and I felt better long enough to wish him well on his flight, take a family picture with genuine smiles, and not resent the weekend-visit-turned-into-9-long-days.
My house is not completely back in order by my standards, but it is back in my control and I can sleep more soundly tonight.
And those dark chocolate covered almonds are now out in the open for everyone to share, by everyone I mean new visitors and Jason.