For the past several years, my family has gotten together to do a big spring cleaning at my parents’ house. And when I say “family,” I mean my three siblings have done it. I managed to have perfectly legitimate excuses for the first years, you know, blah, blah, blah my son was having trouble in school and then I was getting a divorce. I might have milked that one for two years—pre, during and post-divorce is very time-consuming, you know.
Unfortunately, my life took a turn for the better, and I finally ran out of bad life events last year, so my Catholic guilt required me to sign up for the annual cleaning. And then I got lucky and a bad life event happened to my sister and she injured her knee. She needed more help than my parents, so we cancelled the weekend. My brother was a trooper and helped my parents out a bit and then headed to my sister’s to help her. It was a real sacrifice…for me.
But my sister’s knee is much better and here it is spring, and the cleaning weekend had once again cornered me.
It’s not that I don’t want to help my parents, it just seems I lack the proper genes. We come from half Dutch/Germanic stock—that pinnacle of orderly cleanliness, and somehow in the random genetic distribution, my three siblings got that gene that gives them satisfaction from cleaning, combined with a perfectionist streak. I seem to lack the genetic predisposition for both. When I must clean, I subscribe to my French Canadian grandmother’s method used at her little summer lake cottage. She’d “pass the vacuum,” meaning you just vacuumed in the places people can see. At the cottage the vacuuming was mostly just to pick up the very visible sand we kids tracked in from being in the water all day and running in and out of cottage for snacks and drinks. And I’m OK with that.
But my sibs…their genes make for some excellent cleaning abilities, ones I am embarrassed to admit I have benefited from and haven’t really reciprocated. Many years ago, my sibs and my mom came to the condo my then-husband and I had just bought. They cleaned it and babysat Lucas, so we could have a weekend away. They did a repeat performance just a few years ago when my son and I moved into an apartment that the landlord hadn’t had time to clean between tenants. They came and cleaned like pros for some take out and a couple of laughs. How lucky am I?
So I had to show up at my parents’ house. To make up for my less-than-perfect cleaning skills, I offered to bring food for dinner and my sunny personality. They know better, but were nice enough to accept anyway.
And a funny thing happened on the way to the familial homestead. I actually had fun. Cleaning. With my family. After pondering it for a bit, here are my top reasons why:
- No mandates. Unlike holidays, which can be forced marches of traditions, some you hold dear and others you would dearly love to chuck out the door, the cleaning weekend had no tradition, just a reasonable list of things my parents needed done, to be completed at your own pace. Huh, go figure.
- My two sisters, my brother and I all have different, non-overlapping skill sets. This seems to be key. You could imagine how the weekend would explode in a family where, say two expert bathroom cleaners would fight over whose toilet is more sparkling or two handy siblings would try to outdo each other fixing the roof, nail guns leveled at each other. We’re a pretty balance village:
- Julie is the Renaissance woman. She dusts and cleans and sews and looks up a new toaster oven for my parents online, takes my mother shopping for new rugs, listens when my mom says she needs a new bed, and cajoles my dad into washing the bed linen.
- Sharon is the bathroom cleaning queen and floor cleaner extraordinaire. With her serious arsenal of cleaning products and rubber gloves, she is a force to be reckoned with. She fearlessly laughs in the face of filth.
- Mark is happiest moving around, hosing down and cleaning carpets, doing yard work, fixing anything in or outside the house. He’s a one-man, lean, mean fix-it machine.
- Me? I wasn’t sure exactly what I could do, until my brother just suggested I pick a room and have at it. So I did. I dusted knickknacks, cleared out the cobwebs, wiped the frames of about 12 of my father’s paintings which cover most of the walls. I blew the dust off hundreds of books on three bookshelves. Then I became one with the cleaning and started moving furniture from against the walls and vacuumed behind, under, in corners. This was no “pass the vacuum” stint—this was the real deal.
- Together Sharon and Mark combine their powers, like the Wonder Twins from the SuperFriends cartoon in the 70s and 80s, and they tackle the kitchen floor. I gamely offered to help, but Julie shook her head silently at me in that “do what I tell you” older sister way. I knew to leave it to the experts when the Wonder Twins got into huddle and had a serious discussion about the right kind of floor wax to use and what stores carried it.
- You gotta have music—I played the Donna Summer radio station on Pandora, so mostly I was singing, dancing and cleaning. Best dance moment was when “Do the Hustle” came on, and barely missing a beat, my two sisters and I reached back into our gym class training from the 70s and performed a decent rendition of the dance steps. So, for the record, we did learn at least one thing useful in high school.
- You gotta have music part 2. I was cleaning the counter and chatting with my Dad and he started talking about how he knows all the words to Dean Martin songs, so I changed Pandora to that station and had fun listening to my dad sing along and jump up and do the rumba and Foxtrot. Forget Jagger, he’s got the moves like Astaire.
- Dazzle ‘em with your best foot forward and then run like hell. I gave my sibs fair warning about my lack of abilities/faulty genetic material/”passing the vacuum” ways. But I got into a grove with the living room, and then moved onto the den, dancing and humming. I got to the kitchen windows and they did me in. I’m not sure if it was because it was the end of the day or it’s too hard to dance on a step-ladder. Luckily it was dinner time and my sibs were all exclaiming how much work I’d done and I was way better than I said. Boy did I ever fool them! The next day I reverted to my old ways. I skipped vacuuming a whole section of the room between the bed and the wall that you can’t see from the door. The raised eyebrows when I confessed to “passing the vacuum” told me it was time to get a head start on the traffic and make a quick exit.
- My childhood cleaning muscle never went away. Just before I attempted the bedroom, I did vacuum the stairs like a pro. Why? We all had assigned areas of the house to clean as a kid and the stairs were part of mine. I started at the bottom and my body went into autopilot cleaning mode. This muscle memory does not seem transferable.
So there you have it. After years of dreading it, I finally showed up and had a decent time. I got a very strong reminder of how lucky I am to have parents who are still able to have a house we can clean and to have genetically enhanced cleaning siblings. See ya next year guys!
Photo credit: http://speedcleaning.com/category/spring-cleaning/