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Mediocre Mom Manual: Cleaning – Yeah, I Suck At That Too

messy house

I’m at that blah middle place in my life right now; that place where I wonder what it is I’m supposed to be doing with my life, why on earth my children want to live here, and what I can do to make them change their minds. Well, not really. It’s probably a typical case of Seasonal Light Disorder from lack of anything resembling a warm, sunny day in what feels like the longest winter of my life. I’m suffering from a stunning case of lethargy and find myself wandering around the house with a million things to do and no energy or motivation to do them. Cleaning my house is one of these tasks. In fact, it’s been at the top of my list since January. I’m the first to admit that for a stay-at-home-work-at-home mom, I fail miserably in the Domestic Chores arena. Keeping my house neat and tidy is on the list of “Things I Suck At.” (Sadly, it’s not alone.)

When I married my husband over 12 years ago, I had visions of how I wanted to be. How I wanted my house, how I would act and behave, how I would rule my little domestic paradise. My home would be organized and clean, well decorated and cozy, full of indirect light and honey colored walls that made you want to snuggle up with a good book and a warm cup of tea. I would deep sigh at my lovely abode, my immaculate carpet and revel at how very much my home looked like those pristine sets in the Pottery Barn catalogue.

I think it was about Day Four of my marriage when that image started tilting and I found myself hanging onto the magazine page as I raced around trying to pick up and keep organizingorganizingorganizing, looking at the page and then my house and then the page and then my house, and now the page has faded and I realized that I was holding the wrong damned magazine.

Every now and then I have those little revelations—the clouds clear and that heavenly glow illuminates the darkness—and I realize things I previously had not known, or perhaps would like to have ignored. I had one of those epiphanies the other day, as I glanced around my house after a long, long, week.

There is nothing like being outside of your home for a moment, say running an errand, to make you aware of the true state of things upon your return. I ascended the five steps to the upper level and briefly scanned the living room, where pile upon pile of domestic clutter greeted me. Toys, papers, computer bags, duffel bags, and books. There were piles on the mantel. There were piles next to the couch, on the couch and under the couch. Clean laundry, dirty laundry, too small clothes, out of season clothes, and these-do-not-belong-to-us-clothes. Piles on every available surface in the kitchen. Old food, empty cereal boxes, clean cups, dirty cups and toys the kids play with. I headed toward my bedroom, high-stepping my way over laundry piles, realizing there were probably more clothes on the floor than in all the drawers in my house combined.

My bathrooms smell like pee. It’s difficult to admit, but I occasionally glance around to verify I am actually in my bathroom and that the doorway didn’t go all Narnia on me and send me reeling into a nursing home. The opening of the toilet bowl is 10 inches (I’ve measured) but that is clearly too small an opening for a 1 cm stream of urine, because inside the bowl is never where the urine ends up. There is more hair on my bathroom floor and in the corners of the bathtub than are currently growing on my head. That linty-dusty-black-film has infiltrated the corners of my floors—especially behind the door—and for the life of me, I cannot find where this originates. After lining the toilet seat with butt tissue in my own home—afraid of catching some new disease—I used the restroom and left, shutting the door behind me. Perhaps with enough wishful thinking that door will in fact become an entry way to another, cleaner universe. I high stepped back to the bedroom to lay down for a little respite (for some reason my head was spinning) and realized I couldn’t do that either.

My bed looked like a homeless doll shelter. There were more babies, stuffed animals, doll blankets, and miniature pillows on my bed than reside in FAO Shwartz. I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been made since I got married in 1998. As I tried to butt-slide onto the bed, the air from my movement caused a small dust-surge from my side table, which glistened beautifully in the light streaming through my cobwebbed covered windows. This was not restful. This was not respite. And believe it or not, this was not the epiphany.

The epiphany came when I high-stepped back through the hallway into the kitchen littered with yesterday’s old dishes and dirty saucepans, opened the refrigerator to be greeted by cancer-causing molded food and a painters pallet of doorway condiments, closed the refrigerator in disgust, wiped crumbs-and-chunks off my bare feet from the kitchen floor while cursing and realized:

We live like this more than we don’t live like this.

Which makes me one of THOSE people. THOSE people who live in filth and squalor, whose houses you are afraid to go into because you’re never sure what you’ll be sitting on or what you’ll be breathing. I’m one of THOSE mothers who just can’t get it together enough to keep her house clean (read: What does she do all day, she stays home after all), and lives in one of THOSE houses (read: It’s sooo pretty on the outside) and I’m pretty sure that CPS would have some ammunition if it weren’t for the way I wipe everyone’s noses before sending them outside. (I can at least pretend I have a good game.) I’m one of THOSE people who apologize up and down for the current state of their house and how busy it’s been, how it was clean last week, while the guests nod and offer up, Oh don’t worry about it, Puh-lease, I’m not concerned at all, I totally understand… but what they are really thinking is, This is disgusting. How does she live like this? I’ve got three kids and my house looks WAY better. How does her husband put up with her slovenly nature?

This epiphany hit me and I realized that not only am I not Pottery Barn, but my house really belongs in an episode of “Hoarders.” What I’d really like to do is stand on top of my life’s roof and exclaim at the top of my lungs, “I CAN KEEP A CLEAN HOUSE, REALLY, IF IT WEREN’T FOR THIS FAMILY THAT LIVES HERE WITH ME!” if for no other reason than it might give people pause before they nod their heads muttering under their breath, “Poor wretched woman… Poor wretched family…”

After this epiphany I did what any good mother—heck good woman—does when faced with a Truth of this proportion: I grabbed my gardening book and sat on the front steps and read about planting vegetables. There’s no way this house is gonna change, say before the kids go to college, so why bother? What’s my hurry?

I have decided it is easier to hand people a hospital mask and latex-free gloves than to try and dig myself out of the hole that has become my home. My two hands simply do not work as fast as the six other hands working against me. I have decided to be a positive thinker and find the sliver lining. At least my children will have a strong and healthy immune system. My guests will have such low expectations that the slightest bit of straightening will elicit oohs and ahhs. I will be able to read those poems about old age and regrets and never be able to relate to the one that says, “I would have cleaned less and played more.” Because clearly, playing is all we do around here.

Am I the only mother who sucks at cleaning? Feels it’s a futile waste of my energy? Anyone else had an epiphany about who they thought they’d be and how they ended up? I’d love to hear what you suck at and how you cope!

Rachel Vidoni is a professional writer and blogger and former classroom teacher. She is a mediocre mother to three pretty neat kids. You can follow her humor and family blog at You might not be a better parent after reading her blog, but you will feel like one.


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