When clean becomes a dirty word

As the years pass by and I look back on the first five years of my children’s lives, I suppose my memories will soften, but if I were asked right now to sum up life with toddlers in one word, that word would be “sticky.”

This profound revelation came over me as I cleaned up yesterday in preparation for the arrival of a longtime friend who had not yet seen my home. The term “clean” was once a simple issue with me, back when I had the time and energy to be a clean freak. I now have several levels of “clean” for my home, prompted by being the wife of a messy-but-lovable pack rat and the mother of two pairs of every-sticky little hands.
There is now “everyday” clean (the only visitors also will have children), “downstairs only” clean (for those who will have no opportunity to explore the upstairs apocalypse), and the exhausting “first-visit” clean. I barely survived the first six months in this house when everyone wanted a complete tour.
I now try to spend most of my time with other moms who are oblivious to the stickiness quotient. In fact, in my circle a too-clean house is considered rude and antisocial. You will receive no visits, and the playgroup all will have colds when it’s your turn to host. But as I cleaned with extra scrutiny for the arrival of my friend, I realized how easy it would be to prepare a simple test to determine just who is really emotionally prepared to become a parent.
•    Does it bother you to have your sweater stick to the arm of a chair when you get up to leave?
•    Does it bother you when your shoes make the “snack, snack” sound as you walk across the kitchen floor?
•    Do you classify bits of leftover paint and Play-Do as dirt or art?
•    Do you think that small toy parts add color and charm to a room’s décor?
•    Do you require that your lawn be free of half-inflated pool toys in order to look groomed?
•    What bothers you more – a stack of dirty clothes that need washing or a stack of clean clothes that need folding?
•    What bothers you more – a stack of dirty dishes or regular dinner off of paper plates?
•    Do you have a favorite color of Tupperware cup, and do you know the proper way to use a Sipper-Seal?
•    When you see a glass-topped coffee table, do you see:
•    a handsome piece of furniture?
•    a certain trip to the emergency room?
•    the need for Windex in industrial-sized drums
•    Do you own or have you ever lusted after white carpeting?
•    When you see a child wrestle a 2-day-old Cheerio away from the dog and eat it, do you feel:
•    nauseous?
•    relief at one less thing to vacuum up?
•    delight that the child is finally eating something?
If any doubt remains after checking the answers, you can ask just how much they like sleeping in, or sleeping, in general. That one’s sure to break the tie.
Everything in life should be this simple.

At deadline, Jean Gillette was off to her all-grown-up son’s wedding. Here she shares a fond look into parenthood past. Contact her at jgillette@coastnewsgroup.com.

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