It was a day off for me and instead of laying around watching ST:TNG reruns while eating baloney out of the package, I decided it was time for my monthly deep-cleaning of the girl’s room. Not that there’s a circled date on my calendar for this sort of thing but it’s something that just happens with the precision of moon phases or DAV robo-calls. If it’s mid-ish month, mounds of trash have been cascading from their room for the past week or so like a cartoon closet full of tennis rackets and bowling balls, the floor is shin deep in shredded coloring books, stray bears, computer games tossed for sucking, socks doomed to eternal loneliness, and anything else children can find, endow with momentary fascination, then disregard immediately as the next new thing grabs a nascent thought. As my fascicule month nears its reckoning, there is almost nothing I can’t find on that floor; two Barbies bathing nude in one of my best sauce pots and three fingers of root beer, a de-ionizing air-cleaner rendered impotent with oreos shoved into every intake slat. I could trip over the corpse of a cop and instead of asking how he got there, I’d probably be screaming about why his mouth was stuffed with chess pieces. My monthly task is not just a matter of hedging against the collapse of my house: it’s public safety.
I tell you this - your way of life is assured only because I spent my day off picking the numbers of the beast out of shoes and reapplying them to the refrigerator.
A week or so after I’ve shoveled crayon remnants and doll parts from beneath beds, dredged puzzle pieces from underwear drawers, scrubbed spilled juice from various surfaces, dusted, vacuumed and arranged everything just so, a localized apocalyptic event will hit again, most likely while I’m trying to read or pull a chicken out of the oven. Not a blink of an eye or even a shrug of a shoulder but damn it hits quick, savagely, Katrina times ten in an eight-by-twelve with me as George Bush, saying, “What the… I play a little guitar and THIS happens,” while the girls look around, look at me, and then say to one another, “we better get the hell out of here!”
It takes a couple weeks of trauma before I can motivate, the destruction is just too dispiriting. Kid clothes pile up in the laundry basket (because there’s no access to the dressers) and the detritus begins to infect the rest of the house, plastic tea sets in the silverware drawer, Bratz camped out behind the toilet paper roll. At that point, I know my month has ended. Garbage bags, shovel, vacuum in hand, I enter their room, heroically, intent on putting the universe back to tilt and ignoring the whisper in my ear, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate.” There are several levels I need to pass through before I’ll fully realize exactly how wretched things will be and what I will need to do. Shovel shit, scrape my knuckles, and deal with a thousand stuffed toys. There’s no glory in any of it other than I know that the world will be safe for another week or so.
I try to put it all back (the toys, books, and such) but in that, I’m the villain, the tyrant, the anti-Solomon. The girl’s silent negotiations of stuffed animals, pacts I’m not privy to and for which I’ll be chastised for getting wrong, will come back to bite me. The lecture I’d give interrupted by the inevitable trading of animals and incessant whispering of “wait till next week, heh heh.” Not in Italian (I’ll have to wait a few more weeks for that) but in the language of sisters - something I will never know.
My girls might not believe that a dirty room breeds rats and cockroaches (come to think of it, Lilly might think that’s cool, she’s been pleading for a hamster) but they do believe that big star is the North Star, that the difference between E.L.O. and Mozart is lifelong listenability, that chicken cooked in olive oil and bits of garlic is far superior to nuggets. They believe in so many correct and incredible things, it’s hard for me to fault them for not believing that a dirty room will drive them as insane as its driven me, that it won’t be the end of the world. Let them do what they do well and not nurture nitwits.
Still, I want them to have no problem insisting, it’s your goddamn mess, you clean it up. If there’s anything they believe, their wrecked room isn’t Daddy’s fault and Daddy isn’t happy about it. He’ll smash things, set Christmas presents on fire, stick kittens through with a big fork and shake them in the air, quoting Slayer lyrics. Or so they’d believe if they saw Daddy doing those things but of course, all they get to see that Daddy keeps a clean house. Obviously, example is not enough.
It was a good day, a Zen day, just doing that one thing that needed to be done. Right now they’re doing their homework, learning how to be them, doing those things that need to be done. They have their own Zen, I have to earn mine.
Cleaning a room is nothing, really.