Good Clean Fun
By Jennifer Brown
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. These familiar shampoo directions mirror the instructions that should come with our babies and toddlers: Feed. Clean. Repeat. We sometimes forget to put giggle, play and smile into the work cycle.
Mothering a preschooler is repetitive work that can seem never-ending. We wash dishes (that get dirty), fold clothes (that get unfolded), pick up toys (that get pulled back out) and change diapers (that, well, you know). Housework beats us down and saps our energy. It certainly doesn’t build us up and bond us to our children.
Yet when I stretch my mind back as far as I can remember, close to the days of my own toddler-hood, my fondest memories are of cleaning house with my mother. They are memories of Saturday mornings with the feel-good music of the seventies on LP records flowing through stereo speakers and the scent of Pledge filling the air. Even though she was a single, working mom doing it all on her own with two kids, I remember a joy that seemed to radiate from her as we cleaned house.
Later we moved to the country and in my early teens spent hot summer days mowing the lawn as a family. With my brother on the tractor, my mother on a riding lawn mower, and me with a push mower, it took about four hours to complete the job. But I don’t remember the work. I recall instead the spirit of fun, the radio bopping out eighties music and the smell of suntan lotion.
Surely this recollection had to come from my childlike perception. It seems unimaginable my mom was actually having fun. She certainly doesn’t jump for joy today at the suggestion of pulling out the vacuum; and take-out and plastic-ware are her friends. Surely she remembers it a different way. So I called and asked her: Was housework really that fun?
Surprise! Not only did she enjoy cleaning house with us kids on Saturday mornings, she reported that my brother fondly remembers the fun too.
Our days as mothers are full of chores, tasks and work to be done. While there is no way to change the facts, what we CAN change is our attitude. Here are some suggestions.
Why not put on some tunes, give your toddler a dust rag and start cleaning? Stop mid-vacuum to do a special jig for them and swing them through the air. As you sort laundry, make up a funny sorting song, even dropping the whites on their head. Put five different colored Fruit Loops in the toilet while you scrub and then guess with your child which one will go down last when you flush.
We can work on our standards, too. When a four-year-old folds the towels, they’re not going to stack very well, but it does it really matter? They’re just on their way to being dirty again anyway. Your two-year-old will leave lots of dust behind, but you can bet he’ll have fun with the rag.
My aunt often repeats a line attributed to my late grandmother, who always had a house full of family: “No one will remember if my house was clean, but they will remember if they had fun and were welcome here.” She was right; I remember her smile, laughter and love. I don’t remember if her house was clean.
In my household, cleaning attitudes are going to change. I’m going back to my youth and learning from the wise mothers before me. There will be music. There will be dancing. There will be laughter and fun. Oh, and maybe the house will even get picked up. If it doesn’t, at least we’ll always remember the fun.