It’s almost that time of year again—the time when my kids go away for a summer visit to their dad’s house in Southern California for a couple of weeks. I miss my kids when they’re away, but not right at first. Right at first I do a lot of skipping, and singing, and then once I leave the airport, I get sad. Typically, on the first or second day they’re gone, I do a deep clean of their bedrooms. In other words, I make it nice-nice so they can crap it up again. I leave the doors open so that I can enjoy the view; the sense of accomplishment I feel at taking their rooms from looking like a category 5 twister ripped through on its way home from getting a double root canal sans Novocain to Pottery Barn-catalogue-worthy, is huge.
As long as they allow me my twice-yearly cleaning frenzy, I allow them to live in their own filth. Not really. I have my limits. I don’t like clothes on the floor. I like clothes in one of four places: on one’s body, on a hanger, in a drawer, or in a laundry basket. I suppose it had something to do with my own mother’s insistence that I clean my room on the half-hour. Yes, I’m exaggerating, but that’s how it seemed at the time. But now, I get it. Clothes are expensive. We don’t do shopping as recreation, but when we need something. They seem to really appreciate it when we go shopping for clothes, and it hurts my feeling when I see their clothes trampled on. It also hurts my foot when I step on a belt buckle. When they get to college they can experiment with a horizontally organized closet on their floor.
I’m an optimist. I never give up hope that one day, my son and/or daughter will walk into their room upon returning from vacation, take one look at the dusted, cleared off desk with room for a book and a pen, and say, “Mom. I really don’t know how I ever lived like that. I shall forever embrace a clean living space.”
Sometimes, when I glance into their rooms and my vision becomes obscured by the blood seeping out of my eyes, another one of my senses take over: smell. The odor emanating from my son’s room has no category. I really can’t describe it, so I’ll just call it “wrong.” Like emotions, smells can be wrong or right. Like, when my husband feels sad because I’m staying up late to work, or because the Giants lost, I tell him he’s wrong.
“When are you coming to bed?”
“Oh, darn it. That makes me sad.”
“You couldn’t be wronger about that.”
“Huh? But I am sad. I don’t like to go to bed without you.”
“You are fine.”
“Well, I’m sad that the Giants lost.”
“No you’re not.”
“Yes, I am!”
“I’m sorry, but you are wrong.”
“Yes. You are fine. Now go to bed.”
When I open my son’s door and breathe through my nose, there’s just nothing right about it. I seriously feel pain. The only time I’m brave enough to enter is 1) when I’m super pissed off about something or 2) there is no two.
It’s a constant mental battle with myself every time I open his bedroom door: Do I leave it alone or tell him to clean it up? What’s the right thing to do? Is my health something I am willing to sacrifice? Where is haz-mat when you need them? Why do I care? Why can’t I just ignore it? Is my own room a shining example of how to care for one’s things? With this last question, my Woody Allen-esque internal struggle comes to an end and I back slowly away from the room, but not before sprinting to the window and throwing it open. Tomorrow, when the stank tank is empty, I shall clean, fully prepared for the fact that in less than 30 seconds after he returns, the carpet will have disappeared.