I’m always surprised when people exhibit surprise that I clean; and am further surprised when they are shocked to observe that this assertion is true.
“Wow,” I’ve heard many times, “You really cleaned up.”
But it was not until my time here with my wife, that I thought there was anything unusual about a man cleaning. I grew up among men who clean. The men in my mother’s family in particular were meticulous with the care and appearance of all their possessions; cloths, rooms, bicycles, cars, etc... My father too was extremely organized (though less meticulous) and taught me the many benefits of proceeding through your work systematically.
I also hung out in the Boy Scouts - no joke - and spent a great part of my weekends as a young man outdoors and camping. There I learned to cook and to clean.
“Leave only footprints,” was the motto we were trained to live by while in the woods.
So cleaning was an integral part of my life from before I was aware that men as a gender had a reputation for not cleaning. Cleaning now is, luckily to my mind, so much a part of my person that no counter training can take it out of me. It’s as much a part of my life as baseball, reading and car maintenance; removing cleaning from my character would be like trying to extract a specific metal in a hardened alloy.
That being said, I would like to offer the single principle that is required for anyone who wishes to organize or clean.
When confronted with a dreadful mess (there are many), always start by making a place for your work to occur. In the office, this would be a clean desk; in the basement, this would be a tool bench; in the yard, a tool shed; in the kitchen, the sink, the strainer, the dishwasher and a portion of the shelf. Start by clearing a space to work.
When I make myself a place to work, it’s like establishing a beachhead for an army to land on. It’s a safe zone to begin the greater good that I hope to accomplish in that space.
You may, depending on the size of the mess, need to over stack another messy area in the zone in which you are working. This is okay. It may for the short term, make the mess slightly larger than it was. This is okay too. Because without that work zone, you will be doubling or tripling the time to complete your task.
“Keep your work area clean,” I remember my shop teacher repeating over and over again in Junior High, “You’ll avoid an accident and make your work better.”
At the time, I was both annoyed with the mandate awed by the confidence with which he spoke the words; it made me uncomfortably aware how much I had to learn. But it also gave me a simple principle I could get started with.
Keep your work area clean.
People always seem surprised that I cook, but never for the same reasons.
There is one camp that compares me with the general population and assumes that I just cannot possibly find the time to put together a home cooked meal, much less execute on a nightly basis. When I tell them about my cooking they ooh and aah with disbelief. It reminds me of my daughter's book, StellaLuna, a tale of a fruit bat who loses her mom and lives with birds in a nest. When she rediscovers her bat friends, they exclaim, "
You ate bugs!"
"You slept at night!"
Similar shock seems to reign in my conversations with statements like,
"You cut the carrots yourself?"
"You grind your own meat?"
"You bake your own bread?"
These kinds of tasks have become part of my daily routine, and so they don't seem very special until my friends and family point out that not too many folks are actually doing like work. It is flattering and at the same time discomforting that I stand out from my peers in this regard. I wish I had more friends with whom I could compare notes and trade recipes. I would love to have more shared time in the kitchen, poring over recipes and pouring another cup of tea for two (or more). Breaking bread together makes friends, but baking bread together makes best friends.
When I was working full time there was another camp that simply refused, REFUSED to believe that I did much less could cook. People would come to my house and act like I had brought the food in, as if I were trying to pull the wool over their eyes. I recall my daughter's first birthday; ok, I admit I went a little overboard. I made homemade hummus and sesame noodles. There was a huge grilled platter, and I also made the birthday cake (which was truth be told, fabulous). One guest made a comment that it must have been catered (and expensive); I knew from the derisive tone that it was not a compliment. Similar remarks have been put forward regarding my sewing my (albeit rare) cleaning, and even my mothering. I know in my mind that these folks are just projecting their own anxieties, but my heart still hurts everytime I get those remarks.
And then there is the final group, which clearly passes judgement on how my husband and I have divided responsibilities in the house. "You have a husband that cleans!" is a dual sword. On the one hand, I think some folks are jealous because a) the house looks great due to Dave's efforts, b) we eat very well due to my efforts, and c) our marriage has managed to hold up under this arrangement. On the other hand, there tends to be an undertone of "Isn't that your job, woman" to the entire operation. And it is a fair question, especially now that I am home with the kids. I do what I can, but honestly cannot manage a house, 2 kids (one of whom has special needs and endless appointments), shop, cook, and clean more than twice a day. I just don't have it in me. Thankfully my husband is exceptionally good at cleaning and kind enough not to foist those painful expectations on me. In marriage, I find that knowing each other's strengths is important, and accepting each other's limitations (self imposed or otherwise) is crucial to shared understanding. A little kindness goes a long way.
Sometimes it is bumpy and messy, but overall this works for us as a couple and family. I am proud of all that we do, and love our home.