I really like to have a clean house. This is challenging because I live with a toddler. I never knew how much of a control freak I was until I involved my two and a half year old daughter in cleaning the bathroom.
Working with a toddler, my first lesson is that getting things clean becomes less important than keeping the walls dry. Trying to keep her (and me) from slipping on the wet marble, visions of us both cracking our skulls haunt me. But while she happily scrubs the walls with a terribly soppy sponge, she’s having fun while I freak out. I try to keep it to myself, though. I smile and encourage as much as I can. Because: I want her to learn that we clean the house sometimes. I want her to see that it’s not just a chore, that it’s fun. And she wants to help. I know that some day she will lose interest, so I try to savor the mess we’re making under the pretense of cleaning.
When I was in graduate school and working full time, I got used to watching my standards drop. It was not comfortable at first, but then a simple equation developed: The floor didn’t always need to be clean AND I definitely needed to read, write, etc. I’d clean when the semester was over.
Now, I have to decide how we live, I have to model things. To show my daughter how we should take care of our home. When I have the energy, I try to make tidying up the million pieces of Lego and the salad of doll clothing strewn on the floor (for the third time today) a game. I announce that she is not allowed to put away the red pieces, but only the yellow ones. (She stops what she’s doing and comes over. “Can I put green ones away?” she asks. “Well, I guess so,” I say, binning another piece, marveling that for one moment I am actually ahead of how her little mind works.)
Cleaning with a toddler is at least twice the work of cleaning alone. For a long time I would only clean when she was sleeping or out of the house. But, if I want her to learn that this stuff is important (at least while she’s not in graduate school) I’m learning the truth inside the cliche: the process is more important than the outcome.
And if it takes twice as long, at least the walls will be clean.