Cleaning with a vengeance

I had just completed my weekly rage-clean when I paused to admire my hard work and also to reflect upon whether this style of cleaning is typical.

Am I the only one who uses anger as detergent?

Certainly, my husband and I both rage clean to different extents. I rage clean the parts of the house that people see. He rage cleans places that are used so infrequently that you forgot they were even part of the house. Like the closet under the stairs that contains our stash of gift bags, loose tissue paper, buckets of unused paint and one red hummingbird feeder. Or he’ll clean the furnace room, or the shed. I’ve even seen him rage clean a fish tank.images

During pandemic season when we’re all cooped up inside, shedding our hair and skin cells, and dirty socks in the same square footage 24-hours a day, seven days a week, I have more opportunity to observe the personal hygiene of my family, and I am frankly appalled, which means there is more rage with which to clean than ever before.

The cycle of rage cleaning

It starts with a clean house; the floors are vacuumed and mopped, the kitchen sparkles, the bathroom mirrors are free of toothpaste and fingerprints. And then little by little it starts to happen.

First, maybe there are just a few crumbs under the kitchen table, which you sweep up because at the beginning you think you’ll be able to stay on top of it. Then there’s the single sock in the middle of the family room; beside it on the table is a partially empty water glass, and before you know it a plastic cup joins it. And then you turn your head and there’s a hoodie just lying in the middle of the floor with a granola wrapper beside it. You shout. Things get picked up, but never everything, and never in a timely fashion.

Then you walk into the bathroom, and what was clean yesterday is now covered in beard trimmings and when you look down all you see are pieces of your own long brown hair on the floor; look up, and you’ll likely even find it up there attached to the ceiling. What is the hair sticking to? Nobody knows.

You Lysol wipe the counter, but those wipes are hard to come by in a pandemic. And you think about vacuuming but to vacuum you have to pick up the 700 Nerf darts and 35 dog toys that are currently scattered around the house. It all seems impossible, so you just pour yourself a glass of wine because it’s 3 pm on a Wednesday, and you head outside because at least it’s clean out there, or sort of clean, because that’s where the dirt lives, and you’re basically just visiting the dirt at its own house, which is calming.

Eventually, however, you have to come back inside because that’s where the food is. Then you decide to make dinner, but to make dinner you have to find some counter space.

They break you

And that’s when it happens. You snap. It’s taken days to get here, but your family has finally broken you, and if you don’t rage you’ll cry, and dammit, you are NOT going to be bested by these little jerks that you birthed, so you slam the cupboard doors, toss plates into the dishwasher (thanking Jesus that you bought the ugly Corelle because it’s the only thing that stands up to a rage clean), and these sounds give notice: Everybody better pitch in or get the hell outta the way, because you have lost your ever loving mind, and the rage clean has begun.

16681986_601420956729865_4856545844268361857_nThe music is loud, but the house that was filled with animals, people and noise moments ago is now empty. Children who wouldn’t leave you alone long enough to take a 20-minute teleconference have all but disappeared into the mist. They have read the mood and scattered to the winds, giving you free reign to curse them loudly while they’re out of earshot. “They are SO GROSS! How are they so DISGUSTING! They are worse than ANIMALS! GAH!”

The heart rate monitor on your smart watch is pumping, because your rage burns calories; your rage gets shit done. Your rage is ALIVE!

But it’s for the greater good

Eventually it fizzles though, and you look around and realize that your house is clean again. You’ve ordered take out. The sound of the washing machine going through its final spin cycle is a lullaby. The vacuum hose gets wound up and tucked away in the closet, the floors are now dry, so the chairs come down from on top of the kitchen table. The gangsta rap that Alexa had pumped moments ago is suddenly Jack Johnson. You can hear the birds sing outside, and when your family returns from their sudden field trip to the driveway to play basketball you greet them with a smile and a “please hang up your hoodie.”

And that’s how it begins, for me, anyway.

A bottomless pit of parenting guilt

If you asked my kids what they did this summer (as I’m sure their teachers did today), they’d respond with the classic, “nothing,” and further elucidate that it was “fine.”

But let me tell you, their summer has been amazing. Stupendous. Chock full of memories galore.

Funny thing, though, just as we all begin flossing two days before our semi-annual dentist visit, I busted out the home reading books and sight words four days before the start of school.

And I groaned, and mentally chastised myself for letting the book-learning slip. My littlest child, for whom reading has never come easy, struggled through words that had stars behind them when he left his classroom on that final day in June. He grew frustrated and annoyed with my choice of books, and flatly refused to sit still, insisting that he’d read with me, “tomorrow” (which coincides with the day that my diet always starts).

What have my kids done this summer?

They’ve gone swimming more times that I can count. They’ve sailed down water slides, and turned over rocks looking for crabs. They’ve scooped up fistfuls of sand in a quest for clams, and took turns announcing theirs as the biggest, or most beautiful.

They’ve trapped jellyfish in travel mugs just to watch them pulse, and named them before setting them free. They strapped on lifejackets and paddled out into the surf in a kayak, one of them spotting a family of otters along the beach.

They’ve visited with grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles and cousins and even a great grandpa who refused to turn up his hearing aid so he couldn’t hear about great adventures, but warned us loudly (as he always does) to visit more, because he won’t last much longer.

They stayed up way past their bedtimes, and rode bikes and scooters in the neighbourhood with friends. They’ve bobbed around on lakes, and learned how to do backflips into pools. They’ve gone camping; they’ve eaten in restaurants and around fires.

I’ve ensured that they’ve experienced summer, its sunsets, its weird bugs and its skinned knees. They still smell of sunscreen even after they’ve bathed, or maybe they just smell of sunshine?

They’ve been healthy. There have been zero trips to the doctor, or late nights with big bowls. There have been no fevers, coughs, or stuffed noses.

But as the new school dawns I have so much guilt — not for the things we did do, but for the things we didn’t.

When our routine went out the window, so did the homework. Teachers ask us every year to keep up the great work, and to practice over the summer, but we didn’t, and that’s on me.

As is the case with so much of parenting, it’s easier to dwell on the activities that you didn’t do than it is to congratulate yourself for all of the things that you did. Contriving such amazing experiences requires boatloads of effort, and quite a bit of cash. Nightly reading and flossing is cheap by comparison.

But what does dental hygiene have to do with literacy? Guilt.

The guilt kicked in during a visit to the dentist last week where several cavities were detected. It was in this moment of handwringing that I began tallying up all the other ways I’ve failed my sweet children. Flossing. Reading. Probably not enough vegetables. They went to Sunday school with their grandma twice though, so that had to count for something.

How did I let this happen? Was it too many campfire marshmallows, and not enough gargling around the fire? Probably.

While looking into my child’s mouth the dentist saw the thing I didn’t do well enough, not the 999 incredible things I did. When my children head back to school this week, their teachers will sigh and see where I cut corners. They may even imagine my nightly refrain: “That’s OK. You’re tired. We’ll read tomorrow.”

And the guilt makes my tummy hurt.

So, here’s to the start of the new school year, the start of a routine that includes fewer campfires and jellyfish, and more vowels and fractions. Let’s give a cheer to those food groups we’ll welcome back into our lives again, and for the oral health that will once again take centre stage.

Mind you, if you were to ask my children what they did this summer, and they answered, “brush, floss, and practice sight words,” I’d probably get a failing grade also.

There’s no climbing out of this bottomless pit of parenting guilt.

Adulting: Reflections of a youngish old person

I’ve read a lot about “adulting” these days, and I laugh (and cry inwardly) at the tweets that  speak so much #truth about the experience of aging.

I’m younger than some, but feel “old” creeping up on me, and never more so than now as I recover from a serious injury, which has made me fully aware of my own frailty. 

c8b846eec8044acad2a656af85c41ec0c05b818b780a0f10d177e154cedb123a_1I had similarly aged friends over this weekend, and noticed something interesting: When grown ups get together, we often find ourselves competing to see who is the most tired, or the most sore (I win); according to the Internets, our favourite childhood memory is of our backs not hurting. We welcome those to the Over 40 Club with phrases like, “I hope you like Advil,” and it’s funny (and sad) because it’s true. After nearly eight weeks convalescing from my first broken bone, and fielding comments from my weekend friends who placed bets on how long it will take to heal, “now that you’re old,” and who asked about whether I broke my ankle due to “low bone density,” I get it. I truly get it. 

We make noises now when we stand up after sitting, when we bend low to get something from a cupboard, or when we have to reach high (for the Advil). Our joints click as we walk down the stairs, or when we yawn.

Last week, when I saw the surgeon for what I hope to be the last time, he stared at me sadly when I asked about my recovery, and my swollen ankle. I enquired about whether or not I’d ever see my ankle bones again, or those adorable small bones in the top of my foot that I had always taken for granted. 

He met my question with a sigh: “It’s never going to be the same, Danna. I don’t want to lie to you, but as good as it might get, it’ll never be the same. You’ll always have your left ankle, though.”

So now, as a youngish old person, I finally get it when I hear others speak of their good and bad bones and joints — their bad knee, the one in which they can feel the change of weather. I now have a bad ankle, and it will also likely predict the future.

The surgeon seemed to be about my age. In the exam room, in that moment of shared sadness, we were literally speaking of my ankle, but I felt we were figuratively speaking about all the things: Our energy levels, the foods that we can no longer eat, how often we have sex, how late we stay up at night (or how early we go to bed), the way our clothes fit, the type of podcasts we listen to (because talk radio is for old people and music is for kids), and the type of documentaries that we fall asleep in front of every single night.

But it’s not all bad. Like the doctor says, there’s still plenty of life left in parts of me. And becoming a youngish old person provides a new perspective, and allows me to focus more on the important things — the things I can control.

Like flossing.

I am older, wicked tired and pretty sore most days, but I have healthy teeth and gums.

And stretching.  

At first, going to yoga was just a way to escape my toddlers for an hour at a time, and to give myself the mental space to avoid a breakdown when they’d get out of bed for the 12th time to ask why we even have mountains. Or Spanish. 

But as it turns out, stretching is important, and never more so now that I’m a youngish old person. Trust me, youngish young people, someday you’ll feel silly going to your chiropractor or massage therapist and telling them that you “stepped weird and felt something pop,” or that you “sneezed once and now you can’t take a deep breath.” I know how foolish these words sound because I’ve said them.

Be smarter than I was.

 

Please buy my “vintage” junk

There are people out there who “live simply,” which I assume means that they don’t have children.

I aspire to live simply, but currently, “live ordinarily,” meaning that my house contains a lot of useless junk. And because we’re busy, and because I consider it winning if I manage to wipe the toothpaste off the bathroom mirrors and occasionally run the vacuum around, organizing, arranging and disposing of this useless junk is always going to happen next weekend.

So as an experiment, when the notice went around the neighbourhood to participate in an upcoming community garage sale, I put my name down figuring that committing to this nonsense would force me to empty out the closets and root through toy bins. Short of moving, this was the only thing I could think of to reduce our mountain of useless excess.

I made this commitment a month ago, and I’ve been stressed the hell out ever since.

I’ve never hosted a garage sale. The garage sale will take place in two days. I am not prepared.

What if I don’t have enough stuff?

Are there a suitable number of things one must offer up to qualify as an appropriately-sized garage sale? What if I’ve been overestimating the volume of crap I have in my house, and when the day arrives, I set up my table in the driveway and it contains only four things?

I have literally lost sleep over this in the past month. What if I don’t have enough garbage?

Then I began combing through closets and it became clear that I was not at risk of running short of crap. It was at this point that I became nervous about displaying my crap with the right amount of flare.

Showing off the goods

When fun, carefree wanderers set up stalls at the market to sell jewelry made of forks, or driftwood wind chimes, their booths look charmingly whimsical, but I bet money they Pinterest the heck out of their retail displays before trundling into the market square at the break of dawn.

But what they’re selling is artistic and fanciful, what I’m selling are four pairs of gently used soccer cleats, every single season of Entourage on DVD (it was a phase), and a bucket full of action figures. My wares are not whimsical, and as such, will be dumped onto old sheets of plywood balanced across Rubbermaid bins with a sign above that reads, “Everything for a dollar.”

I envision brisk sales.

At the heart of it

I’m putting on a Bandaid without treating the infection. I’m purging the worst of the garbage, knowing full well that I’m just making way for more. I’m stemming the flow, but I can’t hold back the tide. I’m not dealing with the root of the problem, but she’s my mother in law and I love her.

So please, if you’re not busy Saturday, come buy my “vintage” DVDs.

For the men in the office

March 8 (today) is International Women’s Day.

I could mark the occasion by writing about the mental load of motherhood; a subject that both fascinates and infuriates me. I could write about glass ceilings, about recognizing unconscious bias, about equity, diversity and inclusion, about how women need to be more intentional as they champion and empower other women, or I could write about some of the women who inspire me daily (there are so many).

But today I overheard a male colleague mention International Women’s Day, and he suggested showing his appreciation by bringing in flowers, or maybe pastry.

He wants to be an ally, but he’s missing the point. Shove your flowers and cake and whatnot. Creating balance in the boardroom isn’t easy, but there are simple things men can do, as colleagues, as allies, every single day. I’m not writing about institutional change. I’m talking about the small things that you do every day to remind us that we’re not like you. Bare with me if this sounds like womansplaining:

You take the notes
Next time you’re in a meeting, offer to take the minutes. I can’t count how many times I’ve been the only woman in a meeting, and when it comes time to decide who takes the minutes, all eyes turn to me. Today, and every day after, you’re going to offer to take the minutes. Minute-taking is gender neutral, and you’re going to be great at it! Let’s hear no more of this, “but you type so much faster than me,” garbage, either. I took Keyboarding 9 just like the rest of the 40-ish-year-old Canadians out there, so it’s not my fault if you haven’t applied yourself and you’ve let your skills lapse. Now’s the time to brush up.

Don’t ask me to bake (even though I’m amazing at it)
When that meeting concludes, don’t ask whether I’m going to bring goodies to the next one. Even if I had a refrigerator full of homemade cinnamon buns, I would NOT bring them to the boardroom so as not to set a precedent. How about you bring treats! (And don’t ask your wife to make them, either).

Share in the shit jobs
Does your office have a communal kitchen with a dishwasher? Mine does. It also has a refrigerator. The refrigerator gets cleaned when the women in the office finally get fed up, and I’ve yet to see a male colleague empty the dishwasher. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, I just haven’t seen it. (While we’re at it, I won’t completely discount the Sasquatch. Canada’s a big country. It’s possible.) Our office kitchen also has laminated signs instructing people what to do should they notice the dishwasher full of clean or dirty dishes, or if they are confused about the difference between compost and garbage. Allied men — how about you read the signs?

Keep inviting me out for drinks, even when I say no
A big barrier to the advancement of women in the workplace is that we often miss the informal networking that takes place outside the office due to domestic demands. We’re less likely to go for drinks after work, or cut out early on a Friday to fit in nine holes — not because we don’t WANT to go out for drinks and create rich networks of powerful people — but because domestic responsibilities fall disproportionately on our shoulders. We’re often the ones picking children up from daycare, and making sure they eat and get to hockey practice on time. Often, we also end up missing out on the informal networking that takes place in the cafeteria, as we use our lunch breaks to run errands. And we’re barred from these informal boardrooms if they happen spontaneously. If I’m going out after work, I need to arrange things, so tell me the day before, please.

If I actually show up, don’t ask who’s looking after my kids
Hands up if you’ve been at a conference, or gone out with colleagues after work, only to have a male colleague ask who’s looking after your kids. Wait, my husband’s hand is not up! That’s weird!

Creating equity in the workplace isn’t a joke, and it isn’t simple. But there are some simple things that our colleagues can do as allies, as friends, to create a more inclusive workplace. And we’d all be better for it.

Thoughts that keep me up at night

What problem are the removable liners in sports bras trying to fix? Is their primary purpose to solve the ages old horror of vague nipple shapes under tank tops? Or were they merely created to provide a nice, rounded shape to the otherwise lycra-flattened boob? I go to the gym often, and I run, and because of this, I own a lot of sports bras. If you’re like me, you’ve spent time fishing these fleshy-coloured flaps out of the wash, or poking your fingers inside the little slits on the side of the bra coaxing out the bunched-up liner, only to later attempt to reinsert it in the original position. There’s swearing, and origami involved in this process. And if you’re also like me, you’ve got a drawer full of odd-shaped fleshy flaps — like socks — that you hang onto because someday you might find the match, and then once again be able to hide your nipple shapes while you run. Let’s face it — some dude designed this terrible contraption, and then other dudes around other boardroom tables all over the world nodded their heads and agreed that it was a fabulous idea. And so here we are, ladies, drowning in mismatched fleshy flaps, hiding our nipples when really all we want is to go for a run and have everyone just leave us alone with our deep thoughts.

•••

At Costco, my 9-year-old is not allowed to try a piece of buttered toast until I say it’s OK. Which is fine. There might be peanuts, gluten, dairy and other dangerous things in that toast, and Costco doesn’t want to be responsible for my child’s anaphylaxis. I get it. But at what age do they start handing kids food? I’ve never seen anyone asked for ID at a Costco sampling booth, so do they have a standard “age at which you look responsible enough to know and understand your own food sensitivities?” Is that legal drinking/pot-smoking age? (19 where I live), or is it younger? Is it understood that by age 14 or so you’ve lived long enough to know not to eat dairy if you’re allergic? If there’s anyone out there who provides samples at Costco, I’m dying to know.

•••

My friend is preparing to sell her house, and as a result has been frantically renovating her bathroom and retiling the fireplace. She bought the tile for the fireplace two years ago, but it wasn’t until she decided to sell that she actually opened up those boxes. Meanwhile, I have a beautiful, two-person jetted bathtub in my garage. Someday, most likely in the weeks before we list our house for sale, it will move upstairs into our master bathroom. Until then, this gorgeous tub will collect dust (and empty pop bottles) in the garage, while also preventing us from parking inside. I’m often motivated to buy the things I need to renovate, but am very rarely motivated to actually renovate. It makes me sad looking at that gorgeous vessel knowing that I’ll probably never bathe in it, but even that sadness, and the bitterness of knowing that some stranger will delight in the beautiful bath, doesn’t prompt me to roll up my sleeves. It makes me sad — but not sad enough to actually renovate.