Saturday, October 21, 2006

Kids and Cleaning: Do They Really Mix?

Although the phrase, “Clean your room!” is uttered by every parent to every child twelve zillion times a day all over New Canaan and the rest of the cities, towns and villages in all of the 50 states, the cleaning is something that seems to take kids a very long time to understand, let alone follow through on in a meaningful manner.

If you are the fellow parent of a teenager, you know exactly what I mean. “Clean” means shove everything under the bed or into the closet. Even clothes you have just freshly washed and folded and placed onto their unmade beds are thrown willy-nilly into the laundry hamper, rather than placed in dresser drawers. Hand them a can of Pledge and a rag and they will most likely just spray the scent into the air and use the rag to circulate the lemon fragrance throughout the room.

The faulty cleaning gene goes beyond the teenage years, unless of course you are lucky to have a child in the military – as I do – and then they truly understand tightly made beds, mopped floors and clean-until-they-shine toilets.

Last week I traveled to Astoria, Queens to my son Kenny’s apartment to offer my cleaning services. Four young men are sharing one bathroom. It was an absolute horror; worse than anything I have ever seen in the way of filthy. The cleaning up literally had me gagging, but the toilet was so disgusting that I didn’t dare throw up in it for fear I’d never stop. I relied on bleach fumes to keep my lunch in place. Disinfecting the bathroom was all that I could handle that day.

I left all of my cleaning substances and several rolls of paper towels behind with a strong suggestion that Kenny and his cohorts actually use them. More than once a year. I highly doubt I will be making a return cleaning engagement.

When Kenny and Blake were about 9 and 10, I would ask them nicely to pick up their toys ands clothes in their bedrooms. After the second request would go unheeded, I took some advice I read somewhere and would take a black, plastic trash bag and simply put everything that was on their floor into the bag; I wasn’t going to throw the bag out. But they didn’t know that. I only had to do this about three times before they got the message.

Younger children usually delight in helping mommy and daddy to clean things – spraying the window cleaner and mopping it up with loads of paper towels; trying so hard to navigate their sheets and blankets to made their bed; helping to push the vacuum cleaner over the rug. Yet at some point – usually around kindergarten or first grade – they seem to lose interest. And ability.

Blake began washing his own clothes in about the fifth grade (Kenny was in college before he ever met a washing machine!), and Jack, 9, learned his way around a washer-and-dryer in third grade. I introduced Janet to the vacuum cleaner late this past fall, but she hasn’t been especially interested in making another date with the Dyson since.

Because I work at home more these days, I let our cleaning woman go.

“What?!” screamed Janet when I told her. “Who is going to clean my room now?”

I simply smiled at her while she grimaced, realizing the harsh reality of what my smile meant. And then she quickly recovered.

“Oh good, “she said like a princess before closing the door to her bedroom on my Cheshire cat face. “That means you can clean it!”

I’ll have the last laugh though: the only princess she will resemble will be Cinderella before the Ball. I’m so wicked. But it’s all good, clean fun.

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