don't come around here no more

don’t come around here no more

I

was eavesdropping on two mothers talking about the housecleaning that awaited them upon their return from school.

“I have to get motivated,” one said to the other. “It seems like by the time I get the downstairs clean, it’s time to get started on the upstairs again.”

I pretended to read my book. In this way, I could avoid being drawn into a discussion that might reveal my problem. I did manage to check out their appearance from behind my sunglasses, in between fake page turns. And you know what? These women even looked tidy.

There isn’t a lot of housecleaning that goes on in my home. You could say it’s a lack of motivation, I suppose, but I think it would be more accurate to say that it’s about a difference in priorities between me and most of the rest of the world. My days are a blur of drop-offs and appointments, laundry and grocery store runs. I have honestly struggled to find a reason to spend what time I have not doing these things on sweeping the desert and dog hair that’s accumulated underneath the sofa, but I have to tell you that it’s hard. What usually rouses me to some kind of action is what I call some “smell of urgency” from the bathroom.

When such a dire situation arises through a combination of benign neglect, warmer weather and two boys who can’t aim worth a damn, I gather the implements of cleaning and set out for the targeted area.

“Why are you cleaning?” Peaches asks me without fail when I pass her in the hall, armed for battle. “Who’s coming over?”

Because they’re on to me, you see. They know that cleaning is not something I care about for its inherent value, but rather for how the impact it has on the more delicate sensibilities of others.

Here’s another wrinkle in my cleaning conundrum: when I start scrubbing or dusting or doing some other penitential-seeming act that ends with -ing, I get weird. I go from having no standards to being some spiritual heiress to the legacy of Lady Macbeth and that crazy old hotel lady, Leona Helmsley. I bark at people and can’t delegate a single wipe around the sink. It’s like when I finally steel myself to look the filth in its grimy eye, I know that there is only one of getting out of this bathroom/kitchen/closet alive and it’s going to be me.

“I hate it when you clean,” Scott will say from the relative safety of the bathroom door.

It’s been years ago now, but a much tidier friend—one of those souls who rejoiced aloud about children’s weekends away because of the hours it opened up for her to de-clutter everyone’s room—related a story she’d heard from her mother-in-law. It seems that in her village back in England, there was a woman who had to move magazines and books to make room for your teacup. Her home was famously, notoriously cluttered.

“But both of her children went to Oxford,” she added at the end with a note of consolation.

I have held onto that story like it’s my own Velveteen Rabbit, worn smooth in places from where I’ve loved on it so.

Somewhere in this house, Oxford is hiding. You just have to move some things around to uncover it.