My Family (a long time ago)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Clean Does Not Equal Comfortable

I feel very uncomfortable when I go to someone’s house and the place is spotless. Not just the main room where you’re hanging out, but every room in the house. You go into the kitchen and there’s not a stray glass on the counter, there’s not even a hint of the remnants of a spill on the countertops, the stove top is perfectly clean, the sink is just gleaming and all the kitchen utensils, from spatula to ladle, are in their proper places, neatly arranged and in order. You go into the living room and there’s not even a molecule of dust or dirt visible to the naked eye, the magazines are neatly stacked by publication in date order, the coasters for drinks are all in their holder and the various remote controls are stored neatly. You go into the bathroom and you could practically eat off the floor, there’s not any toothpaste spatterings anywhere, there are decorative soaps that are never to be used and the towels are all perfectly matched, hung and clean.

These kinds of houses scare me because, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit of a klutz. When I’m there I’m always worried that I’m going to knock something over, or spill something, or worse, I’m going to break something. You know how that works; the more you worry about something, the more likely it is to happen. When sports teams play to not lose instead of playing to win, they usually lose. So as I’m sitting in the beautiful, immaculate living room and enjoying a drink, I’m afraid that the glass is going to slip out of my hand and smash on the coffee table, probably taking a divot out of the table for good measure. In reality, I’m not even enjoying the drink. While we’re eating dinner, I’m afraid that I’m going to drop my forkful of food onto the plate, breaking the plate and sending food flying across the room.

When I went over to some of my friends’ houses as a kid, they had whole rooms you couldn’t even go in. The first time I went to one of my friend’s house, we were goofing around and I ran into a room that seemed like any other. He stopped at the edge of the room and shouted, “Get out of there!” Seeing the panic in his face, I looked around, thinking his parents were in there or maybe a dead body was hidden in there. There was a couch, a couple of chairs, some lamps and end tables. However, everything was covered in plastic. I went to sit down on the couch and my friend practically burst into tears. “Don’t sit there! Get out of there now!” I loved the power I had at that point, but the sheer panic and lack of color in my friend’s face was freaking me out. He wouldn’t even go into the room. It turns out that the room was used like twice a year on specific Jewish holidays – and only on those days. He said that if his parents caught him in there, they’d kill him.

I can tell you we had no such room in my house. Every room in my house got used all year round. There were no off-limits rooms where everything was cover in plastic. Our house wasn’t the nicest, nor the neatest, but what can you expect with nine kids? As Mom used to say, we lived in our house. I guess that’s one of the things I remember most about our house. It was never spotless and things weren’t just so, but it was comfortable, homey and lived in. When my friends came over, they didn’t care that we didn’t have a brand new living room set or that all the magazines weren’t in perfect order. No, they were there to hang out and do what kids do – have fun. My kids have had to remind me of that on occasion when they had friends coming over unexpectedly. I’d look around the house and go into a little panic because the house wasn’t perfectly clean. When I’d start to tell them all the things that needed to be done, they’d just say that their friends didn’t care what the house looked like. It took a few times of this happening before I realized they were right. Kids don’t look around and make mental notes of the condition of a house or judge a person or family based on their house.

So come on over to my house, sit down, relax and have a drink without worrying about spilling it. If you’re expecting to see a perfectly clean, spotless house like you see in magazines, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re expecting to see a house that looks like people live in it, and a house that is warm and comfortable even in the middle of the winter, then you’ll feel right at home. Besides, even if there are a few stains on the couches, they are much more comfortable without a plastic covering.

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