Week 14: How to Clean a Home

June 23, 2020

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I just want to preface this slide show with the sad, but in retrospect unavoidable, result: this did not succeed.

A few weeks ago, I spent half a day of my weekend — those precious 48 hours when I try to stay as far away from my computer as work and household bill paying will allow — working on a PowerPoint for my family about how to clean the house. It wasn’t my idea, mind you, to create a PowerPoint in the first place. I didn’t even know how. But Liam, our oldest, has been having Zoom PowerPoint parties with friends, wherein they make up slides about silly subjects and present them to each other. He’d been trying to get our family to have our own PP evening, and for two weekends in a row, I’d avoided participating.

Meanwhile, Liam entertained us with a presentation on who should play different members of our family in a biopic of Liam’s own life (we do live in L.A., after all). Eli compared jazz greats to different characters in the Avengers. Sarah took us through a tour of Harry Styles’ hair dos. And Bill analyzed three different bike brands, only to discover, to his shock and dismay, that they were all manufactured by the same company (it was a lot funnier in person than it sounds, written out like this).

Finally, it was my turn. As usual, I was stewing about the state of our housekeeper-less house, and the ease with with my offspring lounged about the furniture while I scrubbed toilets and their dad mopped floors. So I created a PowerPoint that I hoped would begin to solve my problem. The good news? The kids loved it. “It was so informative!” Sarah said. “Now I know all about which cleansers to use.” The bad news? I just had to point out to Liam that he may think he cleaned his bathroom, but there’s still work to do when I can see and feel the grime on the faucet. Ah well…

Anyway. On a day when I have a ton of work to do, not a lot of brain space left beyond it, and a house I wish was cleaner, I present to you:

Day 23: Spiders

April 17, 2020

Note: Saturday is my recharge day, so there will be no post tomorrow. Back on Sunday.

Those of you who’ve been following along here may remember that the middle kid has turned my home office into his music studio. It’s basically a portion of the detached garage that we converted to a room. These days, the sound of jazz trombone wafts from there at all hours. He throws back La Croix drinks and stacks the empty cans until they reach the ceiling. And he keeps the place like a sauna, turning up the space heater to 79 degrees, never mind our balmy So Cal weather.

Turns out he’s not the only one who craves hot, enclosed spaces.

This morning, he came in to find his trombone stand covered in tiny baby spiders. “Hundreds of them!” he reported. Horrified, he tossed the stand in the driveway (I’m assuming he washed it down, but perhaps he left the little things to wander about our backyard, finding new homes. Better not to know.)

Then, because he had a Zoom class, he sat down at the desk and flipped open his laptop.

About an hour later, he started to search for his visitors. Nothing on the windowsill (where they usually make their home in this room). Nothing in the corners, nor on the walls. He was about to declare defeat when he happened to look up. The ceiling was covered in spider webs.

Or so I’m told. I declined to go outside and see for myself. “This must be why I’ve had all those bites!” he said. Of course, there could also be creatures hiding amid the piles of dirty laundry in his bedroom, but let’s hope he’s found the culprits.

An hour later, he’d swept and vacuumed and when I went in, there wasn’t a trace of web or black creepy crawly to be found. The only thing really left to do is for his mother to clean up her clutter — which I promised I would do tomorrow morning.

I should’ve done my part weeks ago. But when I’m finished, and all my stuff is stowed or thrown away, the space will be really, truly his.

Day 10: Time

Saturday, April 4, 2020

It’s not all bad, these coronavirus days.

There are times I really like having nowhere to go. This rush we always live in, this must-get-here and have-to-get there — vanished. I had no idea that was possible. I’d assumed I’d be metaphorically out of breath until the day I died.

I have friends and family who despise sitting still. For them, this time is a trial. Take my mother. My whole life, she’s been on the move. Even in her 80s she keeps up a hectic schedule of gym workouts and competitive bridge and art classes and UCLA basketball games and dinner out on Saturdays and travel around the world.

No more. Now she and her longtime partner stay at home while my 21-year-old son and 17-year-old niece go to the market for her. “I just don’t know how much longer we can all do this,” she says to me on the phone, nearly every day.

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I could do this for a bit longer. Quite a bit longer.

When I was a child, all I ever wanted to do was stay in my room with the door closed. There I had my stack of library books, which usually included something by Louisa May Alcott, a volume from the Narnia series, a biography of somebody famous I wanted to grow up to be, and a couple of new novels about girls, or magic, or both. I had a chest of drawers, wherein I kept a diary with a real lock that could be opened with a real key (or jimmied in about two seconds with a twisted paperclip). I could lug from my closet suitcase-style boxes covered in patent leather and filled with Barbies and their wardrobes. Eventually, I got my Barbies a three-story house with a pink plastic elevator that went up and down on a pulley.

Short of a bathroom (down the hall) and food (produced on the regular by my busy, efficient mother), there was nothing else I needed. My younger brother, more like my mother than me, would have loved a playmate. But I drifted in the happy haze of my alone time, which seemed to stretch out before and behind me as far as I could see, mine for the taking. Every once in a while, my parents would drag me out for a bike ride, or to participate in a soccer game with other kids my age. But every day, as soon as they let me, I found my way back to my room, and my particular world.

Eventually, homework intruded. Then outings with friends. Boys. When I was 17, we moved from the house in Encino, where my room had wallpaper in a Wedgewood pattern of strawberries and pink flowers, an apple green carpet, a pink-and-white checked comforter and white eyelet trimmed curtains framing a view of a tree that burst into blossom every spring. Our new house in Calabasas was twice the size and, we all thought, twice as nice. But my room was painted an off-white. It lay over the garage, so every time someone came home, it vibrated like a minor earthquake. And it faced west, which meant that every afternoon from June to October, there wasn’t enough air conditioning in the world to cool it down.

Plus, by then I was busy. A calendar was no longer merely an indicator of the week or month, but a page to fill with plans. Time to myself had become what happened when every other plan fell through.

My life since then has followed a textbook path: college, then grad school, then career. Husband, then one kid, then two, then three. Playdates and birthday parties, dance practice and soccer games. A dog who needs walks. Freelance work and carpools. SAT tutoring and college counseling. Slipped into the cracks, little treats for me like a book club, a subscription to the theater with my husband and neighbors, writing groups, weekday dinners out with friends.

And always errands, errands, errands.

Then this spring a virus hit, and it all stopped. I usually worry I will miss out on something by staying home. But my friends zoom into my computer on video chats almost every evening. My parents and brother, no longer darting from here to there, pick up by the second ring. And my three kids, now 21, 19 and 16, are around. Not around like little children, in my face, demanding this, requiring that. Rather, they drift about the house, colliding softly here and there, mostly leaving me alone but generally available if I want to talk or watch a show.

I feel bad saying this, because my husband’s life is as busy as ever. His stress has multiplied many times over. But this temporary life — this life brought to me by a deadly virus that is ripping through our society like a knife through a body –feels like something once lost, now found.

It feels like time, rolling out around me, mine again for the taking.