At twelve years old, I needed to learn to take care of myself, including cleaning places I’d been.
I was sufficient at making my bed — no change could be bounced from the mattress I assure you, but it passed maternal inspection.
I kept my room tidy, mostly because of the onset of slight OCD. I didn’t share that tidbit; I took full credit for conscientious behavior and order following, as I did love allowance.
I vacuumed occasionally, emptied the dishwasher, dusted, all upon request. I mean, come on, a pre-teen can find one million things more fun to do than home maintenance. At last one normal Saturday afternoon my father declared it necessary that I learn to clean a toilet. The thought made me gag, but gagging in front of the paternal figure would result in a withering gaze — literally, withering; my head bowed, my shoulders rolled forward and down, all involuntary movements — so I soldiered forward into the Listening portion of the lesson.
Dad crouched in front of the porcelain throne with a sponge and a squirt bottle of undefined liquid.
“Now,” he started, lifting the lid and seat together to expose the bowl. “All you do is squirt…” Here he squirted, misting the white toilet edges as well as forming clouds of droplets that fell to the carpet and beaded. “Don’t forget to get under the lip of the bowl, that’s where a lot of dirt hides.”
And hide it did. I had never before considered any such “lip,” or noticed that water sprayed from beneath that ridge, who knew? Who cared?
I was fascinated.
“Now,” he said again, drawing in a breath. He held the sponge, a three inch rectangle of orange foam far too large for such a small space, but I didn’t know that then. “You stick your hand in and scrub the surface.” He began to demonstrate, thrusting the sponge into the water of the toilet and sloshing so much that the bedewed carpet suffered under a tide of chemical water, an onslaught from above, and my internal dialogue began with, Oh, you did NOT just stick your bare hand into the poo water!
That was the day I realized I am unable to hide emotions, whether they be elation or disgust. On this particular day it was the latter and Dad showed that his face, too, cannot hide emotion.
“It’s just water!” he thundered, his frown enormous, his displeasure scarring his face into permanent frown. “Go to your room,” he finished, at which I retreated thankfully, aware I would suffer a lecture later, and that was just fine, because EW!
Today I needed to clean the toilet and that lesson crossed my memory. I felt revulsed anew; I felt dad’s anger pelting me from the past. And I laughed aloud.
Today I didn’t have an overly large sponge, or carpet to worry about. I had a wand, and tile.
I didn’t need my bare hands to plunge into a field of bacteria and only God knows what else; I had a plastic distance to keep me safe.
Though the task is not fun, it’s certainly less life-threatening than back in the days when antibacterial soap wasn’t an item on any store shelf, but a bar of Ivory, costing 35 cents, was the norm and regularly shared by however many hands, dwelling in a soap dish, when those were a thing, until it dwindled into a rind of leftover scum, filling the dish’s ridges, nearly impossible to remove before replacement with a fresh bar.
Immune systems were titanium back then.
Bubs has learned about cleaning the toilet but not the way I did. I haven’t told him of my lessons with it because he would never forget it, as I haven’t, and there’s no need for such a disgusting visual.
I expanded his lessons to include laundry. I’m appalled at what teenagers consider dirty, and what they do not, because Bubs’ scale is the polar opposite of my own. He doesn’t worry with a smell test, he simply picks up an item of clothing and determines its cleanliness by how either the weight of the cloth feels, or how he feels; it’s a fascinating lesson in animal survival: is this adequate to either eat or wear?
“Feels fine to me.”
Is Mom still looking? “Must be dirty.”
Do I want to mess with this any more? “Wear it.”
Do I want to mess with this any more and is Mom looking? “Throw it in the hamper.” One night, Bubs changed from sleep pants into a pair of freshly laundered jeans, straight from the closet where I’d hung them the day before long enough to walk to the truck to retrieve whatever in the world he needed from the truck.
Besides the jeans, he wore a pair of once white socks, this being probably day 3, but my mind won’t let me think more than day 2.
Once back into the house, he changed from the jeans into the comfortable cotton sleep pants, and promptly housed the jeans within his clothes hamper.
If I hadn’t witnessed it, I would refuse to believe it. Turns out, this is common practice with my particular brand of teen. The socks are worn once but thoroughly, and so badly blackened that one wearing is all they get, but jeans worn for less than three minutes need fumigation.
Such strange logic.
And I cannot be alone in being the only laundress regularly washing wrappers: cookies, granola bar, purloined M&Ms; wrappers galore rotate through the wash and rinse along with everything else. If I counted the calories my boy ate discreetly, I’d be astonished he isn’t ready for heavyweight wrestling.
He’s learning to do his own laundry, but his timeframe for such duties is vastly different than my own. I like to always have fresh clothes around, he prefers to walk into the laundry room carrying bundles of fabric so rank that I Febreze the room once his clothes are safely contained within their bath of water and Gain and the wash cycle has begun.
I take no chances.
Toxic clouds are invisible and I refuse to succumb.