Cleaning house

My house is a mess. A clean mess, but a mess. For 361 days of the year, it looks like the Cat in the Hat came for a visit, and decided to move in. The other four days of the year occur before children's birthday parties, when a superhuman effort - of a level only achieved by the US during the Berlin Airlift - results in most of the debris of my family's life being carefully rearranged in order to create the appearence of neatness.

Now, I don't want to give you the impression that my family and I revel in this untidy existence. It's not like my wife and I sit around all day twiddling our thumbs. There are days when all we do is clean. And when we're not cleaning we're doing laundry for seven people. Yet no matter how many floors we vaccum, or toys we put away, or papers we recycle, or bathrooms we scrub, or baskets of laundry we fold ... the house never looks any neater.

As a result of this experience, I've discovered a new law of physics, which I call Regan's Conundrum: the number of hours you spend cleaning is inversely proportional to how clean your house actually looks. So the more time we spend cleaning, the messier the house looks. Now I realize that there is a "tipping point" where you clean so much that it actually begins to make a difference. But reaching this "tipping point" is like trying to reach the speed of light in an '85 Ford Escort. It just ain't gonna happen in this lifetime.

In some ways, my life has become a never-ending search for 'flat surfaces.' Flat surfaces are, of course flat, and that means there is nothing on them, which means things can be put on them. Flat surfaces are particularly handy around meal time when crayons, books, science experiments, toys, crafts, CDs, and old dishes of, oh, apple sauce, need to be moved from the dining room table to make way for dinner plates and cutlery. There is always a danger that anything moved to a flat surface will remain there longer than a Strom Thrumond Senate career, but my maxim has become, "as long as it's out of the way."

Unfortunately, the observance of this maxim leads to the problem of defining the word "clean." When it comes to defining "clean," women are from the planet "sanitized laboratory" while men are from the planet "garbage dump." Let's face it, most men clean what they can see. If there is a room of furniture with one square foot of carpet, the man would clean the square foot of carpet and declare the job "done."

Women, on the other hand, know that dirt isn't as stupid as men are, and that it likes to hide in places men barely know exist, like underneath seat cushions, behind couches, on the top of light fixtures. While I think I can honestly say that I'm better at cleaning than most men, my wife still takes the mandatory deep breath before entering any room I've just designated "finished."

The same definition differences occur around defining "neat" and "orderly" (if any man really wants to drive the women in his life crazy, just offer to 'straighten out' the cupboards and kitchen cabinets for her), but I'm sure you catch my drift.

On the other hand, I've given up on trying to get the cats, the dog and the guinea pig to be neater. Once, I experimented with those litter boxes that claim to teach your cat to use the toilet. All I can say is that whoever came up with the idea in the first place should be forced to listen to the '60s version of Richard Harris singing "MacArthur Park" for a month non-stop. I don't know who ended up being more traumatized by the experiment, me or the cats.

My dog, Reggie, has the quaint notion that what ever food placed in her dish will taste better if it is first dumped out. And the guinea pig seems to believe that her main purpose in life is to eject as much of the litter in her cage as possible over the floor of the kids' room.

But I've also learned to be "Zen" about the whole thing. The books are out because my kids like to read, the toys and crafts are everywhere because my kids actually like to "do" stuff rather than sit and watch TV, and helping to care for the animals teaches the kids about responsibility. As my mother, who raised four kids on her own, always says to me, "Who cares if the house is messy, as long as you're happy."

Truer words were never spoken.

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