Every Saturday was the same for me growing up. Every Saturday was Cleaning Day. The Mormons have a whole song about it, even. The only lyrics I still remember:
Saturday is a special day
It's the day we get ready for Sunday
We clean the house
And we shop at the store
So we don't have to work until Monday
Like all Mormon songs, it's sung with a forced cheeriness few people singing the song actually feel.
Saturdays were a special day in my house. They were the days I got ready for the divorce of my parents and the annihilation of my family that was surely imminent. People can't actually scream at each other this much and survive it, can they?
People can survive all kinds of things.
When my mom went back to work she tried to turn Friday nights into Cleaning Day. It was a disaster. All my dad wanted to do was watch TV. This was all he'd ever wanted to do on Saturday Cleaning Days, too, but at least on Saturdays he could mow the lawn or be useful out in the yard somewhere. I'd want to go to the mall with a friend or to a movie, or sometimes I'd have a babysitting gig lined up. I don't remember how my brother felt about it except that I figure it was about the same as he always felt about Cleaning Day: Worst day of the week ever.
My mom was the only one into having Cleaning Day on Friday nights, because it meant she could relax on Saturday and Sunday. My mom's big on Getting Things Over With.
My mom thought it was rotten her kids didn't volunteer to help more on Cleaning Day. "Kids do the chores" was just how she'd been brought up. Why weren't we more helpful? Why did we moan and groan through the dusting when she was the one doing all the hard stuff? The kitchen, the vacuuming, the bathrooms?
I never cleaned a bathroom in my life until I had my first apartment. My mother did all the hard things, all the big chores, because no one else could do them up to her standards.
"If you do it I'll just have to come behind you and do it all over again. That doesn't help me. You just dust."
As I explained in item #44 here, I really, really loathed dusting. I still do. I manage to do some about every three weeks, or sometimes my boyfriend does it--okay, half the time, my boyfriend does it--because, shit, here you just have to. Plus, two cats: You have to dust with a couple of cats in the house.
But the lasting legacy of Cleaning Day is that I can't enjoy my first day off, ever. I lead a life of shitty Sundays.
When I was about 20 my then-boyfriend and I went to see a counselor on account of what all had happened to us. He quit going after a couple of sessions, angry that this counselor had the nerve to expect him to work on his problems. He'd thought he'd just go and blame me for everything. But I kept going. I needed someone to talk to.
I told her how I spent every Saturday too depressed to do anything. She asked why I thought that was. I told her, "I get up, I want to clean the house all nice before I go shopping or do anything fun and all, but then I get overwhelmed by how much there is to do and I get depressed and I don't do any of it. Then, I'm depressed that I didn't do anything all day. I'm depressed that my whole day's been wasted."
I told her about Cleaning Day, a day punctuated by screaming and recrimination and arguing, a day awash in guilt, guilt, guilt.
"My mom gets up every Saturday morning of her life and gets right to work," I complained. "I can't seem to make myself do that."
The counselor made me promise that the next Saturday I'd get right up and go someplace. Any place. Browsing at the bookstore, feeding ducks in the park, anything.
"Just get out of the house and go do something for yourself," she said.
"I can't do that."
"Nothing will get done!"
"Nothing's getting done anyway."
"I can't just give up like that. I have to try harder."
"What you're trying isn't working. I want you to try this instead."
The next week I went back and reported that I had got right up, full of plans to clean the house, been derailed by a dumbass argument with my boyfriend, thrown up my hands in hopelessness, wondered why God was doing this to me, failed to clean anything, and felt depressed about all of it.
"What did we agree last week?"
"That I'd leave the house . . . ."
"Why didn't you?"
"The first thing my boyfriend said to me was 'Jesus Christ, this place is starting to look like my mother's.'"
"Is that a bad thing?"
"His mom never cleans anything, not even the kitchen countertops, and when you go over for a visit, she has to move stack after stack of books, magazines, and newspapers off the couch before you can sit down. So, yes."
"Does she seem happy to you, living that way?"
"Well . . . yeah, actually, kind of . . . ."
"Then why do you care?"
Why did I care? Because it's a MORAL FAILING to keep a dirty house. Didn't this woman know anything? Had she been raised in a BARN?
I quit going to the counselor. She just didn't get it.
One of these days I need to get over this. One of these days I need to shut the door on Cleaning Day and, especially, on the myth of Cleaning Day that I have in my head. The myth that says, "I'm going to get right up, put on my rattiest clothes, tie my hair back with a handerkchief, put on some nice music, and flit around the house making things spotless and Godly with a hymn in my heart and a smile on my face. Thus will I be redeemed."
It's not going to happen. Cleaning Day is a dream I hold onto for no good reason at all.
You'd think after all these years I could let it go.