Yes, the confinement of the ‘machine’ was concentrating the odors wafting off my less-than-fresh children, and I realized that maybe, just maybe, we hadn’t given them a bath since roughly around the reign of Caesar Augustus.
Those of you who read my post about how good dirt is for kids and thought “Right, that’s just Matt trying to justify letting his kids get so filthy they actually stick to things” are feeling pretty smug right about now (dirt is good for you, really, I swear). But the truth is that the 2-4 baths per week that you plan sometimes turn into one or two, as dinners finish late, or you get playing, or whatever. (When our oldest was younger I bathed with him every night, but more as a pre-bed ritual than a matter of cleanliness – kids don’t exploit their full filth-attracting potential until around the age of 3.)
The ring and the residual funk left on the bottom of the tub after a bath is an excellent indicator of how dirty your kids were. If you need a HazMat suit to scrub the tub after the kids bathe then maybe you should bathe them more often. But bath time can be a real hassle and you sometimes figure Hey, what’s one more day? And if they’ve taken a dip in a swimming pool then there’s your bath right there. We spent a week in Corfu and didn’t bathe the kids once, but they were in the pool every day so, you know, they were clean…ish.
Then there’s the house. Our cleaning lady comes on Tuesdays (please harbor no misconceptions about our financial situation; here in Hungary everybody has a cleaning lady – the cleaning ladies have cleaning ladies) so by Monday evening our flat looks like a long-neglected enclosure in some particularly horrific provincial zoo.
It isn’t just the crud that collects in the corners that makes me wince, though – it’s the clutter. The sheer volume of crap that accumulates all over the house when you have kids.
One corner of the living room, an area about the spread of a king-sized bed, is devoted pretty much full time to our oldest’s Lego Hero Factory pieces. The floor of their shared bedroom is permanent home to a wooden train set, perpetually in some state of de-, re-, or partial-construction.
Not to mention the cars, planes, trains, trams, and other forms of transportation that can be found just about anywhere and everywhere, including inside the washing machine. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve received puncture wounds from stepping on die-cast metal cars, and every time I do, in that moment of pain and irrational fury immediately following injury, I swear I’m going to make them stow all of their toys away into tidy color-coded and cataloged containers every night. Of course it never happens, and within 24 hours I’ve stepped on something else and had to stop myself from hurling the damn thing through the nearest window.
I generally loathe any sentence that starts with “When I was a kid…,” but when I was a kid we never left our things lying around the house. And there were five of us children. I don’t know how my parents did it – a mixture of constant reminder and holy terror most likely – but we picked up after ourselves. We ranged all over the house in our play, but when we were done with a toy we put it back in its place. Of course we had to be trained to do that, and I suppose that’s what’s lacking in our household. Training. Discipline. The lash.
It’s not that I haven’t thought of instituting a 10-minute pick-up session every night before story time, it’s just that I never manage it. Is it a form of laziness to fail to make your kids clean up after themselves? Sort of. In a way it’s simply easier to keep stepping over, around, or on stuff than to chase them around every evening trying to get them to put it away.
Our cleaning lady was here today, and the place looks great. That will all change in the five hours between picking them up from school and putting them to bed. Then with each passing day the house will get progressively more toy-strewn and kid-soiled, until we scramble once again on Monday night to clean the place up before the woman we pay to clean things up arrives the next morning.
But I’m figuring that when we move into our new home in Spain, everything will be different. Everything will be shiny and sheeny and unspoiled, and we’ll work hard to keep it that way. Everything will be…oh, who am I kidding? I’ll just be swearing under my breath in Spanish when I tread, once again, on Lightning McQueen.