Screwing Up as a Teacher- (book blog)


I already knew I had a real gift of not being able to see dirt when I was an adolescent. My father would stop me as I walked across the carpeted floor of our house at a speck of lint and say, “Cynthia, why don’t you pick up that lint when you see it?”

“I don’t see it,” I told him and he found this unfathomable.

I can remember him poking his big strong fingers into my back as we walked into Mass, picking light-colored lint off my navy blue wool coat. He saw lint everywhere. It must have been a curse.

When I grew older and had my own place, I was too busy doing things to worry about activities like keeping the house neat and clean. My sis got me a T-shirt that said, “A man’s home is his castle- let him clean it.” No matter where I went, pumping gas to the grocery, women commented on that shirt and wanted one. I guess I had comrades out there- housework haters after my heart.

In the first years of our marriage, we moved every few years and that kept the dirt under control- until our handmade log home, where we have settled for the last 23 years.

My friend house sat for us one summer we were on an extended trip and he was repulsed by the dust that settles on the top of each rounded log. He cleaned all our logs in our 2,500 square foot house that summer. Until he bought this own log home, and realized how difficult it was to maintain cleanliness in a log home.  I find it a losing battle. So I don’t even attempt to fight. I just surrender.

In the 23 years we have lived in our log home, I have never washed the quarry tile floors even once. I sweep them but do not wet mop them. Todd does it about every year or two.  They don’t show dirt. If it wasn’t for extended family get -togethers or big parties, we would not clean at all. Cleaning sessions  have to be regularly scheduled so the house remains livable. I know this sounds sick. I do not like to dust and mop and scrub and polish. Although it always looks so nice afterwards, in a matter of days or even hours, the creeping crud descends, especially heating with wood. Cleaning seems so useless and short termed. I do scrub the toilet and tub, however,  but I wait until it practically looks like you could acquire a staph infection from touching skin to the porcelain.

Last night, I awoke at 3 am and decided I could not stand the insides of my home anymore. Absolutely everything should be gone through and stuff throw out- from our bookshelves to my jewelry to the spice shelf. My office has become unlivable. I really think one of the reasons I leave home so often is because I can’t stand the stuff- especially the papers, the piles, in my office. Every trip I go on, every magazine article that I write, and that is between  40-50 every year, I acquire a package of related brochures, maps and papers. This really adds up. (At least I do not acquire boxes of transparencies like the days before digital). How long do you keep these packages waiting for friends who might want to travel there someday?

When the kids woke up, I announced that we were having a scheduled cleaning day this weekend. They could pick “their favorite” activity- dusting, running the sweeper, washing windows etc. No one was happy. They all have more important things to do. They would rather that job be left to “The Mother.” It is enough that cooking dinner gets left to “The Mother” on most nights.

But their extreme negative disdain over cleaning house has led me to believe how miserably I have failed. When we visited Sierra and her boyfriend in their apartment in China, we all pitched in and cleaned every week for the month that we visited-but not here??? (WHY? Is The Mother  supposed to do it?)

There is no one to blame here but myself. As good of a job that I have done in using the whole world to raise and educate these kids, I have fallen so short in the housekeeping department. I wonder if it were possible to change their ways so late in life- at 21 & 23 (and me at 57) and make good.

My husband is a neat-nick and has all his tools and stuff in their rightful orderly place. You can’t even borrow a hammer on the sly and put it back, for he will know, because it is not laying in the right direction or hanging at the correct angle or something anal like that. Thirty years of marriage did not enable me to absorb that marvelous trait- not by osmosis nor by teaching.

He goes out to the shed and brings me back empty cardboard boxes. “Fill up one box each day with useless and unnecessary papers before you are allowed to begin writing.” I was a good girl the first day when I was all fired up.

I have discipline for some things but not others. No one makes me climb the steps to my office every morning I am home, fleece robe and slippers on, coffee mug in hand, to hit the START button on my computer, so anxious am I to begin my day of writing. And I’m quite good at planning and organizing trips- no slacking there, so it isn’t that I am an unmotivated slug.

I just attended a women’s health & fitness conference in Colorado where I was the keynote speaker. I went to a workshop about taking charge of your life and she spoke to my soul when the topic turned to clutter. She suggested 15 minutes a day, before you go to bed, do something like hand scour the sink. I looked over at my girlfriend and we exchange a look that says, “Fuck that. A clean house is the sign of a wasted life.”

Another girlfriend recently got me a plaque for my birthday that reads, “The way to avoid housework is to live outdoors.”  And so I do. At this most pleasant time of the year, we take our plates and pots of food and glasses of drink and head outdoors to the picnic table by the frog pond for every meal. Nature is all neat and clean and it makes me happy being in its company. Maybe I can avoid the papers  and dust a little longer, at least until the season turns cold and I am forced indoors again.  Or maybe I can just convince my husband and children to take up the duster and mop. They all have more of that neat, orderly, precise, German blood in them than I do. They ought to find joy in keeping the house neat and clean. Trouble is, I have raised them to love doing everything else in the world more than cleaning. It is my major screw up as a mother and a home school educator. I guess I could have done worse.

PS- So the next day after writing this, I get my daughter and her live-in boyfriend, Eben, (that’s another blog) to clean house together. Even though Eben broke two vacuum cleaners (probs not his fault- probably from not being used enough) just knowing that we were all doing it together, made it  almost fun.

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8 thoughts on “Screwing Up as a Teacher- (book blog) Leave a comment

  1. On this rainy Sunday morning, when my Pennsylvania German blood is telling me “it is a perfect day for cleaning”, instead I am heading out for a hike in the woods, now guilt-free after reading your blog! The dust, dirt and clutter will remain for another, day, week, month, year or until company visits…maybe.

    “…a clean house is a sign of a wasted life” Love it!

    1. yes! that’s all we can hope for – helping one another live larger and if that means leaving the mess behind to experience a little natural magic, so be it! good for you! I support you!

  2. Your story makes me feel better about my own house… I often say the best reason to have a party is so the house will get cleaned. Living in the country with no paving or sidewalks means that every piece of dirt on our shoes (or bare feet) comes into the house and settles into our old pine floors. I think not seeing the dirt is what keeps us sane.

  3. There are realy only two reasons to clean a house: for oneself and for others. When we clean for our own sake, it is because we have an internal need for something to be a certain way. When we clean for others, we clean to attract the approval of others. Both can be good motivators, but it’s important to be aware of the “whys” of our activities as much as the whens and hows. If keeping a tidy house is the biggest problem in someone’s life, that is indeed someone who is blessed beyond measure.

    1. such wisdom!!!! you are so right- i have no problems worthy of staying awake at night- too many papers is another matter- and you know because you yourself have tried to help me get organized!!! thanks!

  4. I have far too much to do to spend time organizing and dealing with clutter. If I get a chance to retire, I will spend the rest of my life dealing with what I’ve acquired in the last 40 years so I don’t burdan my surviving family with the mess I’ve made. The problem is, I am 66 on Saturday and I cannot envision how I can retire.

    1. yes, I hear you- work until we are dead- hopefully, all you can do is hope that your work is sometimes fun as it must sustain us for a long time- after our 60’s! Happy Birthday coming up- have a great one!

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