Sometimes I’d like to quit. Check out. Plant my ass firmly on the couch and leave it there until an impression of its shape is molded permanently into the cushion. Kick my feet up and say, “Welp, I’m off duty! Have fun fending for yourselves!” Have a glass of wine — and then leave it empty on the table for someone else to clean up. Or get in my minivan, crank up some ‘90s hip-hop, and just go.
I can’t do this, of course. No mom can. Even when I’m sick, I slog my feverish, mouth-breathing way through the house, hacking up a lung, continuing doggedly with my regular routine: dishes, laundry, and the bazillion other things I do to keep this place running like a well-oiled machine. Because in the rare event that I am gone, or so ill that I literally can’t get out of bed, the house deteriorates with a quickness.
When I return to normal, I return to a backlog of crap that needs to be done. Sometimes there are signs that my family at least tried to help — laundry that someone forgot to move to the dryer, undergoing a musty metamorphosis in the wash; the trash can empty but missing a new trash bag. But sometimes there’s just a mounting pile of evidence to confirm that without me, our living conditions would be questionable at best, a full-on episode of Hoarders at worst.
I don’t think anyone has any idea how much our household depends on me. They take for granted the clean clothes (even when they’re forced to fetch them, not yet folded, from the laundry basket), the hot meals, the fact that there isn’t an inch of dust blanketing every surface or mold growing inside the toilet bowl. I’m not sure they realize how much would go undone if I simply decided to stop doing it.
Sure, my husband and our kids could take over if I was incapacitated — I’ve been teaching my kids to scrub a toilet from the time they were old enough to hold a brush — but I guarantee they would be overwhelmed and astonished by the amount of stuff I do. And I’m not talking about just the obvious things, like making sure the sink isn’t piled with gunky pots and pans. I’m talking about smaller, more trivial things that go completely unnoticed until they’re neglected.
Little do they know that our bathroom mirrors aren’t flecked with toothpaste because I wipe it off. And that I run cleaning tablets through the dishwasher and garbage disposal once a month to keep them from smelling like morning breath. And that I clean grody, greasy hair clumps out of the shower drains and fire-hazardous lint out of the dryer vent, and remember the recycling schedule and keep a mental inventory of how much toilet paper and cereal and ground beef we have on hand.
Would they remember that the smoke alarm batteries need to be tested and changed, or that the filter on the water pitcher needs to be replaced? How long would it take them to realize that the only reason there’s no dog-hair buildup in the crevices between each carpeted stair is because I sweep it out at least once a week?
I’m not gonna lie: I wish my family could just get a little taste of exactly how much I take care of. Then they’d realize that the care and keeping of a household can be utterly exhausting, even though, through years of experience, I have it down so seamlessly that most of the time it looks deceptively simple. It isn’t just physically taxing, but mentally, especially when it’s such an underappreciated role.
It’s such a compilation of little things, almost imperceptible to those who don’t do them on a daily basis. This is why sometimes I have to remind myself that my kids are not necessarily being ungrateful brats; it’s just that they literally have no idea. But even the biggest mountains are made of little grains of sand. The fact that I do it — that I tend to not only the obvious details, but also the tiniest ones — is my gift to my family, one that they don’t even realize they’ve been given.
It’s the gift of not having to shoulder the surprisingly enormous (and exhausting) weight of all those grains of sand.