Dear Family, I'm Done Cleaning Up After You All The Time

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
thunbs-down symbolizing that mom is not a house elf

I stared at the telltale refuse on the bathroom counter: the little strips of plastic, the Star Wars packaging, the Neosporin. “WHO PUT ON A DAMN BAND-AID?!!” I yelled. My oldest son crept sheepishly into the bathroom. “Do I look like a house elf?” I demanded.

“No,” he said.

“Then why do you treat me like one?” I demanded.

On the way to grab my morning coffee, I threw out cans of Sprite, picked up a towel, rearranged the dishtowels, and tossed some trash. When I tried to sit down, I found a breakfast bar wrapper shoved under my favorite fuzzy blanket. I don’t know who my family thinks is going to clean this shit up. Maybe God. Maybe the angels. Maybe it will all magically disappear in the night, because it always does, because mama fucking makes it disappear. Like a damn house elf.

And it’s time, friends, to Free Dobby.

We would live in a warren of Amazon boxes if I did not pick them up, separate them into their packaging, and recycle what can be recycled. My husband retrieves them from the porch in a flurry of happy excitement, tears them open like a kid on Christmas morning, and leaves the detritus where it falls. Envelopes, boxes, those stupid air-filled plastic bags: they all end up on my floor, or my kitchen table, or my kitchen bench, or my bed. And quietly, wearily, I pick them up. I separate them. I break them down and put them away. No one notices. No one says anything. When I pointed it out to my husband he flatly denied it, then made a joke.

This is not a joke.

I’m worn out.

When the trash cans begin to overflow, it’s Dobby — er, Mom — to the rescue. I take out the trash. My husband will start an auxiliary trash bag instead of walking the current one approximately fifty feet out of the door to the supercan. So I empty the trash, empty the recycling into the big bin (literally around the corner), and then have to empty every single trash can in the house, because the rest of the world will keep squishing them down and squishing them down until they pop back up again and burst out like a Jack-in-the-Box, then walk the fuck away.

This is so gross. I’d make some comment about living with men but that’s sexist and wrong because men can be clean, too. But my men are not. My men expect the house elf to magically empty the trash cans in the morning before school, when everyone’s eating breakfast or watching cartoons and nobody notices.

Do not get me started on the baseboards.

No one folds the blankets in the living room that everyone whiningly demands, then complains when they fall on the floor and the dogs lay on them and they consequently smell like dog, and I need to wash them, again. No one picks up the pillows on the living room floor, which the dogs lay on, and which also must be washed. This fucks up my laundry schedule (laundry is one of my jobs, so no bitching there, but fair bitching on fucking up the schedule). I told my husband the other night that without me, we’d still be using the same dish towels someone put up when we moved in around 2007.

“Without you, we wouldn’t have any dishtowels,” he sleepily yawned at me, which is a disgusting state of affairs that pretty much tells you all you need to know about life, the universe, our countertops and everything else.

I make all the doctor’s appointments, call in all the kids’ prescriptions, keep track of who has taken what medicine when. I call the vet and take the dog in and get told alone, in a room, that she has incurable cancer and only a few months to live. I track the kids’ activities, find them new ones if they need them, and write everything down in a shiny planner. Because I would collapse and die without a fucking planner. The rest of the world would keep spinning, and I would fall down, screaming doom and disaster and dismay and show up at everything at the wrong time and the wrong place. This planner may be the epicenter of my magic.

Not that my husband doesn’t help. He pays the bills. He does the cooking. He does traditionally husband-things, like refill the car tires with air when they’re low and mow my mother’s lawn and drag our supercans up from the curb about half the time. He remembers the birthdays and buys all the presents and, God bless him, fixes my mother’s dryer. In fact, he could probably write this essay from a husband point of view, and it would be totally fair, and you would come away thinking I was a prima donna who spent the day alternating between homeschooling, the park, and a high-octane skin care regime.

Then he drops another Amazon box, and leaves his shoe trees on my bed, along with his stinky t-shirts, which I have to sniff to decide if they’re dirty enough to wash. And who changes the sheets, barring catastrophic dog barf that requires a tag-team emergency effort? I do, that’s who. Because without a push from me, the kids would be sleeping on the same sheets they’ve been sleeping on since January. Oh wait, maybe they are. I’m not sure anymore.

All I know is that I cajoled, threatened, ignored, pleaded, begged, and finally brought out the trash bags before they cleaned their room yesterday, at the behest of Dear Husband. Welcome to my entire afternoon. House Elf becomes Ogre. Then I made them clean the playroom, which, like Lady MacBeth’s hands, will never be clean without the direct intervention of the house elf (i.e. ME!), a trash bag, and a plastic dinosaur exorcism.

If only handing me clothes would grant me freedom from all this mess. Unfortunately, that’s a key part of the mess I have to clean, and there’s no end in sight. I could stop doing anything, like some moms have, but the squalor and misery would make me batty and I’d have to move into a tent in the backyard.

We do own a tent.

This tent would be free of Amazon boxes and breakfast bar wrappers. I wouldn’t have to monitor the toilet paper situation or rant about glue sticks left uncapped or pick up all the dishes scattered through the fucking house because apparently I have these magical elf glasses that allow only me to see them.

Maybe I should consider the tent. At least until people can get their shit together without a permanent house elf.

This article was originally published on