I wasn’t particularly fond of Sundays as a kid. On this supposed day of rest, I had to wake up at the crack of dawn, grab a bottle of furniture polish, and wax a large dining room that seemed entirely made of wood. The table seated a small army, carved from a tree that must have been the size of a bus. I always swore it had 16 chairs. You could ice skate on it by the time I was done.
There was also a massive hutch, an antique wooden console TV (with three decades of family portraits displayed across the top), and knickknack shelves in every corner that held hundreds of ceramic figurines. I polished for hours—until my hands were coated in a thick layer of lemon freshness and I could no longer turn the doorknob to leave.
After polishing, it was off to carry and stack two cords of wood, rake an acre of lawn, or clean something else—anything, as long as I was being productive and lending a hand. Back then, cleaning was a big deal and a family affair. Back then, I thought I had it rough.
Enter parenthood. When you become a parent, cleaning turns into something of a science project. It’s no longer traditional, spring, or deep. It’s dark, twisted, and scary, a test of your patience and ability not to gag. You enter a foreign land no breathing soul should ever have to go and see things that nearly singe the corneas from your eyes. Hazmat gear is required.
Don’t believe me? Here are just a few of the things I’ve had the pleasure of cleaning courtesy of my five lovely children:
1. Crusty Underwear
I’ve scrubbed underwear with three-week-old dried-on poop encrusted to it. Underwear that someone (ahem, a kid) tried to conceal in the back of a closet under a pile of toys, clean clothes, and children’s classics. And not just one pair. Countless pairs because high-energy kids who hold their poop tend to have accidents at all the wrong times. No parenting manual prepares you for this.
2. Trash Can Toilets
I’ve also flushed pee from trash cans because these handy receptacles seem like the logical place to urinate when the bathroom is too far away. Across the hallway is obviously a stretch for a 5-year-old. Thank the chemistry geeks for disinfectant spray.
3. Play-Doh’ed Cracks and Crevices
Ever wish you could sit for hours and scrape hardened Play-Doh from the cracks of your floors? Well, have kids and this is one of the many messes you’ll be tasked with cleaning up. You’ll also have a blast digging this colorful creation from your carpets and couch too. Don’t even get me started on crazy sand.
4. Endless Smudged Windows
If you can find a house without windows, buy it! Good god, I spend half my day wiping handprints and smeared food from windowpanes. Some people find little finger smudges endearing. After five kids, I find it exhausting.
5. Under the Couch Cushions
It’s wise to vacuum regularly under your couch cushions. It’s even wiser to check this area daily when you have kids. On an ordinary day, I’ll find a handful of crushed ramen noodles, an empty potato chip bag or 12, popsicle sticks, half-eaten apples that have turned a beautiful shade of rot, and candy stuck to the sides. You’ll want to wear hand protection before diving into this area.
6. Epic Spills
With children, there is no such thing as a little spill or mishap. Think entire gallons of milk pouring into the back of the fridge. Powdered coffee creamer being dumped onto the counter and used as finger paint. Rice soup thrown into the air like it’s a wedding! (Have you ever tried picking up rice soup?)
7. Gooed-Up Gadgets
Chances are you own a remote control, iPad, cell phone, and a number of other small electronics. Guess what, kids love to get their hands on these gadgets. And when they do…let’s just say you’ll be cleaning screens and surfaces until you’re blue in the face. Never be ashamed to spit ‘n’ shine in times of need. It doesn’t bother them.
8. Toothpaste-Covered Bathrooms
Toothpaste is great. It keeps your kiddos’ teeth healthy. But you’d think they’d come up with a better system for dispensing this grainy, sticky substance. Before you know it, your walls, cabinet, doors, toilet tissue holder, shower, and floors are littered with hardened blue gel. Spots here and there and everywhere (some with debris like bits and pieces of toilet paper caught in them) that you’ll have to scrape off after they’ve soaked under hot water. Gross!
The other day I thought I could see the white light at the end of the tunnel. Turns out it was just my toddlers tossing a bag of flour into the air.
Hang on. I have another mess to clean!