I Am Becoming My Mother

It struck me last week. I am my mother. Okay, first things first: This is not a bad thing. My mother is awesome, sorry to brag. She’s got this West Virginia twang, and she’s sassy and funny and says things like “Behind every dark cloud, there’s another one” when she was trying to say “Every cloud has a silver lining.” She put up with my teenage temper tantrums and when I thought I might be a lawyer when I grew up, instead of cheering and thanking God that I might make a decent living, she asked whether I thought that job would allow me enough creative agency.

I am not funny like she is, and I am not the survivor she is. And I probably would have slapped my little teenage self silly, and I don’t know if I could be as supportive as she’s been. There are, however, a million things I catch myself saying, a million little habits I find myself repeating, that could be examples of how I am just a quirkier, moodier, more over-the-top version of my mother. But the real clincher was my decision to change how I approached chores.

My mom stayed at home with me when I was a kid. She homeschooled me, always had dinner on the table at 4:15 sharp, and cleaned the house on a weekly basis. Not just kept the house clean on a weekly basis. But cleaned the whole house–every week. My childhood memories all smell like Clorox and clean laundry.

(Lest you think my mother is Martha Stewart, she once painted one of our living room walls the most insane color of bright pink you could ever imagine. And we will never let her live it down.)

So, last week I found myself in the “underemployed” category. Lost one job out of two, and the second has been sporadic with the hours. At first, I’ll be perfectly honest, I was dismayed. And not so much because of money. More because my pride was wounded. The moment I lost the first job, I was sitting at my computer, working on some query letters. And when I got that email (as nice as it was, as full of phrases like “the current economic situation” designed to cushion the blow), I just stopped. I had no motivation. All I wanted to do was sit around and cry. Suddenly, I understood exactly why people who lose their jobs get depressed and end up in their bathrobes at 3:30 on Tuesday afternoons, watching TV shows they don’t care about and eating the last of the chocolate chips in the pantry that had been bought for making cookies. (Not that I, ahem, did those exact things…well…okay, I totally polished off leftover baggies of two different kinds of chocolate chips, and they were both stale and kind of tasted like plastic. And I ate them anyway. And I didn’t care.)

So, I melted down for the afternoon and whined to Jesse about losing a job I’ve been complaining about for nearly three years, and was feeling very sorry for myself because they don’t love me, and Jesse said, why don’t you just take this time to work on your writing? Why don’t you do the things you want to do but don’t have time because of work? Something else will come along.

At first, I thought, I can’t do that! I need to contribute! And then eventually I realized that, as always, he’s right. And he’s being indescribably cool about this whole thing. So, I’ve been writing proposals and query letters and I’ve been revising the book again and reading all about agents and contests and grants and all sorts of fun things like that.

But this post is about becoming my mother. One of the things I’ve decided is that to “contribute” more, I’m taking over most of the household chores (Jesse still takes out the trash because I hate the big trash can outside–it stinks and it gets heavy when it’s full). Jesse works full-time plus freelancing on the side to bring in extra cash, so it makes sense that I take on the house stuff. What I hate, though, is doing a bunch of cleaning all at once. So, I’m splitting up the chores like this. On Mondays, I do laundry and linens. Wednesday is for floors. Friday is for the bathrooms. The dishes get done daily, and I clean the kitchen counters and sink each day. Tuesday and Thursday are for whatever other chores need doing (dusting, cleaning out the fridge, killing fire ants–outside, of course).

Then I remembered, this is exactly what my mother did when I was a kid. Of course, she cleaned a lot more thoroughly than I do. But, she started at one end of the house at the beginning of the week, and by the end of the week she had done the whole house and was ready to start again. There’s something oddly enthralling about cleaning the house like this. Instead of having everything in various states of dirty, things seem to be in various states of clean. And nothing really takes longer than a half hour at a time (except laundry does kind of monopolize the whole day in little spurts). And nothing gets especially dirty, either, which is rather exciting.

Okay, I realize that not everyone gets quite as excited as I do about chores, but frankly I can’t say I understand why not.

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  1. Sabrina
    Posted April 14, 2009 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Have you heard of Flylady??

  2. Erin
    Posted April 15, 2009 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Ooh, I think I remember you talking about Flylady once…has that system been working for you? Now that I’ve got a little more wiggle room in my schedule, I think I’m ready to try her tips and suggestions again.

  3. Posted April 15, 2009 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    I am quite delighted to hear about your chore thought processing! Chores excite me in the sense of organization and accomplishment and productivity that they promise. The tasks themselves can be a bit daunting. I’m the all-day, one-day cleaner. But to take it on a bit at a time sounds like a good idea! I hope that system goes well with you!

  4. Erin
    Posted April 15, 2009 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Kirsten! Yes, the exciting part of doing chores is definitely the end result and not really the actual chores themselves.

  5. Yana
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    I am definitely more of a one-day do it all cleaner. If I didn’t have to work though, I could see doing it one chore at a time.

    I’m sorry you are out of a job. But, trust me, don’t take it personally. I have seen many very good people let go at my company, and it usually has nothing to do with their actual performance. I’m sure you are a fantastic worker, and you’ll find something eventually. Jesse’s right—just concentrate on your writing while you have the opportunity.

    As for becoming your mother, it happens to the best of us. I am happy to have acquired my mom’s cooking skills, great laugh, love of reading, and many other things. I just hope that I don’t acquire her OCD tendencies when it comes to cleaning :)

  6. Erin
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I definitely think working from home or being unemployed makes doing chores different. When I worked full-time, I wouldn’t have wanted to do chores on multiple days either because then I’d feel like I was always doing chores, instead of just knocking it out on one day.

    Thanks for the pep talk! I was looking at some numbers yesterday, and I really shouldn’t do that too often. I needed a little “Go for it!” this morning, so thanks! :)

  7. Zea
    Posted June 12, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I like your mother’s, and now your, approach to cleanng. I would very much like to be a homeperson and clean a little bit each day (and I do, to an extent), but I would love to do big projects each day. Instead, since I’ve always eitehr worked on been in school full time, I set aside a day on the weekend, or maybe the whole weekend if Seth is going to be gone, and just do a massive cleaning. Those only happen periodically, since they take a lot of time and energy, but the result is just so darned satisfying. In between those bouts, things get dirtier than I would like, but I manage.

    I am coming to all this very late, but I am glad to be getting caught up on the big and little happenings with you over the past few months.

    Sorry about the job loss, but I think it has probably been for the best. Look how much you’re writing and accomplishing! One day of moping and eating stale chocolate chips stacked against gardening and writing and reading and everything else is not bad at all. 😉

  8. Posted June 12, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Glad to have you back online! Those days of really deep cleaning are so nice to have, aren’t they (well, when they’re over and your whole house just smells and looks so good)? I think you’re right about the job. I think good is definitely coming out of it!

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