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Friday, May 29, 2009

Cleaning for Company

Not long ago we were expecting company, and my husband cleaned the bathroom. Just before the guests arrived I spotted the mop still standing in the bathtub and thought with some irritation, “The reason we clean before company comes is so they’ll think we have a clean house all the time. If you leave the mop out, it’s a big tip off that we only cleaned just now for them.” My next thought was that I’m a much shallower person than I let on.

I’m remembering this today because we have company coming for the second weekend in a row, which means that on this Friday afternoon I have a choice: Blog, for the first time in a week, or make the house just a little cleaner. Obviously I’ve chosen to write, but not without a little anxiety. I find myself wondering what degree of cleaning for company is really motivated out of a desire to create a comfortable atmosphere for our guests vs. the ego’s desire to be seen as having the perfect home. I know it’s a mixture, but the thought about the exposed mop revealed that my motivation is perhaps driven more by ego than true hospitality.

Then there is the internalized sexism that makes me feel that any dust on the piano will reflect poorly on me, a concern my husband clearly doesn’t share. He does share in the housework (and cleaned the bathroom again last night), but he doesn’t share in the psychic burden of seeing what’s undone. I’m sure he doesn’t even realize there is dust on the piano, and even if he did, he wouldn’t think of taking off from work to dust, though I did take some work time today to vacuum and took several hours last week to prepare before my in-laws arrived. Part of it is that I’m the person with the flexible work schedule and the one who chose to be home when the kids get home from school. Part of it is that Saturday is our usual cleaning day, but when we have company we’re likely to be off doing other things, so it’s a matter of doing the routine cleaning early, as much as doing something extra. And part of it really is about being considerate. We don’t have a guest room, so our guest (a Catholic priest) will be staying in our master bedroom while Tom and I try out our new sofabed. Making sure there aren’t bras and tampons lying all over the place lands in the category of basic courtesy.

The struggle for me is knowing where basic courtesy ends and obsessive, perfectionist internalized sexism begins. I think I’m getting better at realizing that I can’t do everything, and if I spend my life worrying what other people will think of me, I won’t have time to do the things I truly feel called to do. And I am clear about being called to write.


Blogger naturalmom said...

I totally relate to everything here. (Except a husband who cleans bathrooms, unfortunately. Though he does do the laundry on a regular basis, which is worth quite a lot.) On a practical level, a Catholic Priest -- a single man by definition at the moment -- is as unlikely to notice or care about the dust on the piano as your husband. Tampons and bras, on the other hand, are good to have tucked away! ;o)

8:57 AM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Good point! LOL

9:02 AM  
Blogger one raised eyebrow said...

I think there is a bigger sexism question here...why do we feel the need to tuck away our female items specifically? (I'm guilty of this as well)...As if it is a secret that we have breasts and periods....even biblical references that menstruation is unclean. Breastfeeding in public can cause a riot. I think the worst part is that we have internalized this so much that we don't even stop to think about it.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

I just realized that my response to "One Raised Eyebrow" never posted last week... I think that's a great observation. Though I always breast-fed in public, I remember as a young woman hiding my tampons from my aunt, as if there were something shameful about them. We internalize a lot. On the other hand, if my husband left his underwear and socks laying around, I'd tell him to pick them up, too. While the examples I chose may reveal my issues, it makes me wonder about the bigger boundaries between what we consider public--out for company to see--and private, to be tucked away.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I so can relate to this post.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Deanne, Obl. S.B. said...

Eileen, I so relate to this never ending "balancing act."
Of late, it feels my house has tipped way to the slob-ish end of the spectrum. It is one more aspect of two questions that I struggle with. "How much is enough?" -and- "When do my personal needs (usually for solitude or writing time) out weigh hospitality or community needs?" Thank you for your insightful perspectives on these life long issues.

8:33 PM  

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