There are few things as gratifying as fresh vacuum marks on carpet. I don’t need them to be evenly spaced or perfectly parallel, but I do love to see those neat rows, like a freshly mowed lawn, where just seconds before there were footprints and dried play dough and leaf detritus from outside.
The best thing about the vacuum marks, though, is that they come at the end of my cleaning routine. Once I’ve got the vacuum running, I am in the final stretch, and when I finally silence it’s sucking roar, I know the housekeeping is finished for another week. And this summer, with our kids home all day, I find that I’m vacuuming two hours earlier than normal, thanks to their help with cleaning house.
A friend commented on one of my housekeeping posts that teaching household skills is “one of the parts of [our son’s] education that I look forward to most.” Her husband knows little about cooking or cleaning or household budgeting, and she does not intend for her son to suffer that same fate. Another friend once told me, “I try to think of my kids’ future spouses when I parent,” and that piece of parenting advice has always stuck with me.
Thanks to the wisdom of these women, and their reminder that household management skills have to be taught, I have declared this to be our kids’ summer of learning. Not school learning, or getting ahead of the curve for 2nd and 4th grade, but life learning. This summer, I’m teaching our kids self-sufficiency skills like how to scramble an egg, how to make a quesadilla, and most importantly, how to clean house.
On the first day of summer, I sat the kids down and told them, “Here’s the deal. Wednesday is cleaning day, and I am going to need your help while you’re home this summer.”
Lots of groaning.
“Remember when Dad told you that I go get cupcakes without you sometimes, and you didn’t believe him?” Our son refused to accept that I would go to Gobble Cakes without inviting him.
“Yeaaaah,” he said.
“Well, Dad wasn’t kidding. My reward for cleaning day is that at the end of it, after I shower and get dressed and put on makeup to celebrate being done, I treat myself to a cupcake.”
I sat up and let that sink in.
“So every Wednesday during the summer, we can go get a treat when we finish the cleaning. We can get cupcakes or ice cream or go to Frosty Parrot where you can build your own frozen yogurt sundae. What do you think of that?”
Their faces changed completely. Where cheeks had slumped, and lips had turned down in frowns, now there were grins and bright glows. “Okay!” They were much more interested in cleaning now.
I started them each with dusters. Our son Swiffered shelves and knick knacks while our daughter feather-dusted baseboards. I scrubbed toilets, wiped down tubs, and scoured sinks.
Our son chattered away as he dusted, “I didn’t know you had this rock,” and “Jeez, this is taking forever.”
“Yeah, you notice things you usually overlook when you dust. And it does take forever when you’ve got a ton of Chotchkies to move and clean.”
He grinned. “What’s a Chotchkie?” He liked that word.
I gestured toward his sister’s shelf. “A knick knack. Junk that you realize is junk once you appreciate what a pain it is to dust it.” This was part of my plan in teaching them about housekeeping as well. Once you start cleaning regularly, you learn very quickly what is worth keeping and what can be tossed because it’s not worth the trouble of dusting it. Their dad and I have de-cluttered mercilessly based on this logic.
“The bedrooms are the worst. The rest will go quickly,” I told him.
“Good,” he said, and finished my jewelry box. “I’m done up here.”
“Mom, I’m done with the baseboards.” Our daughter stood at the top of the stairs, awaiting her next instruction.
“Okay, I need you to sweep the floors so I can mop.”
Her shoulders slumped. “All of them?”
“Y’all can split them if you want.”
She swept the bathrooms and hallways and left the kitchen for her brother. I cringed as I watched her sweep. Sweeping is one of those things you take for granted that everyone knows how to do. Everyone does not.
“Don’t just go for the bits you can see, sweetie.” She was targeting the crumbs and bits of dirt in the hallway, sweeping five small patches of floor rather than its full surface. “Start in the corners and at the edges and sweep towards the middle of the room.” I borrowed the broom to demonstrate. “See? There is dust and dirt that we can’t see, so you have to sweep the entire floor.” She was amazed by the pile that ensued.
“Mom, I’m done with the dusting,” our son called from downstairs.
“Come up here buddy, I’ll show you what to do next.”
I gave him a roll of paper towels and a bottle of glass cleaner. “I need you to clean the mirrors. Can you reach?”
His eyes lit up at the sight of the squirt bottle. “Yeah!”
Our daughter scowled. “I want to clean mirrors,” she pouted.
“How about…” I thought a minute. “You can clean the windows.” I remembered the satisfaction of wiping kid hand prints and dog nose prints off my parents’ windows when I helped my mom with cleaning. How the glass was greasy and smudged, and then I’d wipe it down, and it became crystal clear.
The squirt bottle kept them occupied the rest of the morning. While I mopped, our son finished the mirrors, but wasn’t ready to stop. He called out, “Can I do the picture frames?”
“You can clean anything you want to clean, little dude. I’m not going to stop you.”
After I mopped, I pulled out the vacuum. The last thing. As I pushed and pulled the machine in neat rows across the carpet, I giggled at the walls. Here and there I would straighten a crooked, now clean picture frame, and marvel at the simple pleasure of a spray bottle in a child’s hands. Next week I’ll give them the 409 and put them to work on the kitchen cabinets and appliances.
I pulled the plug on the vacuum cleaner, put it away, and entered 4 hours of housekeeping into my Lose It app for my exercise for the day. 528 calories. That should just about cover a cupcake, right?
“Wow, y’all! I don’t usually finish until 2:30, and with your help we finished before 1 o’clock. High five!” We slapped hands. “Let’s eat some lunch and then I’ll take a shower. And then?” I grinned at them. “We’ll head over to Gobble Cakes. Deal?”
They smiled and nodded and headed for the kitchen. I made myself a turkey wrap. Our 9 year old son pulled out bread to make himself a sandwich.
And our 7 year old grabbed the skillet to make herself a quesadilla.