Filthy living

Our kitchen after supper looks like the Meadowlands after a Stones concert.

Published February 3, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

I have a friend who has both a child and a clean house. This makes about as much sense to me as a sold-out Neil Diamond concert. And she's about to have twins, so she has about as much chance of keeping her house clean as I do of growing old gracefully.

We have someone clean our house every two weeks. Having children helped me get over my bleeding-heart-liberal revulsion at hiring someone to clean up after me. It was frighteningly easy. Parenting reality can bitch-slap your principles in a heartbeat. So once a fortnight, after the kids go to bed, we race through the house getting things out of the way so that Susan can de-sticky the house.

Parenting is many things, but more than anything else it's adhesive. If you ever want to know what having suction cups for feet is like, just walk barefoot through our kitchen (and empty the dishwasher while you're there).

The morning of Susan's arrival we clear out as quickly and tidily as possible. Then in the afternoon we return to a clean house -- clean being an alarmingly relative term. On most days Martha Stewart would have an aneurysm before she made it through our foyer, but on Susan days she'd probably just gasp, compose herself and make flan.

What's amazing, and in a weird way admirable, is how quickly, completely and effortlessly the kids can turn a clean house into Animal House. The carnage starts in their own rooms, but quickly spills into the rest of the house like the Exxon Valdez.

Take the living room. I guess growing kids must shed several layers of skin each day, because that's what appears to be all over our lovely Persian rug about a minute and a half after Susan leaves. It'd be easier if they just molted all at once like cicadas, leaving their entire exoskeletons intact for easy clean-up, although at this point I'm not sure they'd fit in a tall kitchen trash bag. But even if they didn't we could set them out at the curb, and then the county trash people could pick up our people trash. That'd be nice.

If I ever win the lottery (which would be a neat trick since I never play it), Susan gets set up for life. Susan, and often her mother, spend hours cleaning our house and do a fine job, but it's kind of like trying to eat soup with a crowbar -- progress is slow and painful.

Much of the kids' best work is done in the kitchen, mostly because the materials there are superior. Food is their medium, and the floor, walls and parents are their canvas. I do the cooking, and these days I choose menus based less on taste and nutrition than on ease of detection and general un-squishyness. I have learned what not to serve. The list includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Couscous: Yes it's fun to say, but it'll swarm over your kitchen like ants on a glazed doughnut. Serve it in the spring and you'll still be harvesting it in the fall.

  • Peas: They roll, they're easy to throw and stepping on them in bare feet is truly disgusting. I honestly don't know how the Green Giant stays so jolly. Peas piss me off.

  • Jell-O: Why not just feed them sugar-sweetened motor oil? It would have all Jell-O's nutritional value and be about as easy to clean.

Our kitchen after supper looks like the Meadowlands after a Stones concert. I don't clean it -- I do triage. But as impressive as the kids are at home, they're even better on the road. Ozzy Osbourne on the biggest bender of his life never trashed a hotel room like these kids can. We've been banned by Motel 6, and we've never even stayed at one. Apparently hotel chains talk to each other.

I'm convinced that my current role as head custodian at what could easily qualify as a Superfund site is mere payback for my own slovenly childhood. I always kept my room as uninhabitable as possible, the rationalization being that the only way to keep people out was to give them no place to stand and no air to breathe.

But the simple fact is that I was a slob of epic proportions. Whenever I see news footage of tornado damage it reminds me of what my apartment looked like senior year of college. I had roommates, but they were amateurs.

So once again, genetics has the last laugh. I suppose it's possible that my kids will become neater eaters as they age, but even if the kitchen survives, the rest of the house is toast, which in our house always falls jelly side down.

By Jonathan Kronstadt

Jonathan Kronstadt is a freelance writer and stay-at-home father living in Silver Spring, Md.

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