Being a good, quality Protestant, I don't even remember the first time I experienced the lightning-quick adrenaline rush of guilt. It just seems to be something that is so ingrained into my soul, that it has simply always been there. Right beside freckles, birthmarks, and eye color.
My old friend, Guilt.
I remember parts of my life when I experienced guilt, but no definitive "First Guilt" moment. There was one morning in the first week of 1st grade, in particular, when I got to experience embarassing guilt in front of my whole class. See, I had just graduated kindergarten. I wasn’t a kid anymore. I was in charge of my own destiny. I could dress myself, tie my own shoes, and stay at school until the final bell. This was practically adulthood, and I was ready for it! So, simply put, at around 10 o'clock, while we were working on spelling worksheets, I realized that I was hungry. Not only was I hungry, but my mother had cut my bologna and cheese sandwich into triangles that day. Because that is the very sandwich a sophisticated nearly-adult like me, at the time, would eat (that may have been the last bologna and cheese sandwich I ate, after realizing I don’t like spongy pink meat, for some reason).
So, with my newfound autonomy in life, I remember reaching back behind my chair and grabbing my square, metal lunchbox and setting it on my lap. I didn’t want to put it on the desk, because that would just be rude to everyone else who wasn’t hungry yet. I opened the lunchbox, took out my triangular, grown-up sandwich, and took one huge, ginormous bite out of the end of the delicious triangle.
Even now, I can remember how wonderful that sandwich tasted. And me. Eating it. In the middle of class.
Life was glorious.
Until the teacher, Mrs. Reynolds, turned and looked at me in astonishment, and said in a sharp and rather effective tone, “TAMMY! (they called me Tammy then) PUT AWAY THAT SANDWICH AND DO YOUR SPELLING!”
Suddenly, in that moment, I realized that it was not lunch time. Lunch time was after the second bell. And it was, indeed, only ten o'clock.
And every eye at my small, first grade table was on me. Some with a look of envy, jealous that I had been able to eat half my sandwich before them. Some with shock, that I had broken the agenda of the system. And the rest were confused with what was taking place at all.
I guiltily put my not-so-grown-up-anymore sandwich back into my lunchbox, and placed my lunchbox back into my backpack behind me. And quietly finished my spelling worksheet with everyone else.
Somehow, these feelings of guilt have just lingered alongside me my whole life.
I don’t want them. I suppose they are just an old friend at this point.
Right now, I am 36 years old with five kids, a stallion of a husband, and a home to call our own.
And I completely suck at cleaning.
I have to think it is like running: people tell me there is some endorphin rush when they run. That their mind is just aflutter with ideas while they jog their lives away at 5 a.m. every morning, and they feel better and more enthusiastic about life.
That has simply never happened for me. I have never felt the endorphin rush while jogging, and my mind is instead, constantly thinking, “My legs hurt. My knees hurt. My chest hurts. I can’t breathe. And I am going to die.”
It is pretty much the exact same experience with cleaning:
“My arms hurt. I could be doing something else right now. I know if I finish this room, there are just 4 more rooms I have to finish after this. Who put cheerios in the toilet? Why are they surgically fused to the rim of the bowl? Why is there Jell-O in the windowsill — when was the last time I even bought Jell-O? This sucks. I am going to die.”
Nevertheless, I try to keep a rather tidy house. It is never going to be a Better Homes and Gardens house. I do not have that aspiration for myself at all. But it will be tidy.
And then I look around and realize that tidy may cut it for us, but it is not guest-worthy clean. There are coffee stains on the kitchen floor. Grout that is hardly white anymore. And not in the off-white-wedding-dress, called-eggshell way. The grout is egg yolk. Old macaroni is cemented underneath the stove burners, and the front room is littered with papers, bags, blankets, clothes, shoes, and a cup from McDonald’s.
Awesome. I’ll just get to that.
Now, granted, the kids and my stallion husband are very helpful. But I am a SAHM, and I feel like I am “supposed to” have all this taken care of. And I don’t.
Hello, old friend Guilt.
"You have had all day to clean this room! What have you been doing, reading Reddit? What kind of a mother are you being to your children?" I shake my head.
Fortunately for me, I don’t like my old friend Guilt very much. We are not BFFs. She smells funny, and I don’t appreciate her company.
So I do what every woman in her right mind would do at the last minute, two days before guests are expected to arrive:
I call the cleaners.
It was a young husband-and-wife team, and they were friendly and quick. They took care of surfaces and toilets, and they vacuumed all the potato chips off the stairs that I just had not gotten around to doing for the past . . . few weeks.
They were happy to help, and they left with a smile after shaking my hand and taking my check.
What I was left with was a decently clean home.
And my old friend Guilt? Nowhere to be seen. Gone, with the Cheerios.
Ladies, life is hard enough already. I bought a pair of boat shoes on Amazon last month that still aren’t broken in, and they are tearing up my ankles like you would not believe. That is a problem I will have to work out myself.
But cleaning? I do not need my old friend Guilt to help me with that. No, I can find friendly souls in the world to help me with cleaning. Then we can devote ourselves to worry about what to make our guests for dinner . . .