The Cleaning Game


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Steve Miller Band played on the classic rock station, from the boom box in our kitchen.  Lyle swung me around, “Come on, Blue Eyes, dance with me!” I was wearing cleaning gloves covered with Comet, and had dropped a scrub brush in the kitchen sink. He threw me into a two-step, as I feigned annoyance at the interruption. He sang along, “Come on darling, put a pretty dress on. We’re gonna go out tonight!” I could hear eight-year-old Maggie’s hearty laugh joined by seven-year-old Serrah’s raspy giggle.  Five-year old Emily giggled with the others, clapping her hands.  Ben and Max, both age three, exchanged looks, grinning at us and each other as they ate their breakfast.  It was Saturday morning, and that meant sugar cereal was allowed, and the cleaning game was about to begin!

I don’t suppose it was fair to allow sugar cereal, and then expect honest concentration on any task from this crew.  However, the cleaning game was underway.  Chores were written on pieces of paper, folded and placed into containers to be drawn by each child in turn, wipe the fronts of the kitchen cupboards, take dirty laundry downstairs to the laundry room, pick up toy room (this chore was placed in the container twice, being a two kiddo job), vacenuumer (Maggie’s pronunciation) living room floors, sweep kitchen and dining room floor, sweep bathroom floor, dust living room, dust bedrooms, vacuum bedrooms, etc.  We tried to keep the chores simple enough, so as not to overwhelm our little helpers.  Lyle’s job was to supervise without being obvious.  Emily was my sidekick.  I gave her a rag with a small bucket of water and let her “clean” at will.  We turned the music up, sang, danced, and cleaned.

“Mo-om! Maggie isn’t helping pick up toys,” Serrah tattled.  “Yes I am.  I’m doing ALL the work, and she isn’t doing it right,” Maggie piped in.  “OKAY.  Well there’s only one solution.”  They both knew immediately, and answered in stereo, “NO, MO-OM, please.  We won’t fight anymore!”  Lyle came to see what all the commotion was, “What’s going on here?”  “Well, they can’t get along cleaning up the toys.”  So, we got out the bandana and tied their hands together, so they would have no choice but work together, “hand-cuffed”, and concentrate on cooperating.  They returned to their task, hissing angry remarks back and forth for a while, and then got down to work.  Somehow they managed to get the job done.

“Oh, sweetie, No,” I heard from the bathroom as I scrubbed the kitchen and dining room floor.  I gathered that Emily had tired of her little bucket of water, and had decided to “clean” the toilet.  “Daddy’s princess doesn’t put her hands in the toilet.”  Lyle carried her out to me.  “Don’t look at me.  I’m on my hands and knees, up to my elbows in Pine-Sol.  She’s all yours.  Why don’t the two of you go check on the boys.  They’ve been really quiet.”  That was never a good sign.  Turned out they decided to abandon their assigned chores, and clean their turtles with Mommy’s shower gel from Victoria’s Secret.  Oh my.

Eventually all the cleaning was completed, meaning that I quickly touched up what the kids had done, while they were all gone with Lyle to pick up Papa Murphy’s pizza and a movie.  I knew five kids in a video store picking out a movie would buy me some time.  I was able to have everything done to my satisfaction.  Ahh, the whole house was clean, each one of us taking pride in doing our part.

Pizzas in the oven, the girls took their shower together, after which, Emily would have her bath, and then the boys.  Everyone clean (including the Victoria’s Secret scented turtles) and in their jammies, pizza was served, and, yes, sugar-free/caffeine-free pop.  We all settled into the living room to watch something like Sandlot or the latest Disney movie.  We were more a family in those moments than any other, happy and satisfied, having earned this weekly reward for hard work.  “We even got azert, Mama.  Guess what it is! It’s ice-cream!”

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