The Crumbs of Life

If I had to pick one thing, just one thing, that it feels like I do incessantly, that I am always doing, day after day after day after day, it would be wiping down flat surfaces in the kitchen. I wipe down the counters and then make a sandwich and get them covered in crumbs, so I wipe them down again. I wipe off the stovetop and then prepare a meal, so I wipe it off again. I wipe off the table and then feed the children a meal or a snack, or maybe they decide to do some arts and crafts, and I wipe it off again. And again and again and again.

My house is far from spotless. We have a cleaning crew that comes every other week to help us forge a battle against clutter and dirt and grime, but it seems like even so we’re barely breathing above it, surfacing from the crap every so often to suck in great lungfuls of air before we dive back down into crumbs and play-doh and stray pairs of underpants.

But the wiping down of kitchen surfaces is non-negotiable to me. It pains me to leave the dining room table covered in the remnants of our dinner, even though technically it’s Sean’s job to clean up afterwards. (He sometimes FORGETS TO WIPE OFF THE TABLE. How is that even possible?!) I know it’s there, and it bothers me; much more so than the toys collecting in piles in our otherwise lovely living room or the light film of dust forming on top of the refrigerator or even the wayward drops of little-boy urine that make their way to places other than the toilet bowl. Kitchen surfaces, they should be clean, even if there’s a pile of bagged high-fiber bread options on top of them.

So I wipe down, every day, multiple times a day. I hold the dishrag under the faucet until it is soaked, then wring most of the water out of it. I fold it into quarters, making a neat square. And then I start to wipe. The counter under the window, the counter beside the sink, the counter in front of the microwave. Then the counter beside the coffee pot where rings of spilled coffee sometimes collect, the breakfast bar where my laptop and the radio perch. I rewet it when necessary, then move to the dining room table, where I methodically remove the bits of rice, the sticky drips, the rings from a water glass. I get under the table where my toddler sits, lest I later find a quart of yogurt smeared into the dark Asian hardwood. I wipe down the booster seat, the chair pads. I clean them all up, the messes of everyday life that form on my counters and table. Because maybe I feel like I might be losing my grip some days, those dark days where every request is greeted with a wail and nothing falls into places as it should and you feel like there’s no way you can do this, This, this caring for small people, a moment longer. I might be pleading through tears with my toddler to stop climbing over the stair gate and running upstairs, I might snap at my preschooler for refusing to choose a fucking snack, already. But the surfaces in my kitchen? They are clean, they are orderly. They make it appear that I am clean and normal and detail-oriented.

One day, maybe my life will be more like my kitchen counters.



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