When I was growing up, my mom was an immaculate housekeeper. I mean it. You could take a white glove to any part of her house at any given time and it would remain white.
Saturdays were her cleaning days. We did our jobs during the week as well, believe you me! But every single Saturday was deep cleaning day. Every square inch of the house was dusted, vacuumed, scrubbed, mopped. She wouldn't do anything "fun" until all the chores were done.
She had us trained, too. On Saturdays, we were not allowed to go out to play or hang out with friends until our assigned chore was completed. If it didn't meet her satisfaction, we were sent back in to redo the job.
Over the past couple of years, my mom's house has been less than immaculate. At first, it was clutter piles building up. Around the time this started, my grandparents died and my dad was bringing home and sorting through their things; my grandma was a hoarder, so it was more than just a couple of boxes of stuff, to say the least. We chalked the mess up to grandma and grandpa's "stuff".
As time went on, we began noticing more than just clutter. The first time I realized that there was a real problem was when I went to use the bathroom and discovered mold in the toilet. I couldn't believe my eyes! How could this have happened??? My mom would NEVER allow such uncleanliness in her house!
The more and more time went on, the less and less housework seemed to be getting done. Soon, dust was settling on picture frames and furniture. Floors went longer and longer between moppings. Dishes were beginning to pile on the counters for, sometimes, days before she would tend to them. It seemed she had completely forgotten the jobs that needed to get done. When we would bring the topic up for discussion, mom just complained that she was too tired and sweaty to finish her tasks, or she would make comments such as,
"Yeah I did dust the pictures before," not seeming to realize that this is an ongoing task.
I watched my dad struggle to keep a balance with work and the new roles he was having to assume. Mom and dad always had very traditional roles in our home: dad went to work and mom took care of the home. My dad has always worked long, hard days (in the construction business) and mom was more than happy to take care of the rest of the household duties, along with the help of us kids. I can remember a time or two seeing my dad scrub toilets or do some dishes, but for the most part he's never had to worry about that role.
A few months ago, I realized that we, as a family, needed to step in and take some of this burden off of my dad. I made a goal to go over once a week to help with some housecleaning. I started out doing well...and then summer came and I had all 5 kids at home with me! A couple of times, I took the kids with me to help with some of the chores.
One day, as I worked on decluttering and organizing bookshelves, my two teenagers gave the kitchen a good scrub down. They started by unloading and loading the dishwasher before cleaning the stove and countertops. My mom came in and just about had a conniption fit.
"What are you doing? Those dishes are clean," she said when she saw the girls loading the dishwasher. Upon explanation, she turned to the cabinet to inspect the clean dishes that were just put away.
"No! You're not doing it right! These are still wet, now you're messing them up! I leave them in there for many hours to dry. I have my own way to do this, too! And I have my own way of putting in the dishes, too. You're not doing it right!"
I tried to talk calmly to her and assure her that the girls were only trying to help.
"No!" was the answer she continued to give, with a disapproving shake of her head.
I admit, I felt a little defensive of my girls. They were giving time out of their summer to come over and help, and I was afraid mom might have hurt their feelings. Luckily, as I later apologized to the girls for my mom's reaction, they were very loving and forgiving.
"It's okay. We know it's not her fault, she doesn't mean it."
Eventually, I was able to calm mom down and convince her to leave the kitchen-only after reassuring her that I would make sure all the dishes were dried and put away in the right places.
As you can see, there's been a learning to curve to helping mom. I'm slowly learning which chores I can take on, and which I should leave for my mom. The chores she continues to do are dishes (though they will sit for a couple days sometimes), laundry and she will vacuum the living room rug. Occassionally she will clean the toilet in her bathroom. It is a short list, and she only works in 10-15 minute intervals before she gets too tired and too sweaty and needs to lay down for a rest. She's more likely to get off the couch and work when someone else is over there working, so I feel like me being over there is good motivation to get her doing something productive, even if it's only for short intervals.
As I've been over there this week, I have focused on decluttering and organizing. I've thrown out several boxes of trash and started another big box to give to Goodwill. I've been able to finish 2 bedrooms, the Tupperware cupboard, and the towel/sheet cupboard. At the beginning, mom uneasily paced nearby to make sure I wasn't messing anything up or throwing anything important out. Occassionally she would get in my way, on a quest to look for something. Eventually, she retreated to the office where played her computer game until naptime.
My new goal is to go over once or twice a week to finish decluttering and organizing the house. I'm also going over to observe mom and make sure she's okay by herself throughout the day, which I'll write about another day (I know, I said that in the last post, too). Other family members have offered to come over and help as well...we'll see how that goes. I think if I focus on the organization issues, anyone else can focus on the surface cleaning. Hopefully, we can relieve at least some of the stress that has been placed on my dad since this whole journey has begun.