I’m interested in a lot of things: music, art, books, ideas, travel, dogs, and TV, for example. I’m wholly uninterested in a lot of things too: cleaning, decorating, cooking, writing lists of things down on lined paper, organizing, remembering dates, filing, knowing what to do if the skylight leaks, etc. Some of the things I’m uninterested in (dishes and laundry) I have to do anyway. There’s just no way around it. My husband got himself permanently out of laundry duty the day he shrunk a beautiful wool sweater I’d bought in Edinburgh down to the size of a fox terrier. That was a dark day, and one I will never forget. Whether or not it was a purposeful maneuver, it worked. He also finds dish water so repugnant he would probably wear gloves up to his elbows if he ever had to touch it. So, those things I do, right? Who cares. You wash this, you rinse that, you stuff this into that machine, you pull that out of the other one. Chemicals are applied. Buttons are pushed. Things that are obviously garbage, like sandwich rind, go into the trash. Things that are obviously red get washed together. These are my chores. I’m not baffled by them or anything, but I’m also not supposed to like them.
Then there are the other things, things I can get other people to do. Cleaning people come in every two weeks to fix the bathrooms, the beds, the kitchen, dust, mop, and replace the dishtowels. I’m sure they do other things too, because something sure smells like vinegar right after they leave. The husband knows things like bank account information and when the dog needs to get a rabies shot. There are files in the house, surely someone must be filing things. I have nothing to do with it, and yet they all have nice clear labels. So, the filing I don’t have to do. The dog has not yet managed to contract anything serious due to veterinary neglect. The mail comes in — it must, or the mailbox would have fallen off the wall by now — and someone answers it. Not me.
Then we come to cooking. The cooking I must physically do, but mentally I delegate it as well. My method for cooking is either to follow the heating instructions on a plastic wrapper or chipboard box (cake, macaroni and cheese, other noodle things, fish, chicken, potatoes “au gratin”) or to call the Chinese place. There are times when I appear to be cooking, because I’m using pots and pans and mixing and sometimes even measuring, but I’m actually not. Applying heat to a piece of meat, baking a potato and steaming some vegetables does not constitute cooking. In order to really be cooking you have to understand seasoning, which I don’t. I have three methods of seasoning: buy some kind of exotic marinade (beef), splash on some balsamic vinegar (chicken), or use the bag of “Herbs de Provence” (pork). That’s really it. But before you jump to the rescue with lots of nice tips and tricks, consider this: I don’t want to learn. I don’t want to understand cooking. Cooking bores the skin right off me. No pleasure in this life has ever been derived from cooking by me. None.
Then there’s organizing, another task that I can’t really delegate but can cheat my way through. The key to organizing, I have found, is garbage bags, and plenty of them. If you can throw away or give away a huge pile of stuff, you will find yourself in a much more attractive situation than you started. Will you be organized? No. But you will be able to see a dramatic difference, and that’s all that matters. I’m one of those visual types who need to have everything out and about, in fun and colorful piles and drifts, in order to know what I have. When I was sewing on a regular basis, I kept a huge table right in my front room, right where people saw it first thing, overflowing with fabric, notions, machines, bits of patterns, and other stuff. Hidden in the mix were books, notes, mail, hair accessories, and other stowaways. I felt perfectly fine with this arrangement until I wanted a piano more, then I organized most of it into the garbage and the rest into boxes and moved it out of the house, where it ceased to exist. Remember those CDs I organized into little books with sleeves? They are gone out of the world to me, because I cannot see them. Books have been written about people like me, who can only believe the messages sent from their eyes. We’re “creative” and “right-brained” in these books, but in reality we’re kinda dumb-assed. Like, who can’t remember what’s in a cabinet if they themselves put it in there? Me. That is why for me the difference between throwing something in the garbage and putting it away right where it goes in a tidy place on a tidy shelf behind a tidy door is nothing. Both processes end up with the thing headed straight into oblivion, so I might as well put it in the skip.
Like most bad behaviors, my failure to clean and organize is all fine and well as long as it’s only myself that I’m affecting. As soon as I have kids, I tell myself, I am going to have to change my ways. Learn what flour is and how to make it go into things. Name my cabinets. Use them. The problem is that I had my first kid ten years ago, then another one four years after that. Barn door open, horse gone. Do I have any time remaining to change my ways? This morning I was having a wailing, choking fit on Dan, because all of this “get organized! get cooking! get awesome!” stuff is just making my ass tired and making me feel guilty as hell that I’m depending on Stouffer’s to feed my children and letting them do their schoolwork at a dining room table that is perfectly clean and accessible for about a foot and a half around the outside but in the middle is a towering heap of everything I need to see in order to be convinced that it is real. And as I sobbed and gasped to Dan, I feel like I’m ruining my children, that they’ll grow up to be non-cookers and non-organizers and have to have someone come in and clean their bathrooms, and they’ll never be able to know if a candlestick is just right over here, or if it needs to be moved six inches thataway, or recall with sighs and longings the wonderful cookies that I used to make, just before I put the finishing touches on the new drapes and tucked the slipcover perfectly around the dining room chairs. “I am ruining them!” I said to my patient, dishwater-hating husband, and he responded with, “Don’t worry. They were already ruined.”
Well thanks. I think. Maybe he was just making a joke, something he often tries to do when I’m tottering toward the precipice, but maybe what he meant was that they weren’t ruined, because obviously they’re not. They’re bright and interesting and talented and busy and funny. And there’s nothing ridiculously wrong with them — they have messy rooms and then they clean them, they eat vegetables and fruit when they’re made to, pop tarts when they’re not. They’re fine. They’ll have other memories of me, not ones where I’m pulling a turkey out of the oven but maybe ones where I’m playing the guitar or riding a bike or even sewing again someday if my supplies ever again exist. Saying “I’m ruining the children!” is only a way of saying “I’m ruined!” and while self-loathing is great in a party guest (no? not?) it’s not all that great in a mother. So, as we come to the end of this organizing challenge, I’m going to do what I can to keep throwing things away, keep pushing fresh fruit and vegetables, keep applying heat, using machines, and keeping that 12 inch perimeter of clear table. But I’m also going to try and stop pulling my hair out if the children have to pull their laundry out of a basket of clean clothes that’s been folded and sitting in the middle of the living room for three days. If they have to eat Chinese food on Mondays and Subway on Thursdays. If they have to step over boxes of paint that would disappear if I put them away. After all, the children were already ruined, and they seem to be doing just fine.