Monday, 11 January 2010

clean thoughts

The girls go back to kindergarten and nursery tomorrow, and I go back to work, so it feels like the holidays are well and truly over. And there's nothing to bring you down with a  mid-winter bump like a spot of cleaning. Yesterday was the turn of my own home - I took down the Christmas tree, tidied shelves and cleaned out the fridge. Today I turned my attentions to Imogen's nursery classroom.

As part of our non-financial commitment to the girls' education, we (along with each family in the class) take a turn cleaning our children's classrooms. Imogen's class is very small - only eight children - so this was the second time this term I had responsibility for cleaning it. And being the holiday clean, I had to go in twice - once at the beginning of the Christmas break and again at the end to freshen up. Not really how I would choose to begin and end my holidays, but that's just the way this cookie crumbled.

Once upon a time, I had a little love affair going on with my vacuum and duster. My mother was the daughter of a naval officer and the product of convent school, so you can be sure cleanliness was next to godliness when I was growing up. In spite of my youthful abhorrence of doing chores, I eventually became enamoured of a spotless home, and when I became the mistress of my own home I took my cleaning duties very seriously. I am a little embarrassed when I recall a time, when our first daughter was a newborn, that I shouted at my husband and forbade him from ever hanging the nappies on the airer again. He had hung them all wrong, you see, and not only would it take them longer to dry like that, but they also looked awful! Eva had been born by emergency c-section, and for the first time during our marriage, I was in no state to run the house. I mark that experience as the beginning of the end for my standards.
With each new baby, I have had to learn to let go a little more. Once, laundry came straight off the line or out of the dryer to be ironed and folded immediately and put away. Once, the kitchen floor got swept twice a day - whether it needed it or not. Once, the kettle and toaster were rubbed  to a shine every week. Now, three babies in three and a half years later, I consider it an accomplishment if we don't wear all the clothes in the washing basket before I get around to folding them! Nowadays I'm just happy if the food the baby is eating off the floor is from today rather than yesterday. (Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but you get what I'm saying.)

But oddly, when I step into my daughters' classrooms to begin the weekly clean, something comes over me. I am filled with a calmness and begin to approach each task with love and care. The Steiner classroom is well known for invoking a sense of reverence in every person who steps over the threshold. It's a gentle space. One instinctively lowers the volume of his or her voice, and slows his or her movements to a gentler pace. I know that when my girls are in these rooms with their teachers and the other little children, they are embraced in a loving, homelike environment. And I feel inspired to contribute to the love held within the walls of these rooms by caring for the room and its objects.

Today, as I moved round that room polishing, brushing, wiping and sweeping, I thought of this article about cleaning I read recently. Linda Thomas writes, "...if you are not able to do what you love, you should try to love what you do." In my daily life, I often choose to forgo some of the more menial tasks in my home in order to spend more time doing things that I love - playing with the children, catching up with old friends on Facebook or knitting, for instance - but housework remains an inescapable necessity in any home. So tonight, as I tidied downstairs after the kids were asleep, I vowed to bestow the same love and care on these chores in my own home that I had in the classroom earlier today. Because surely if I approach my daily chores with a happy heart, the walls and the objects within will reflect love and warmth back onto my family.

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