Wednesday, January 5, 2011


AKA (“A Little Club Soda Should Get That Out”- Yeah Mom, especially when I mix it with lemons and a bottle of Kettle One.)

My entire life I have been told at various times by my family as an expletive, “Carrie…there is something wrong with you!” Now I just might be able to accept and understand their accusations if the following was true about myself:

• Outwardly wearing satanic ritual signs tattooed to my exposed skin.
• Shaving my head and wearing neo-Nazi symbols on white t-shirts with hot-pink combat boots on a daily basis and confused as to why no one will hire me in childcare at the Jewish Community Center.
• Refusing to bath and groom myself for weeks on end in order to spend twelve hours a day holding a sign in front of the Nike World Headquarters located down my street which reads, “Tennis Shoes Kill Zen!”

But honestly, my family members have stamped this label of “something being wrong with me” due to reasons that as a fully integrated, self-actualized, and occasionally sane woman of 36 I have finally learned to no longer accept.

Let me tell you about my first memory of being labeled as a degenerative daughter. Somewhere around 8 or 9 years of age my weekend chores included cleaning my bedroom and one of our five bathrooms. Armed with a five gallon drum containing bottles of ammonia, Comet, Dow Scrubbing Bubbles, Windex, Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner, Clorox, Pine Sol, and an unidentified substance I am now convinced was Agent Orange, I scrubbed every square inch of the porcelain and tile covered bathroom which I shared with my older sister down the hall. After the swelling in my throat subsided and I regained the ability to breath, I finished the job with a gentle caress of lemon oil over every surface in an effort to enhance the shine and, truthfully, attempt to gain forgiveness for my assault to the entire bathroom.

After moving onto my bedroom which was attended to with ever greater gusto and attention to detail, I felt accomplished, proud, and euphoric about finally being able to run out the front door and join my neighborhood friends who had already started Saturday morning play a few hours before my release. I couldn’t find my mother to approve my work, so I asked my father who then reasonably surveyed my work and gave me the okay to go out and play.

It was usually only about ten minutes into play, when the joy and satisfaction from my accomplished chores was blown apart like the doors at Filene’s Basement during the “Running of the Brides Sale.” This was always the part where all of the Barbie Dolls had been designated to each girl, who in turn named her doll after a current Aaron Spelling TV character, either: Crystal, Alexis, Kris, Kelly, or Sabrina. But the name heard the loudest after the argument over whose doll got to be “Crystal” was, “CARRIE COPIOUS VALIUM YOU GET IN THIS HOUSE RIGHT THIS MINUTE!!!" I knew this was bad considering my mom included my middle name only when I was in really big trouble. It must have happened often because Skippy Kirkpatrick knocked on my door once and said to my father, “Hello Mr. Copious, can Carrie come out and play?”

After I sprinted down the block and home to my infuriated mother, my anxiety about what I was in trouble about, this time, was making me hold my breath so long that I eventually saw stars. I am sure the Agent Orange inhalation for breakfast didn’t help make the stars any less bright.

Didn’t I tell you, you could not go out to play until after you cleaned your room and the upstairs bathroom?” said my mother from her eight days without a cigarette quivering lips. This was one of her several attempts to knock the Winston 100s habit and the 4 ounce weight gain was making her more crazy than usual.

“Ddddd, Dad said it was clean.” I sheepishly replied.

YOUR FATHER DOESN’T KNOW WHAT CLEAN IS! Now get up there and get it done right!” commanded my mother in a Joan Crawford style which rivaled Faye Dunaway’s 1981 pictorial portrayal. My mother never had a problem with wire hangers, but the duo of dirt and untidiness was her greatest nemesis. As an adult, I now understand how her militant cleaning regimen was her best available tool, at the time, to control the pain of her own chaotic childhood. This was of course years before Prozac and Oprah.

So now it is almost thirty years later and this story still reverberates in my mind. The best part is, I have seriously thought the exact same thing in my mind when it comes to my husband knowing what “clean” means, and my standard is light years away from what I grew up with. Now instead of belittling my husband and stunting my children’s emotional development when my expectations regarding cleanliness are disappointed, I just take a deep breath and remember that my mom wasn’t always right.

During my first year of motherhood, I was lucky enough to learn my favorite quote: “My house is clean enough to be healthy, but dirty enough to be happy.” I keep thinking I want that on a plaque in my kitchen, but then that would be just one more thing to dust. So I keep it simple and hold it in my heart. I have no memories of playing with my mother as a child. Even though she was home, all my memories are of her vacuuming. It makes me sad, for both of us, that we have no real history of "play" together. Perhaps it has become one of the wisest lessons I learned from being my mother's daughter that, when our children grow up they won’t remember how clean their house was, they only remember how much fun they had. Now, drop the Swiffer and have fun with your kids!

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