My desire to have a sparkling clean house for our Christmas company creates some tension between me and my sons who have — how shall I say this? Different standards than I do. The holiday music in the house is often accompanied by me yelling at my kids to help clean RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.
"Why do you care what people think?" Boy in Black will argue as I am preparing to morph into Psycho Mom mode. I usually respond with a glare. "That's not it. At all. Having a clean house at Christmas is important to ME."
Yes, I do like a clean house at Christmas. I blame this on the holiday television specials from my childhood. These specials usually featured Some Semi-Famous Guy Who Sings, some of his family members (or at least a cast who pretended to be his family), and a whole bunch of holiday songs. The show always took place in some big old farmhouse or ski lodge with snow and pine trees and some kind of Christmas service that involved people walking through the dark with candles. The house would be decorated with pine boughs and red ribbons and a big Christmas tree. The show didn't create any tension or any suspense; it was reassuring and predictable, filled with corny conversations that were totally scripted. It always ended with Semi-Famous Guy singing a holiday song, staring at the camera with a sappy, sincere look on his face.
The problem is that these holiday specials still play in my head.
Most of the year, I don't mind the messiness of living in a house where about a dozen teenagers come and go constantly. But as soon as we bring in a tree and decorate it for Christmas, suddenly I remember the old farmhouse in that holiday special. Then I look around and think, "Wait! This isn't right! Andy Williams never had half-filled glasses of juice on his windowsills or pages of calculus homework strewn on the carpet or textbooks piled at the hearth!"
Then I turn into Psycho Mom and make all the kids clean.
One thing that makes our house look messy is the sheer amount of books, papers, and notebooks piled in odd spots. We all spend most of our time in the living room by the fire, and the piles tend to accumulate over the semester. As a result, the downstairs of the house looks the way my sixth grade classroom looked at the end of the year the teacher made us dump out our desks.
The other night, I had a brilliant idea. I put our names on six index cards which I spread across the living room floor. Then I took the stacks — the mail on the kitchen table, the schoolpapers on the counter, the pages of sheet music, the sketchpads and artwork, the books on the floor by the couch — and just sorted them into piles. The sorting went very quickly, and soon each person in the family had a pile of stuff that he or she could be responsible for putting away.
"Come take your pile!" I yelled.
I glanced over at the table. How much nicer it looked with nothing on the surface. "This worked really well," I said smugly to my daughter.
She nudged me. "Watch With-a-Why."
My youngest son obediently picked up his pile, an unwieldy mix of books and artwork and schoolpapers. He looked at it in kind of a puzzled way and then carried it over to the corner between the couch and the fireplace — which is where most of it had come from in the first place — and set it back down on the floor.
In his defense, With-a-Why doesn't have his own desk, or his own chest of drawers. He shares a room with two brothers, and there really isn't any place for him to keep his stuff. So I can see why he might consider a corner of the living room the place for his artwork and comic books and schoolpapers. But mostly, I blame the fact that that he's never seen one of those corny Christmas specials.