“Mom, can I draw on my neck?”

It was spring and I was cleaning the kitchen – trying in vain to scrape the perpetual gick from the bottom of my toaster and scrub the perennial gunk from the base of the faucet – when I heard those words and glanced up, sponge in hand.

Indeed, my toddler’s palms, forearms, elbows, T-shirt and the tablecloth surrounding his untouched coloring book were lavishly scrawled with shamrock-green marker.

“And,” he was good enough to ask, “my hair, too?”

Starshine Roshell

With that guileless question, a realization hit me bluntly, the way an upended dish of ice cream or an overturned bowl of oatmeal hits the floor (which it does frequently in our house): As long as there are children living here – and let’s just say it, boy children to boot – my home will never ever be clean. Not for one hour. Not for one minute. Not for the split second it takes a 2-year-old to uncap a fat green marker.

While I lean less toward the white-glove school of housekeeping and more toward the sweep-it-under-the-rug approach, my predicament is universal. Households with kids just don’t stay spit-polished the way adult dwellings do. It’s simple math. Playground sand + Lego obsession + inability to master a fork = insurmountable sty.

Why, then, are we breeders burdened with the delusion of spring cleaning?

Why do parents’ magazines and Target circulars and the commercials during Desperate Housewives keep insisting it’s time to stock up on fresh-smelling cleansers and under-bed boxes and all-purpose microfiber cloths?

What, pray tell, would be the point?

If I followed my kids around all day with a spray bottle and a roll of paper towels, obliterating a syrupy handprint here and a muddy footprint there, I would only have to do it all again tomorrow. Aside from preparing lunch, any job that must be repeated daily is a form of torture – like Sisyphus forced to push his onerous, downward-tending boulder up the mountain.

Are the gods angry at us parents? Are we being punished with this yearly nudge toward neatness? Or is “spring cleaning” just a cruel marketing ploy by the same sadists who brought us New Year’s resolutions, Valentine’s Day and Lent (OK, that one’s been around a while) – annual rituals designed to make us feel feckless and feeble-willed?

Show me the genius who coined the phrase “spring cleaning” and I’ll show you a childless ad exec with a live-in maid.

Forgive me if I sound angry. I’d brandish a little more tact and diplomacy if only I could find them. But they’re buried beneath piles of ketchup-stained laundry. Or they may be jammed at the back of the fridge behind that sticky bottle of Magic Shell from the great sundae party of 2003. I really can’t remember the last time I saw them.

I adore the idea of spring cleaning, the promise, however cruel and deluding, that it’s possible to clear out all the cobwebs and, um, dog hair, that collects in the corners of our lives. And I am envious – as green, in fact, as my son’s graffiti’d arms – when I see other people’s gleaming baseboards, steam-cleaned carpets and organized Tupperware drawers. I’m only human.

But those things are not attainable in my house. Not in this decade. Not while there are necks to be scribbled on. They’re just a few of the many infeasible ideals of motherhood that collect, unnoticed, in the corners of my life.

If you come across one while attempting to tidy your roost this spring, I recommend you do what I do: Sweep it under the rug.


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