There was a little throwdown at Popcorn Friday at the elementary school last week.
With five moms and one dad huddled around a popcorn maker and 400 brown bags of popped kernels, the subject of housecleaning came up.
One mom pointed out that another — the brunette holding a shaker of “Ranch” flavoring in her hand — did not mop her kitchen floor.
A little sigh of recognition went through the group.
Then came the rest: “She wipes it by hand.”
This caused a disturbance to rifle through the group of moppers. I feared the woman would be banned from Popcorn Friday.
What’s wrong? she asked.
Nothing, we assured her, looking away.
I didn’t want to admit that I’d just paid my kids $1 each to wipe the floor the day before and that was still twice as good as I’d done in a year.
Here’s how the child labor went down: I’ve never wiped a kitchen floor without a child crossing it and careening onto his back, usually moments after I’ve warned one boy or another to stay off of it. Usually as I’m speaking the warning, they are nodding their heads in agreement and continuing their pursuit of injury at full speed.
So I thought, not only can they fall on it this time, they can clean it.
I broke it into baby steps for them:
Move the Chairs. Simple enough: move the dining table chairs off the linoleum and onto the living room carpet. Do not, I repeat, do not take the time and precision needed to construct a shelter built to weather the Oregon Trail while I stand here and wait for you to complete this mission.
*While they build the fort with the chairs, go ahead and change the bed sheets. They’ll be pulling the comforters off anyway due to the sturdy, truss-free construction offered by a queen size.
Pick up the shoes at the front door. This means put them on the shoe rack. Left and right, side by side, a pattern pretty much like what you’re walking on.
*While they are searching for a bouncy ball they found in Dad’s shoe, which they ricocheted to the top of the cupboards, go ahead and put the shoes on the rack.
Pick up the cat dishes. This will alert the cats to the possibility of a feeding. A race will unfold, involving one very unwieldy calico and a cat that is such a flat, bottomless gray that she always has the same expression on her face. She will look ticked whether the kids feed her or not.
*While they carry the cats and the food bowls into their fort, add vacuuming the carpet to your to-do list.
Sweep. At least once in your parenting career, you’ll make the mistake of asking your children to sweep while they are still shorter than the broom. There’s a 100 percent chance that they will hit something with the handle while arguing with you that they know what they are doing.
*While you are re-magnetizing everything to the front of the fridge, you’ll see a well-defined line of sand left where they tried to mount the front of the dustpan. When you cross to inspect it, your bare feet will gather even more sand. The floor will feel (and be) dirtier than when you started.
Mop. Just kidding. Of course they can’t mop. They are spilling the bucket of water in the fort as we speak.
Now, you want to know about the inset picture? That’s me, drying the floor after mopping it myself in a bid to keep the children from killing themselves on it when they came roaring out of the fort.
Note to all Popcorn Friday moms: This is the closest to hand washing I get most days.