Housecleaning: My Hairshirt

Housecleaning: My Hairshirt

Housecleaning: My Hairshirt

One of my near occasions of sin, is housecleaning.  I hate it. I’m not good at it, and with ten children, short of winning the lottery, it will be a daily demand of my life.

It’s not that I haven’t assigned chores, taught people how to make beds or put away clothing. It’s not that they don’t know to only eat at the table, to not stockpile wet towels or to put the cap back on the tooth paste.  It’s that, there are 10 of them.  They all have different thought patterns.  Those thought patterns get interrupted in the best of times by other people knocking on the bathroom door, by people bringing in a tea set for an impromptu party, by the music on the radio, by the fight going on in the other room, by colors, by lights, by seasons, by everything.

For years, I tried different techniques.

Clean for 15 minutes (beat the timer).  But I have some kids who are gamers.  They figured out long ago who wins with that project, and thus ignore the time and the challenge entirely or go so slow that every other kid tries to top them in slowness and I have an uncleaned room at the end of 15 minutes with giggling kids who outsmarted mom in the process.

Allowance.  I’m proud they’re detached about money, but it would be nice if a bribe ever worked.

Nuclear Mom Melt Down in Five MINUTES!!!!!!!START CLEANING NOW!!!!!!  Frankly, this takes way too much energy and leaves everyone miserable.  Mom HULK SMASH is a non starter.

But it still left the gritchy unpleasant person on Saturday when everyone else was sleeping in, watching cartoons or playing cards and me cleaning.   It was a rut spiritually speaking.

I started doing a daily patrol.  I’m like Batgirl, only cleaning.   For a time it worked.   But I’d discover an apple core, a juice box, hidden piles of laundry, toilets that are not speakable, and that meant, I was mad every day for a time.  Again, we’re back at Mom mad at kids…not good.

So I turned to my namesake saint, Saint Margaret, who prayed through the raising of her six children.  So I tried doing the rosary, but it wasn’t quite sufficient to the task.  I’d finish praying before the home was done.  I tried pop music.  But sometimes the tunes weren’t good.  Finally, I tried the radio mass at 10:00.  This was great, because it meant I didn’t start until ten, but I finished by 11 and wasn’t mad.  It worked. It stemmed my ego from it’s desire to go nuts over a fiber-one bar wrapper, cheese stick plastic, four cups, two water bottles and a bathroom finger painted with Colgate.

For several weeks, it worked.

Except my ego is restless.  Sin works that way, if one method is failing, it goes another. I started feeling funky like I was morphing into 24-7 Catholic Mom…becoming a sort of Catholic Mary Poppins…bleah.  Still, I told myself, it had worked.

But today I was running late, it was hard to get going.  I didn’t get going.  Mass was basically over when I started my patrol today so I put on the pop music station.  Train was playing.  Great!  I’m cleaning. I’m cool. I’m not utterly boring…I’ve got it going in three rooms.  I’ve even gone one better and put away their clothes and organized one child’s drawers so he can’t tell me he doesn’t have shirts.  I’m feeling the love….then the DJ comes on.  “Hey…come join me on Facebook and vote for which undies I should run in in the upcoming 10K for Charities…sponsored by Trousseau’s…”  I stopped.  That actually had been said by a woman.

That was the stupid toxic nature of the airways that wasn’t considered shocking in any way…and I was supposed to be the prig for thinking that a woman shouldn’t be proudly announcing, I’m going to be mostly naked but it’s for a good cause…

My heart hurt for all those who would see nothing wrong with this, for my children who get to grow up in this toxic sludge for sensibilities absent an alternative.  My brain sluggishly clicks into gear. Sherry it solved your problem.  It stopped you from being a self absorbed housecleaning martyr in service of your self while serving your children.   What more did you want?   To not need the grace to get through this?   Well, this is your hair shirt.  You may hate doing this, but you are trying to do it with love, because you love them.   So, what more did you want?


I get it. Go back to the mass.  I’ll be there tomorrow, and I promise, I won’t touch that dial.

Copyright 2013 Sherry Antonetti


About Author

Sherry Antonetti is a mother of ten children, published author of The Book of Helen and a freelance writer of humor and family life columns. You can read additional pieces from her blog,

1 Comment

  1. This is hilarious, and SO true!! I have (only?) six kids, and no matter what I do, the house seems to explode in an avalanche of mess approximately eight minutes after it looked totally perfect. I heard once that regular housecleaning is like regular confession — you have to keep cleaning up the same mess over and over. Eventually it’s got to get better!

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