Anyway, I noticed a few smudges on the white countertop tile, and began an internal fume about how HARD I'd worked to clean the damn thing yesterday and how NO ONE appreciated that work, and how David, damn him, didn't wipe up after himself, and, and, and ... and suddenly, I understood my mom in a way I never had before.
Our home did look wonderfully neat and sparkly - as long as none of us did anything to mess it up. Of course, we did, which meant that she was almost always pissed off at one of us - at my dad for spilling pipe tobacco on the rug, or at me for being such a complete slob (I’ve matured into a somewhat neater person than I was back then), or at my sister for doing something equally horrific and inconsiderate.
Back then, I thought she was a raving maniac. But now that I'm home so much of the time, now that this house really is the center of my corporeal universe, and now that I'm hyper-aware of cat litter trailed on the floor by the cat box, or crumbs on the countertops, or how gross the bathroom sink gets after a couple of days, I finally understand how she must have felt. Because keeping that home sparkling clean was her JOB, a job she did magnificently, and most of the time, we didn't appreciate a thing she did. If we did appreciate her efforts, we rarely acknowledged them.
When David crafts a magnificent hardwood cutting board, everyone can see and appreciate his hard work. But when I spend several of the very precious hours when I have energy scrubbing the kitchen down, not only do things get dirty almost instantaneously, no one notices my efforts. That kind of ‘work’ is pretty much taken for granted. The work of a housekeeper isn't valued all that much in our society, is it?
No wonder she was so angry all the time. At least I’ve had a 30-plus-year long working career, the last years of which were interesting and fulfilling and (at least some of the time) fun. I sure wish I'd figured out all of this stuff before she disappeared into dementia so I could have apologized for being a self-absorbed, unappreciative teenager, acknowledged her hard, fierce, loving work, and thanked her for it. It’s too late now; she passed away on New Year’s Eve, 2003. But I’ll never discount what she did for us – ever again.