Mom Clean

I am definitely not as “clean” as the rest of my immediate family. When I visit them it’s almost disturbing how spick and span everything feels. Growing up (especially in high school) I worked hard to keep my mess contained to my room; as long as the door could close, I didn’t see what the problem was. The problem, of course, came when the cleaning lady came by and I had to “pre-clean” my room so that she could “clean” it. But these states of intermittent order never lasted. Entropy always prevailed. And there is one phrase which still manages to strike terror into my superstitious and cowardly heart.

Mom Clean.

Mom Clean is an unattainable state of perfection where everything must be in order down to the most minute, microscopic level. Just finished vacuuming? Wrong! There’s an infinitesimal amount of dust, so small that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle comes into play. Just washed the pots from dinner? There’s a nigh-imperceptible film that must be destroyed! Just put your clothes in your dresser? It is sensed when they are not folded properly!

Okay, that last one might be a bit of a stretch. But hopefully you see my point. Words alone cannot describe the creeping dread the ideal of Mom Clean instills in me.

Growing up, Mom Clean always seemed like some unattainable Platonic ideal, any effort never enough. Definitely not the kind of thing you want to hold up to a budding perfectionist as a goal. Even to this day it is ever out of my reach, but it is ameliorated by the fact that I now live on my own, and have veto power over which closet doors are opened and which shall forever hold back the gibbering horrors within.

Needless to say, it was quite a source of anxiety for me growing up, exacerbated by my outlier status when it comes to Messy/Dirty. It doesn’t bother me much these days, but whenever I have to entertain family members (not just my mom) it twitches back to life. I often wonder if my general messiness developed as a reaction to Mom Clean during my (surprising un-)surly teenage years.

I imagine other people have a Mom Clean, even if it’s not related to cleanliness, or even their parents. Those things which are ever out of our reach, but we feel bad for not making it as far as we think we should. I’m sure there’s something deep and profound there, but it’s escaping me at the moment. Oh yeah: don’t feel bad for failing to accomplish something that is beyond your skills. You may improve with time, but sometimes there are just limits that we must learn to appreciate.

Don’t worry, I still love you, Mom. Just be sure to give me some advance warning before you visit; it would be better for us both.

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