When I was little, I used to watch my mom or dad after dinner, doing adult stuff in the abstract. Mostly tidying up in that tired way adults do when the consequences of not tidying up will catch up to them later. Wiping down counters, straightening magazine piles, folding laundry, getting papers ready for the next day, taking the garbage bins out, checking homework, sorting through mail, feeding the cats. Every evening, someone called on the phone, but it was before Caller I.D., so it was like being surprised by friends or family on the regular, and not like now, where I see someone call and wonder in anguish butwhy. Sometimes, the phone was handed to me and I answered aunt and uncle questions or told stories to curious grandparents.
As I got older and watched this nighttime ritual of the North American adult, I realized there was a rhyme and reason to the seemingly random clean-up. Garbage was dealt with, leftovers packaged, outfits picked for school and work, slight order restored to a house that exploded every 24 hours with life and human progress. Neither of my parents seemed to enjoy doing these menial daily tasks, but when they were done, one or both of them would turn off the kitchen lights and sink into the couch with a satisfied, weary sigh. I would come to know this as The Ceremonial Sigh of Adulting, where your next move is something you actually want to do: read a book, watch TV, talk to a friend on the phone while matching sock mates, have that much-deserved glass of wine before bed. The sigh signaled a surrendering to what would surely be another night without enough sleep, a tiny white flag waving in the flickering light of our television. Then my parents got up the next day and did it again, and again, and again. The same determined, tired tidying up, every night after dinner; the same sigh of release and ready-preparedness for the days to come.
It was all so goddamn boring.
When I was still a single digit, and filled with BIG IDEAS, I decided my parents were foolish to waste all their time on these menial tasks. Clearly they were doing something wrong if they were stuck in this Groundhog’s Day-like nightmare where your life is just doing chores. I decided I would skip doing all that crap and congratulated myself for coming up with a better solution to living life than my mother. Why didn’t my parents just eat McDonald’s for dinner every night and then do whatever the fuck they wanted? They were ungrateful adults who’d traded what power and freedom they had for nighttime vacuuming. I WOULD NOT BE LIKE THEM, I WOULD ENJOY MY FREEDOMS AND NEVER TAKE THEM FOR GRANTED.
Can you imagine? The fucking audacity of children. So new and dumb and precious and totally unqualified for personhood. Somehow, I knew how to do life better than my 39-year old parents after nine long years on this planet — and absolutely thought I had my shit together when I couldn’t do long division or eat soft cheese. Now I’m older than they were when I decided to do things differently, and even though I don’t clean the house every night, I always wish I had. It sucked when I finally got it, finally understood, and could see – stretching out a thousand miles in front of me – all the tidying up and sighing I would do in the months and years to come.