I was wiping my counters after washing a whole lot of dishes last night and I noticed how relaxed I felt. I don’t love doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, but I don’t hate it either. I land somewhere in the middle. Washing dishes and wiping counters is something that must be done, often, and other than the special occasions when my mom comes over and does it for me, it’s my job. Tonight, I washed, wiped and even scrubbed the bottom of the sink with comet. All the dishes were back in the cabinet. No clutter. No stickiness. No turning a blind eye to drying curls of carrot and cucumber peels. I’ve gone through this cleaning sequence so many times and I’ll do it again a hundred thousand times more, I’m sure, so this one time, right here in the middle of the counter wiping timeline isn’t that important.
And yet it is. Because last night when I was wiping the counters, I felt a little like my mom. She cooks and cleans up with incredible grace and ease. She can make a delicious meal in 20 minutes for the five of us in our shared household and then she cleans up without hating it. She doesn’t get exhausted from it. She isn’t annoyed when we don’t help with the dishes. She does it with near emotional-neutrality. I say “near” because there’s a little more to it. I also see some simple, quiet joy in there, too. She seems to take pleasure in this dish-washing task, this role and relationship that she has with food and dishes. She offers it up with generosity and benevolence, but not it a big showy way. She does it in a simple and sustainable way. In a way of day-after-day, coming to the same work and doing it again and still finding joy in there somewhere. It is admirable and healthy. Tonight, I got to feel a little bit like my mom. I had the awareness of that kind of pleasure that can come with wiping counters, and I noticed it because it isn’t always there. I noticed it and I liked it.
The clear mind and the easeful counter wiping was special because I have this thing going on with dirty dishes. When the girls are with their dad, and sometimes when they are here with me, I let dirty dishes pile up in the sink. I think it’s connected to my complicated relationship to motherhood. I know I harbor some resentment about having to be responsible all the time. Parenting jettisoned me into adulthood in ways I never could have anticipated and I mostly love it, but when I don’t, I take it out on my dishes. Unlike my children, dishes are inanimate and so they don’t care if I wash them or not. They don’t actually know if they are dirty in the sink for 4 days or if they are shiny and clean in the cabinet. I can be less-responsible in this area of my life and it doesn’t matter all that much.
But it kind of does, because when my counter is a mess, I get grumpy. I’m not cooking much these days, but I do assemble food for myself, and when I have greasy, sweating slices of old cheese next to the salad of baby greens, garden cucumbers and roasted chicken, it bums me out. Salad is much more exciting when there isn’t something unsavory hanging out nearby. Also, the tipping point from invigorating no-dish-wash-rebellion to dirty-dish-overwhelm is oh-so delicate. I don’t think I’ve hit the sweet spot on that one very often where I’ve managed to satisfy my need to not feel quite so responsible and then jumped in to clean the dishes at the perfect moment so that I also get the satisfying and joyful sensation of a job well done.
I have decided that I want to spend less energy rebelling against my dishes. I’d like it if the energy I do have to spend on dishes was of a nourishing, feel good and easeful variety. I want to do dishes like my mom does dishes. I want it to feel like it did tonight with no internal conflict, no chatter in my head about how much I don’t like the task or how many dishes there are or how gross the orange and oily spaghetti sauce line is on the sides of the sink. I want to simply do the dishes. My rebellious streak might better serve me elsewhere—into areas of my life that need a little shake up, but dishes? They just need to get done. And yeah, you can call me Amahnda Nhat Hahn if you want to.
Happy Mothers Day, Mom. I love you.