We were always cleaning.

As a child, I felt like the rag in my hand was surgically attached. 

We helped my mom dust curios and shelves, full of her prized knickknacks, with lemon Pledge. Angels were housed with antique dishes and holiday-only flatware in her hutch. Every stitch of it had to be wiped.

The decor in our house was classic 1980s. Our bad childhood artwork displayed prominently throughout the house, even in her closet. Brass butterflies and needlepoint hung on the walls along with a wooden plaque etched with the Lord’s Prayer. 

We dusted dining room table legs and vacuumed two-toned green carpet. We fluffed museum-quality throw pillows (that were not for drooling on) and smoothed our floral velour couch.

My mom had us cleaning from the time we could walk it seemed.

She was the consummate Perfectionist with a capital P. And not just when company was coming over although then, the frenzy of housework whipped with hurricane force. 

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Often we would dust a shelf, vacuum a room, or scrub a toilet with an S.O.S. pad and Lysol only to have her swoop in behind us to redo it. She even checked to make sure we moved the furniture when we vacuumed.

She was meticulous. Methodical. 

Dishes couldn’t be left in the strainer to air dry, they had to drip-dry for five minutes and then be hand-dried and immediately put away. We never had a dishwasher growing up.

There were mirrors hung in every room. We should’ve bought stock in Windex.

Every key on the piano carefully gleamed.

Often when we were eating, she would ask us how long it was going to take us to finish our milk because she couldn’t stand the thought of a dirty glass sitting anywhere. 

Laundry was where she really shined. She could’ve made it into an Olympic sport. 

My mother redecorated rooms and changed the furniture around by the week. 

It’s cute that you think I’m kidding.

Since becoming a mom myself and running my own household, I discovered something.

Every time she nagged or hollered at us to clean up our pigsty rooms or taught us her very precise way of doing chores, she was expressing her motherly love.

We didn’t have much money back thenfinances were always tight. The possessions we had, the furniture we owned, were precious. She understandably wanted them rigorously maintained.

My childhood home would be the only house my parents would ever own.

The clothes we wore were bought with her hard-earned moneyincome from working two jobs. One as a church secretary and another at a meat-packaging plant. There simply was not a more hard-working or dedicated mom than mine.

Cleaning was an extension of her love.

She was teaching us to respect what God provided for us, to never feel entitled or be careless with our possessions. 

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She sacrificed so we would not lack. We were well-loved and taught responsibility at a very young age. 

As a kid, I frequently commented that I never wanted to grow up to be like my mom. I felt her too rigid, too anal-retentive. Her level of cleanliness was almost unattainable.

As an adult, I find that I love my house clean. Maybe not “My Mom Clean,” but clean. I love organizing our things and keeping our cozy home tidy. I love de-cluttering and having a day to just CLEAN and make the house sparkle. I love caring for our possessions.

It gives me great joy and satisfaction to have a clean house.

Cleaning is therapeutic for me now. I wonder if it was for her too all those years ago. 

It turns out, growing up to be like my mom was not such a bad thing after all.

In fact, perhaps I should’ve aspired to be more like her all along.

Melissa Neeb

I'm a Minnesota native and lover of nature, WW2 memoirs, rescue dogs, photography, and thrifting. My husband and two teenagers are the great loves of my life. I am passionate about advocating for addiction recovery, writing about parenting, life, faith, and everything in between.