Sunday, October 7, 2007

Cleaning Colin's Room - 2004

The past few weeks have marked for me one of those periods in all grown-ups’ lives that descend every two or three, or if you’re lucky, four years. It might be the critical illness or dying days of a loved one, a blow-up at work, the breakup of a marriage, or another crisis that eats up the waking and sleepless moments of all your days and twists your guts and causes you to yell at your children with insufficient cause. Then, almost always – because we humans can’t go on like that forever – the stress and anguish tend to unwind to a manageable level and normal life, though perhaps irrevocably altered, moves on.

That’s where I am on Friday. It is time to move on. Because I strive to work only the 30 hours a week for which I’m paid, I try to take Fridays off. I rarely, if ever, do. But last Friday after doing some email and phone calls, I vow to take the rest of the day off and do some work around the house before 2:30 p.m. when horseback riding and soccer practice will eat up the rest of the day. Our house has been under construction since June 16, 2003, 461 days but who’s counting? We are coming to the end. One last push of touch-up painting, a few pieces of trim, linoleum in one room and carpet in the other, then we’re done. Our son Colin’s room, more than any other, has suffered on-going construction debris infiltration despite the blanket we put up between his room and the new gameroom. Sawdust and sheetrock dust have found safe haven amid the other dust and crumbs. Frankly, it’s gross but because Colin is not the most fastidious ten-year-old on the planet, I haven’t minded too much. I don’t have to sleep there.

But there’s this: Colin has started to sneeze a lot, especially in the mornings and evenings, and guilt is beginning to rear its pointy horns over the horizon of my mind. This isn’t a matter of sweeping dust under the bed so that the room looks presentable, I need to clean it all up…purge it from my home…make my child well. Taking a page from the book of the papa in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," I arm myself with a roll of paper towels and a jumbo-size bottle of Windex. I set to it and am appalled by the dust bunnies and larger woodland animals that I find under the bed along with a dozen beany babies and innumerable legos. "God, where did this kid get so many legos," I think to myself.

It’s hot and sweaty work and I change into a sleeveless top. I am on my knees in here, nose to nose with dust bunnies and little tiny bits of tortilla chips that he knows I know he sneaks up here regularly. I am Windexing everything in sight.

I clean his bedside table, a sweet little drop-leaf affair that I recall from my earliest days as being in my cousin Chris’s bedroom in the 1960s. I open the drawer to check for the remnant of a purple Beatles lick-on stamp that I remember being toward the back. Chris is now 52 and somehow Colin ended up with her childhood bedside table. I can’t explain how that happened, but families are like that.

I move to the windowsill to his dusty collection of horses and dead sea creatures, things he scavenged from my family’s barn when we moved the contents of my Aunt Deedee’s house there after she died. "Deedee’s junk is my treasure!" I remember this Kindergartner saying as he held up a package of long-forgotten daisy refrigerator magnets as I combed through the boxes for anything that still smelled like her house and reminded me of all the hundreds of days I had spent with her until I went away to school.

On the upper windowsill I come across the kind of cheesy "two wild stallions fighting" statue that you see advertised in Parade magazine. "For a limited time only from Franklin Mint…" But this one is different. It was sent to my Uncle in 1977 by a man whose life he had saved in the waning days of World War II. Uncle Ray pulled him out of the line of fire and was badly wounded himself. The man had been trying to find my uncle for more than 20 years, but the package finally arrived two weeks after his death. He sent the horse statue as a gift because he remembered Ray rode and trained horses. Now Colin rides. I give it a good shot of Windex and set it back in place.

I move to his desk by the door where a heavy layer of sawdust covers all. Colin is our collector. Not a dryer load goes in that doesn’t have some rock or seashell sounding the alarm as it tumbles from a pocket. On his desk are his fossils and minerals and do-dads, the value of which only he knows but probably has forgotten. There is a scarab beetle paperweight from our visit to last year’s Egyptian exhibit at the Museum of Science. There are several rocks and mussel shells of marginal collectable value. I Windex them all, the common and the precious alike. Without warning, as I wipe the dust from the desk into a trash bag, I feel a measure of the venom and hurt of the past few weeks flow out of me. What is it about handling and cleaning the treasures of my beloved and complicated son that tempers my troubles...troubles that have nothing to do with him? What is it about being on my hands and knees cleaning the dark neglected place behind the back of the boys’ computer desk that causes me to choke up? I sneeze violently and blow my nose. "It must be the dust," I think to myself.

I am feeling better now but that’s still the best answer I can manage.

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