It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Cleanliness is Next to… Of neat freaks and casual mommas…

I am not very concerned with externals. I listen to other mommies… “I left the child with dad, and when I came back, she was wearing odd socks… “Can you believe he took him out in a plaid shirt and striped pants??… “It never fails. If I let dad take her to school, she’ll be wearing the same shirt from yesterday!” (Note how it’s almost always dads who get skewered.) I listen and I just can’t imagine spending all the energy worrying about this stuff. Um, unless it’s a wedding or great-gramma’s 90th birthday, does it really matter?

A while back, when I told a mother that I’d given her son a bath, responded with “Well, if you thought he needed a bath, he must’ve been filthy!”

So, I’m at the casual end of this spectrum. Most moms fall in the middle – they fret a little about tidiness and matching socks and colour-coordination, but they don’t go nuts with it. Then there are those at the other end of the spectrum, the Manic Mommies, the Queens of Clean…

Some years ago, I supervised a program for 4 to 6 year-olds, and typical for the age, the kids were exuberant, good-tempered, loud — and often grubby. Except for two children. Little Sofia was the picture of sweet, pink-and-white girlhood. She always wore a dress, always made of some pale and gauzy fabric. Always the white tights. Always the shiny black mary janes.

Poor Sofia typically sat out through most of activities, her huge brown eyes wistful but resigned. She could read, do puzzles, colour, and sing. She knew better than risk a drop of paint on her dress. Were this to occur, Outraged Mother would appear, shooting flame, the next day.

“Do you know how much that dress cost?” she would roar. When it was suggested that perhaps such valuable items shouldn’t be worn for play, she merely snorted. We were to Keep The Child Clean.

This pattern was well-established when I arrived. Apparently, artist smocks had been attempted, but they were not up to the job of keeping Sofia clean in the sandbox. Previous supervisors had caved to the furor of the Mother. My solution was simple: a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Sofia was changed the moment she arrived in our program, and changed back again ten minutes before Mother was due. We were never caught out – strange how we all assumed Mother would disapprove – and I can only assume Sofia was canny enough not to mention it at home.

The other child was a boy. He arrived sensibly attired in jeans and t-shirt. He was allowed to play, but he was expected to be Clean when his mother appeared. We did our best: washed his hands and face, brushed his hair before Immaculate Momma appeared. Appeared and Inspected. She would stand back a couple of steps before the boy was allowed to approach. No spontaneous hugs allowed here! She would scan him from top to toe. Generally our efforts passed muster, and she would open her arms to him. Occasionally, she would feel compelled to brush his hair or rub a speck of something from his cheek or tuck his shirt into his pants before doling out the Maternal Affection.

Then there was the day when the head-to-toe scan went well, the hair and clothes check passed, the face was all right, but, but… Her eyes narrowed.

“His nose needs wiping!” she declared, glaring at his primary worker. The worker was justifiably baffled.

“I’m sorry, I don’t see anything.”

Immaculate Momma took her son’s chin in her hand and tipped the boy’s head back. “There! Can’t you SEE it?”

The poor girl! Astonishment struggled with fury, and fury won.

“Mrs. Immaculate.” The words spat out from between clenched teeth. “If I can’t see it from the front, it’s not my problem. I do not get paid NEARLY enough to start picking your son’s nose for you.”

Takes all kinds…
© 2006, Mary P

January 12, 2007 Posted by | parenting, parents, the dark side | 18 Comments