- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2000

I imagined myself in many roles when I was growing up. Most involved some type of world domination. I was convinced I was destined to save the world.
As soon as my brother and I advanced beyond the see-Dick-run early readers, our parents required us to read at least one story each day in the New York Times and be prepared to discuss it at the dinner table.
This infusion of current events gave my brother and me a precocious awareness of world troubles, and we somehow felt obligated to solve them. Our plan was somehow to take over the whole world and rule it benignly.
Fortunately or unfortunately for the world, we were never able to carry out our ambitious childhood plans. Now that I'm grown, I wonder at the enormity of our dreams. These days, I feel lucky if I can claim domination over my household.
I may be a journalist by profession, but if I were defined by the cumulative hours spent in any one role, I would be labeled first a housekeeper, second a mother (I'm including the subset of chauffeur under this heading) and finally squeezing my work into hours when the rest of the household slumbers a writer.
The problem with that prioritization is that after years of struggling to keep my head above the ever-rising tide of child-created chaos, I have to admit that I am a lousy housekeeper.
I think I would be fine if I lived alone, but I share my home with a man whose definition of clean obviously is quite different from mine. When I refer to "cleaning up after dinner," I define that as: putting away the food, clearing the table, stacking the dishwasher, washing all the pots and pans, cleaning the counters and sweeping the floor.
My husband's definition of the task is to put the food in the refrigerator and the dishes in the sink and turn off the lights. He's a firm believer in "out of sight is out of mind."
Our children, given a choice between the two definitions, inevitably choose what my husband charmingly calls "cleaning light." Let me first of all say that my husband is a wonderful man, a good provider and a sincerely fun guy. But some days I wish I were married to Mr. Clean (although that earring and those weird pants would get on my nerves after a while).
A few weeks ago, my mother phoned to tell me she was coming for an overnight visit. This triggered a frantic white-glove cleaning spree. Lysol was poured, Windex was sprayed, and an amazing collection of once-lost items was unearthed from under the couch and children's beds. Even my husband got into the spirit, using the vacuum's usually unused attachments to suck dust out of corners and off the ceiling fan's blades.
After a few evenings dedicated to housecleaning, the whole family marveled at the results. Mirrors gleamed, the carpet was not only clear of my daughter's usual army of action figures, but was shampooed clean. Even the refrigerator shelves and oven racks were polished. We felt proud and ready to receive our guest.
We had a wonderful visit, but right before my mother left, she asked me to follow her into another room. There she handed me some money and told me to get some professional cleaning help.
I stood there, unable to speak for a few moments as I was torn between conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I was a little hurt that my best efforts were being criticized. On the other hand, I was enormously grateful.
Getting some household help certainly will free me from the daily drudgery that has kept my focus from the really important things in life.
No, I'm not going to turn my attention to achieving world peace. At least not before I finish filing my income tax return.
Paula Gray Hunker, a Family Times staff writer, welcomes comments, suggestions and stories from her readers. She can be reached by mail at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave., NE, Washington, DC 20002; by phone at 202/636-4897; by fax at 610/351-1791; or by e-mail at hunkerc@erols.com. Her column can also be found on The Washington Times' Web site, www.washtimes.com.

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