Insanity is Hereditary

Summers have always been magical from the tree climbing in my backyard to walking along green and periwinkle lilac bushes through the vacant land behind our house.  This summer was to be even more magical (or so I hoped) as my parents had gone in with another couple to rent a lake cabin for the entire summer.  Mom and dad both had to work all week, but every weekend we would be going to Pelican Lake to relax in the sun, swim in the lake and enjoy the company of our neighbors who were all from my hometown.  
The first weekend, mom had packed Comet, bleach, Mr. Clean, a broom, a mop, cleaning rags, feather dusters, and a couple buckets.  “It’s going to need some serious cleaning,” she said.  My mom was a cleaner.  She complained about cleaning all the time, but nobody made her do it.  She cleaned things nobody else noticed.  She took down light fixtures, dusted tops of cabinets, blew out heat registers with a leaf blower.  I think she secretly loved to clean, but complained about it so nobody would know her secret.  
We all were excited and ready for our first weekend at the lake.  It was a beautiful, sunny day in the high 70’s.  My brother had met some friends to cruise for chicks around the lake and dad had gone fishing with Frank, the neighbor.  I was left alone with mom, the crazy cleaning woman.  I asked her if I could go down to the lake and maybe swim or catch some rays or just walk along the shore. She said as soon as we were done cleaning, I could go check out the lake and handed me a bucket full of soapy water and rags.  I was to go around and wipe down everything—cabinets, walls, doors, windows, with soapy water.  Of course, that was just a first step to get the top layer of grime.  I did as I was told and mom turned on the radio and blasted some oldies while we washed and scrubbed.  She was working hard breaking a sweat and I was just enjoying the music, dancing and singing a little and washing down everything.  I looked outside and saw some neighbor kids running and jumping off of the dock in their swimsuits, laughing and having fun.  At first it was ok because I was having fun with mom cleaning and dancing.  I also knew that as soon as we were done, we’d be outside enjoying the beautiful day like everyone else.  
“OK, I wiped down everything.  Can I go outside now?”  I asked hoping she’d understand I was a 12 year old kid at the lake for the first time and let me go enjoy myself with the other kids a while.  She smiled and told me I did a good job and then handed me a long handled feather duster and told me to dust the ceiling for cobwebs.  I had no idea how to do that or how I was going to reach the ceiling and she took me to a corner.  “See that?”  There was a big cobweb in the corner and she held up the duster and wiped it out.  “Just go around and do that, but make sure you get all the corners.  Just because you can’t see the cobwebs doesn’t mean they aren’t there. “  
Off I went, still having fun, singing along to the radio and dancing a little bit.  I felt pretty happy about helping mom clean even though I always did it at home too.  I still believed that she was just going to do an initial good cleaning and then be done and enjoy herself and let me off the hook.  As I was dusting out the cobwebs, I noticed my mom going around wiping down everything I had just done.  “I already did that mom!”  Why was she doing it all over again?  Doesn’t she realize it’s going to take us that much longer to finish if we double up on everything?  “I know.  You did a good job, but you just missed a few spots.”  And there she was, redoing everything I had just done.  I finished dusting away the cobwebs and asked if I could be done yet.  It was already 10:30 and the day was slipping away.  She handed me fresh bucket of soapy water full of rags again and told me to go out to the guest cabin and wipe everything down in there too.  There was a main cabin where my mom and dad and the other couple would sleep and there was a smaller guest cabin behind the main one where the kids would sleep.  I was starting to get impatient now and asked if I could please be done after the guest cabin.  She said ok, but that we would have some lunch first and then I would be free.  
Lunch was tuna salad sandwiches and diet coke.  I ate way too fast because I wanted to get outside.  When I finished, I asked again if I could please be done and get outside.  Finally, she set me free.
I immediately ran to change into my swimsuit and grabbed a towel.  Once changed, I walked in the toasty sunshine down the lawn to the sand.  There were hundreds of shells that had washed up on the shore.  Many of them were snail shells that were all an iridescent opal color that sparkled in the sunlight.  I looked out on the water and it was the most beautiful clear blue-green and the tiny ripples throughout the lake shimmered in the sun.  The beauty of it was staggering.  I felt an incredible sense of peace and joy overcome me and felt the warm love of the earth surround me. I looked back to the cabin wishing my mother could come out and experience it with me, but she was still cleaning; making everything perfect for her family…or for herself.  Somehow, I don’t believe she ever felt she achieved perfection but she never stopped trying.
I walked out to the end of the dock and sat down and put my feet in the cool water.  I looked down at the hundreds of minnows in their school swimming under the dock.  I tilted my head back so my face was toward the sun and let the amazing warmth fill me.  As incredible as it was, I couldn’t stop thinking about my mom.  What was wrong with her?  Why would she agree to rent a lake home and not enjoy it?  Then, I thought maybe it was the cleaning she enjoyed, but I wondered if she’d ever taken the time to feel what I felt.  I wondered if she’d ever just taken a step into the light and felt the overwhelming love of the sun.  Maybe she had. Maybe when she was 12, she was exactly like me and she lost something when she grew older.  I hoped with incredible sadness that I’d be able to remember that feeling; that I wouldn’t become so busy as I grew older that I’d forget what makes life beautiful.  
I looked around at everyone swimming; other kids playing and enjoying the day. I looked out at the fishing boats and speed boats and people skiing.  I sat for an hour or longer just enjoying what I saw.  I thought maybe I should try and join some other kids and have fun and play or get in the water and swim a bit.  I decided on the latter and slowly submerged my body in the water.  I felt the cool water enveloping my skin and wash all my worries and fears away.  I swam a simple side stroke back and forth from the dock to the water marker.  
After a few minutes of swimming, I realized that someone could step on all those shells in their bare feet and get a cut.  I walked up to the shore and grabbed my towel and held it out like a bag and walked along the shore picking up the shells.  There were hundreds of them.  I spent hours picking them, putting them in the towel and making sure they didn’t fall out of the towel. After picking up the shells, I noticed some had broken and there were tiny sharp pieces all along the shore.  They could hurt someone more than a whole shell, so I went along and collected as many of the shell shards as possible.  There was no way I could get them all, but I picked up as many as I possibly could.   When I felt I had done the best I could, I walked back up to the cabin, making sure to get all the water and sand off my feet so I wouldn’t track anything in after mom spent the whole day cleaning.  I brought the towel with the shells and shards with me hoping to clean the shells and use them in an arts and crafts project and would toss out the shell shards.  When I got in the door, she yelled, “Wash off your feet!”  
“I did.  They’re clean and dry.”
“Good, because I sure don’t want to spend my whole weekend cleaning up after you kids.  What’s all that?”  She asked pointing at the bulging towel in my hands.
“The shore was covered in sea shells so I picked up all of them so no one would cut themselves.”
“Well, what the hell did you bring them inside for?  Get those dirty things out of my house.”
“I wanted to wash them up and maybe make something out of them,” I tried to explain.  I was hoping she may be proud of me picking them up so no one got hurt, or even proud that I wanted to do something creative with them, but mom was mom.  
“Oh, that’s stupid.  They’re covered in sand and dirt and muck.  You’re not washing them in my sink.  They’re filthy.  Get them out of the house right now. “
It didn’t seem right to throw them in the garbage.  They were beautiful.  So, I walked them back down to the shore and dumped them back out in the sand.  People would just have to watch where they were going if they didn’t want to step on one.  As I stood looking at the opal colored shells sparkling in the sun, I replayed my mom’s words, “That’s stupid.  They’re covered in sand and dirt and muck. “I looked closer at the shells and could see she was right.  They were dirty.  They were covered in sand.  What was I thinking?  I smiled a little and shook my head.  Silly girl.
I draped the dirty towel over the railing on the steps so as not to bring it in and potentially get sand on the floor.  I walked back into the cabin.  “Are you all done playing?”  Mom asked.  
“Yeah.  It’s kind of boring outside.”  
“Good, grab that damp rag and help me get the spots off these base boards.”
I did as I was told and watched her for a minute; her short brown, permed hair wet with sweat from cleaning; her dry, wrinkled hands scrubbing in circles to remove the spots; her favorite old pair of Willie Nelson jeans and that old red shirt she wore that said “Insanity is hereditary.  You get it from your kids.”

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