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Amy Choate-Nielsen: When do moms and grandmas get to stop cleaning the floor?

Published: Tuesday, March 5 2013 5:47 p.m. MST

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My son loves to throw food on the floor.

There are few things that bother me more than dirty floors or dirty countertops. I don't like to look at a counter surface and see sticky spots or shades of color where something was spilled and not properly wiped up. And bread crumbs are the worst. I cringe when sandwiches are not made and toast is not buttered on a big cutting board that can collect the crumbs. I hate finding a pile of crumbs on the counter.

My feelings about the floor aren't much better. I don't like the feeling of something sticking to the bottom of my sock, or seeing splotches of dirt on the planks of wood that make up my kitchen, dining and living room floors. I don't like stepping in things, and little bits of food are not only gross, but scary, because I worry about ants and cockroaches and other little bugs coming to feast on the floor.

We don't wear our shoes inside because shoes are dirty, and I don't like the idea of street dirt being tracked all over my house. That makes me all the more sensitive about my floor, because my feet are either bare or wearing socks that show dirt. And, we're in the mode of having young children around here, so when I look at my babies rolling on the floor or crawling, or slithering or playing, I want to make sure the surface they're licking is somewhat sanitary.

But my 2-year-old son loves to throw food on the floor.

Every kind of food. Cracker crumbs, soggy O-shaped bits of cereal that cement themselves wherever they land as soon as they dry, orange segments, apple wedges, carrot bits he decided not to finish chewing, and of course bread crumbs. But sometimes he really goes for it and sends his bowl of yogurt over the edge of his high chair, or he flings his applesauce into tiny, sticky specks that cover a 3-foot radius, or he throws his fork with spaghetti sauce and bits of tomato onto the floor.

Extricating him from his high chair is a process in attempting to minimize spreading the mess further, never mind the fact that he usually wears a smock and a bib to try to catch his food. I pull him out, wash his hands in the sink, and he runs off to play as I start on the floor.

I use a full-sized broom, then a dustpan and a brush, then a little vacuum, then floor cleaner and a paper towel on my hands and knees to get it all clean. Sometimes I find myself on my hands and knees under that table after every meal, plus a snack, and I start to wonder, when will he notice? At what age will he see his dear mother on her hands and knees on the floor yet again, for the fourth time that day, scrubbing away at his dried tomato puddles, and decide to stop giving her a reason to be down there?

Because here's the thing: I know my dad loved his mom. As I have sought to learn more about my grandmother, who died before I was born, I have asked my dad and my uncle to tell me stories about her. Every time they speak of her, it is always with admiration, appreciation and love. I imagine that if she were still alive, they would probably not allow her to lift a finger for anything she wanted. I imagine that if she were still alive, they would be serving her.

My husband is the same way with his mother. At some point, these sons became appreciative, chivalrous and protective of the woman who gave them life on this earth and, I imagine, stopped throwing their proverbial applesauce on the floor for her to clean.

Perhaps part of the responsibility lies with me. My grandmother was certainly an impressive woman, accomplished and educated — and that wasn't lost on my dad and uncle, even when they were young. She worked hard and loved them well, and in the end, she had their respect. Maybe if I want my son to learn to respect me, I must also respect him. Maybe I need to be sure that my life is worth respecting. Maybe the mere fact that I am his mother is enough qualification.

Maybe it just takes time. Or maybe it is a fantasy of mine. Whatever the answer is, I'll probably figure it out while I'm sweeping the crumbs away.

Because as much as I hate a dirty floor, the real reason I'm cleaning is love.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.

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