“Neurotics build castles in the air, psychotics live in them. My mother cleans them.” – Rita Rudner

The foregoing is not to suggest that all mothers have psychiatric issues, but you’ll notice that most of the compulsive cleaning stories you’re likely to hear don’t involve someone’s father. We know a woman who accompanied her mother to an estate sale and, as often happens, lost track of her while examining some parlor wall hangings. When she finally located her, mom was in the upstairs bathroom scouring the sink. You’ll usually get a sort of George Mallory on Mt. Everest answer from a mom. Why did she clean that sink? Because it was there.  And it was likely somewhat less than presentable.


Guys will almost never do this. It’s not that we’re simply content to wallow in filth. Sure some guys are like that, but we can’t all be politicians. And anyway, the idler has a different explanation: Men simply have a greater or at least longer tolerance for clutter and disorder and, well, dirt. We’ll eventually get around to tidying up but so often, in the meantime, certain parties with a lesser tolerance will swoop down in a stealth helicopter and execute the black ops. At which point we’ll observe brightly, “Oh, you’ve dispatched that entity in the basement shower? I had it on my sked for this afternoon!”

Like a lot of things in life, it goes back to infancy. Don’t tell Gloria Steinem but for most of recorded history, moms have been in exclusive charge of infant care. There are even some primitive tribes where babies are never put down. They’re attached to someone all day and night and that someone is usually mom. If you’ve had dealings with age groups in the low single digits, you’ve learned that the average baby can generate loathsome substances at a shocking clip. While you are in the process of addressing one biohazard you can get nailed in the eye with another. Then they grin at you. A father would immediately set to work creating a flow chart complete with Venn diagrams showing overlapping target areas scientifically depicting optimal diaper changing strategies. All the while, Junior is waddling around with a pantload. Moms will change the diaper, apply some lotion, get a fresh onesie out of the dryer, tickle Junior and sing him a lullaby. There might even be some sink scouring in the bargain. It’s all done automatically and to all appearances unconsciously.

We all made messes our moms cheerfully cleaned up. Mama Putin changed little Vladdy’s diapers and Mama Bergoglio looked after her infallible baby Jorge. Someone should probably have a talk with Mama Bieber, but we’re sure she realizes there’s still work to do. Some of us were still making messes into adulthood and, if we were lucky, mom was still there to make it all better. There’s a saying among journalists that if your mother says she loves you, check it out. It’s meant to illustrate the necessity of skepticism in the reporter’s world. You don’t need to check it out, though. There aren’t many sure things in this crazy world, but that’s one. Happy Mother’s Day!

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