My son is a high school senior preparing to transform into a college freshmen as of fall 2013. This weekend we took a road trip to the city where he’ll theoretically spend the next four years learning, growing, and becoming greater than his parents. Our family mission: scope out potential apartments for him. Due to the long list of issues that living on campus would present (on which we won’t be elaborating here — suffice it to say this is our family’s decision), his only hope for avoiding a seventy-mile daily commute will be to negotiate off-campus housing. To that end, I found a lead on a pair of potential pads at shockingly competitive prices in a wide market that’s nearly sold out as a whole for the upcoming semester. My wife and I, dutiful and curious folks that we are, drove my son up there for a pair of apartment showings to ensure we wouldn’t be exporting him and his possessions into Avon Barksdale’s prized Towers from The Wire.
Like first-world anthropologists stepping tentatively into the native habitat of an otherworldly culture, we three ventured into each of the two available cribs, whose current tenants would be finishing their current leases in time for my son’s arrival in town. None of us knew what to expect and hadn’t really prepared ourselves. Judging by the conditions we tiptoed around, neither had the tenants.
In terms of the intrinsic qualities, both apartments were structurally sound, had nice carpeting, were equipped with adequate HVAC setups, and had no damaged walls, doors, windows, or baseboards as far as I could detect. The stoves weren’t brand new, top-of-the-line models, but they don’t need to be. I must emphasize here that the rental company had done their job in providing acceptable shelter. I saw nothing in my informal inspection that would indicate negligence on the landlord’s part. What the tenants chose to do within their assigned spaces was a different story.
Despite being duly notified that visitors would be touring the premises, neither tenant seemed to be concerned with tidying up for guests. The two shared a common decorating theme I would term Cluttertastic Chic. Shelving was nonexistent. Organized piles existed only as a concept in our heads, not theirs. Assorted forms of trash were scattered across the carpets and on the precious few tabletops. Both kitchens appeared to have the complete contents of their cabinets removed and set out to cover every inch of countertop. Furniture was minimal, no real seats for guests to use. One was using their bed frame as a makeshift clothesline while the mattress lay apart from it on the floor. The contents of one bathroom gave my wife such a start that I refused to look inside for myself.
As if entering these students’ lives in media res weren’t already awkward enough, one of them was still home. When the manager, our congenial tour guide, knocked on his door shortly after 2 p.m., he was at that moment officially awakened for the day. His disheveled appearance didn’t tell the complete story of how his Friday night went, but it didn’t end with him setting an alarm or remembering today’s special occasion. After finishing that particular tour, the three of us also had to stand by in the living room for a minute while the student and the manager had a calm discussion in the bedroom that I’m 95% certain involved overdue rent.
I came away from the experience with one new thought in my head: if my son doesn’t implement the lessons we’ve taught him over the years about cleaning and general household care, then if I don’t kill him, the germs will.
I realize my son’s domestic policies will be up to him and I won’t be in a position to save him from his own filth after he moves, unless I want to barge in and lecture him like he’s five. I truly believe he has the knowledge and the common sense necessary to maintain a competent household of small square footage if he doesn’t allow too many distractions or excuses to impede his caretaking. Just the same, I’ll continue to pray that he remembers the foundational lessons that will serve him well in the years ahead:
* Trash will not deposit itself into trash cans, nor are there trash elves who delight in rescuing you from that chore.
* Kitchen cabinets are great for holding stuff.
* Cooking a simple meal doesn’t require all the pans.
* Dishes should be washed after use, preferably before the residue celebrates a birthday.
* You’re not required to save junk mail for five years.
* Closets are also great for holding stuff.
* Clothes hangers aren’t just for fashion snobs.
* You have a dresser. Know what it does? If you guessed “holds stuff”, you win!
* You cannot mail your dirty laundry to us for processing. Any such packages will be forwarded to Abu Dhabi.
* Flushing a toilet does not provide all the cleaning it needs.
* Brooms aren’t just for witches.
To you parents out there who already lived through these years: were you blessed with a hyper-organized germaphobe? Did you have to remind your child that Oscar Madison and Oscar the Grouch were terrible role models? Or did you avoid seeing their rooms at all cost because you couldn’t risk the squalor breaking your heart?
To you younger generations reading this: I can rest assured that you’re winning at home cleaning, right? Using cleaning implements and fluids and tools and such, including your God-given trashcans, right? Right?