Empty nest? Not a chance

Saskia Sar­gin­son’s kids refuse to clean up af­ter them­selves, so she downs dusters and goes on strike

The Guardian - Family - - Family - Some names have been changed

Afriend men­tions that both her twen­tysome­thing daugh­ters have re­turned home for a few months and won­ders if she should be charg­ing them rent. I am ex­pect­ing the “dis­cuss and com­pare” con­ver­sa­tion about the joys and an­noy­ances of living with adult chil­dren, when she adds: “Of course, they do con­trib­ute £10 each to pay our cleaner.”

I choke on my wine. “They do?” Al­though I have em­ployed a cleaner at times, months pass with me clean­ing the house my­self. The prob­lem is that, while tidy­ing, dust­ing and shov­ing the vac­uum un­der the legs of my obliv­i­ous off­spring, I be­come pro­gres­sively more and more bad-tem­pered. Red-faced and cross, I end up snarling at ev­ery­one.

Ed begs me to hire a cleaner again. I am re­sis­tant, be­cause we once had a per­fect cleaner and I can’t see how we will re­place her. Each week, Maria trans­formed the place from hovel to home. It was bliss. Then she moved. Ever since, the mount­ing mess has left me feeling mur­der­ous to­wards my fam­ily. Af­ter my friend’s star­tling rev­e­la­tion, I sug­gest the kids might con­trib­ute to a new cleaner’s wages. They look con­fused. “But we’d never em­ploy a cleaner if it was up to us,” they protest.

“I didn’t ask to have my room cleaned,” Me­gan says.

“Yeah,” Jake says. “And I don’t like peo­ple touch­ing my stuff.”

“Well, dirt doesn’t magic it­self away,” I re­tort.

With four young adults in the house, the ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion is that they all help of­fi­cially with the house­work. It just needs to be or­gan­ised. I call a fam­ily meet­ing and show my chil­dren a list of es­sen­tial weekly chores I have drawn up, then di­vide the jobs. The ar­gu­ments start im­me­di­ately. The girls point their fin­gers at Jake. “He should be the one who does the bath­room. He’s the one who makes it filthy.”

“Oh re­ally?” He rubs his cropped scalp. “So how come the sink is blocked with long hair all the time?”

“But who flooded the floor, then left soak­ing tow­els in the linen bas­ket?”

“Who leaves un­der­wear hang­ing over the bath? And,” Jake says, get­ting into his stride, “who stains the bath ev­ery time they dye some bit of fab­ric? It has been blue for months. And it comes off. Parts of me have gone grey.”

“Shut up!” I shout above the racket. “Maria had to deal with all that. And she didn’t make any of the mess.” “But she got paid.”

“If you don’t help me, then we’ll just have to live in a squalid dump, be­cause I’m not do­ing it on my own any more,” I say, but this doesn’t get the re­sponse I had hoped for. My chil­dren seem happy to live in a squalid dump. It feels like a chal­lenge. “OK, then,” I say. “I’m on strike. And so is Ed.”

Who stains the bath ev­ery time they dye a bit of fab­ric? It has been blue for months. It comes off on me. Parts of me have gone grey

My list, pinned to the no­tice­board, is ig­nored. The vac­uum cleaner stays in the cup­board. Wash­ing up piles high. The car­pet be­comes mat­ted with dog hair. I re­treat to my bed­room – the only space I am keep­ing clean. I re­strain Ed from do­ing house­work, too. Nat­u­rally tidy, he is find­ing the mess dif­fi­cult to cope with.

He re­minds me how un­do­mes­ti­cated I used to be. “Did you help your mother with the house­work when you lived at home?” he asks. My mother told me to en­joy my­self while I was young; there would be time for clean­ing later, she said. As a re­sult, I was shame­fully lazy. But times have changed. I left home at 18. My chil­dren are still living with me in their mid-20s and I am de­ter­mined they should help.

It takes four weeks be­fore I come home to find the drain­ing board clear, sounds of vac­u­um­ing up­stairs, and Jake emp­ty­ing the over­flow­ing bin. “No­body else ever does this,” he snaps.

Me­gan, red-faced and cross, lugs the vac­uum into the room. “Zac had bet­ter not drop food on the car­pet,” she says. “It took ages to clean.”

“Is Maria ever com­ing back?” Lily asks wist­fully.

“No,” I say, “But, luck­ily, I still have my list.”

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