Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Passing the Mom test is a challenge when you lack the neatness gene

Passing the Mom test is a challenge when you lack the neatness gene

  • Updated
  • 0

Because I'm the guy who usually writes about fluffy inconsequential stuff, I try not to ever bring up the secret shame I've lived with my entire life. It's just too somber for this column.

You see, I was born without the neatness gene. (Insert gasp here. I'll wait.) But pity me not, Quad-Cities. I'm just like you -- except that I'm really, really bad at keeping my house clean and tidy. 

What's that you say? There's no such thing as a "neatness gene"? Well, what other than a lack of said gene would explain the fact that despite the best of intentions, I can't seem to keep my house as clean and tidy as I'd like?

Honestly, I've made great strides. I remember having to run into my dorm room door at full speed just to work up the force to push aside enough debris so that I could squeeze in. My first apartment was little more than a storage facility for empty pizza boxes.

But when I bought my house, I made a concentrated effort to live like a decent human being in a manner that couldn't legally be declared a biohazard. As far as I'm concerned, that effort has been a resounding success. But this isn't a story about my concern. This is a tale of my amateur neatness skills being put to the ultimate test by the ultimate critic. That's right: Mom was coming up for a visit.

My mother has no shortage of neatness DNA. I can't tell you the number of times I've popped home for a visit and heard Mom apologize for "such a huge mess," when to my eyes, not one thing was out of place, and I'm pretty sure you could've performed sterile brain surgery on any surface.

I love my parents. I just tend to love them more when I'm the visitor instead of the visitee. But they were coming to the Quad-Cities so my dad could do some free yard work for me, so I wasn't about to complain. I was about to clean.

Every day last week, I came home from work only to get to work. But the more I cleaned, the more disgusting things got. Instead of making headway, I was unearthing dust bunnies and cat hair and all sorts of things that go "yuck" in the night.

"I should put this in the junk drawer" gave way to "Wow, I need to clean out the junk drawer," which gave way to weird little piles of junk being dispersed throughout the house. Every time I moved something, an undiscovered herd of dust bunnies would make a break for it. And those dust bunnies were nothing compared to the dust manatees lurking above my ceiling fans.

Eventually, with the help of some friends, I got the place clean. It even smelled springtime fresh. Two days later, I left work to meet my parents at my house. Thankfully, I beat them by about five minutes, which gave me just enough time to walk in and ... scream.

Here's what I reckon happened. I went to work Monday morning. My cats woke up, took one good look around the immaculately clean house, and decided the best course of action would be to hold an immediate vomit war. My perfectly clean living room floor was covered in hairballs and indescribable nastiness. Instead of smelling springtime fresh, the house smelled like recycled cat chow. I didn't even have time to be grossed out. I just opened a window, grabbed a can of carpet cleaner, and started scrubbing.

By the time my folks showed up, I had it all cleaned up. Victory! Perhaps that neatness gene didn't skip a generation after all, I thought.

But then my mom stepped in the house, took one look around, and said, "It smells weird. Why is your window open and the a/c on? You weren't born in a barn. Did you let a newspaper sit on your porch all day long? That's just a giant neon sign to thieves that says, 'I'm not home! Please come rob me!'"

Win some, lose some, I guess. She's a tough cookie to impress. I just think I'll always be her little kid, and she thinks it's helpful to lecture. Often, it is.

And honestly, it doesn't matter. I got to spend time with my parents; I got some free yard work out of the deal; and I was left with a house that's the cleanest it's been in months. It might not have passed the Mom test, but my friends will be speechless.

Shane Brown is a columnist for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. Email him at or visit his blog at


Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News