Janet Sheridan: Anything worth doing
May 4, 2012
Each spring, I climb to the attic above the garage to fetch my clean and organized gardening gear: spades, pots, coiled hoses, pruning shears.
As I carry the equipment downstairs, I congratulate myself on the care I took when I stored it away the previous fall.
As she predicted, I've turned into my mother, but the conversion required time and effort on her part.
"Anything worth doing is worth doing well," my mother told me one summer day as she shook her head over the floor I'd vacuumed without moving footstools, abandoned shoes, or babies.
"Someday you'll understand," she continued with force, "that doing a job correctly the first time is easier than re-doing it — as you're going to do right now."
Despite Mom's frequent interventions, I continued to sweep dirt under the rug, hide crusted pots in the oven, and kick clothes from the bedroom floor to the back of the closet. Once, after a hot sticky morning of canning peaches, Mom told me to mop the kitchen floor while she took a nap.
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"Good deal," I thought. “She didn't say I have to sweep it first."
As I swiped the mop one last time, Barbara and her friend, Marie, walked into the room.
"Hey, get out of here," I snarled. "I just mopped that floor." "You did?"
Marie asked as she examined small pools of water and scattered bits of dirt and peach skins.
"Wow, that's pitiful." "Yeah," Barbara echoed. "It's bad. You forgot, Janet, that anything worth doing is worth doing well."
Mom grounded me for three reasons: the condition of the floor, her interrupted nap, and the mop-walloping I gave the "harmless little girls."
Unrepentant, I remained faithful to my sloth until a drab winter day when I took a clear look at my self-imposed living conditions in a college dorm.
As I left a begrimed bathroom, waded through abandoned clothes, and crawled into bed with candy wrappers, hair curlers, and dirty sheets, I realized I missed the order of my mother's house.
The next day I cleaned up my room and my attitude.
But, like a novice driver who over-compensates for drifting off a road, I veered too far in the opposite direction.
I applied Mom's motto with a vengeance, reacting with disbelief and retaliation when loved ones and colleagues didn't do the same — which leads me to the rest of the maypole-dancing story.
My column last week ended with joyful children sashaying around two maypoles in a dance I taught to my students and those of my perpetually perplexed colleague, Francis Perrin.
After our performance and an afternoon of field games and popsicles, I waved goodbye to my students and went to the gym to collect the streamers Norm, the school janitor, had removed from the poles.
I quickly untangled two sets of streamers and left with them, relieved that Francis had volunteered to take care of the other two.
Over the weekend, I washed, starched, and ironed 32 pink and green streamers, rolling and pinning each one.
I then sorted them by color into two smaller boxes and felt the self-satisfied glow that comes from doing something well.
On Monday morning, I put my labeled boxes inside the larger box in the storage room, leaving ample space for Francis to store hers, and went about my day.
At noon, as I led my class into the gym for lunch, Norm stopped me and suggested with sadness that I check out the maypole box.
I gazed in dismay at the tangled streamers writhing on top of my boxed sets like grimy blue-and-yellow snakes as Norm dolefully explained, "Right after you put yours away, Francis blew in, picked hers up, dragged 'em to the storage room, dumped 'em in the box, and was out of here in 10 seconds."
The next year she taught her own damn class to dance.