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  • Gayle Certeza

I Can See Clearly Now

I started wearing glasses at 40 years old. I have one for reading and another for astigmatism. I could have fused these two into one, the modern progressive glasses. But I was thinking, if I lose one pair of them, I lost the equivalent of two. If they were separate, I could just lose or sit or step on one. Much more, I did not want to wear glasses all the time. I prefer to wear them only when necessary, such as when reading, writing, or driving. Hence, the perennial glasses are perched on top of my head like a haphazard headband.

The downside to this is that I sometimes get headaches. Maybe it’s because my eyes needed to adjust themselves all the time to deal with combined farsightedness and astigmatism. When I mentioned this to the optometrist she bluntly told me, “Ma’am yung glasses nyo di yan paracetamol na gamot sa sakit ng ulo. Dapat suot nyo lagi yan.” (Ma’am, your glasses are not like paracetamol that you will only use when you have a headache. You have to wear them all the time.)

After a decade of foisting my glasses only when needed, I realized that a distinct advantage of this system is that I seem to live in a world with filters. Everything around me is soft and gauzy. I don’t see the world with the crisp clarity and harshness of a 20/20 vision.

When I wear my glasses and examine my face in the mirror, it’s a recipe for disaster. My laugh lines don’t look funny at all. I see emerging age spots, specks of brown wriggling out from my epidermis that are eager to take their rightful places on my face and neck. My teeth looked jagged and on the yellowish side. I seem to have sprouted jowls and developed a double chin. My eyebrows, upper lips, and chin seemed to be overgrown with unruly hairs. When I remove my glasses and gaze at my face, I can’t see lines, specks, jowls, and jagged edges. I see a softer version of my fifty-one year old face. I catch my smile and the mischievous twinkle of my eyes.

I apply this same principle in dealing with my house. If I go around my house with a perfect 20/20 vision, I will be exhausted by the amount of work that needs to be done to get my house to the perfectly pristine level. I will see the littlest speck of dust, dirt, and detritus.

When I was a teenager I was a cleaning dynamo, which makes sense because from childhood my assignment was to clean the house. I dusted, mopped, arranged, rearranged, scrubbed, swept, and tidied our house under the strict supervision of my grandmother. Because of this, I grew up to be the cleaning champion of the house. When I was in college, my siblings dreaded my semester break homecoming because it meant I will be cleaning the house for days. They were faced with a choice, stay in the house and be swept up in the general cleaning or stay away and be spared. My brothers usually picked the latter and my sisters braved my cleaning binges.

One time, I over-cleaned our aquarium. I brushed and scoured every rock and soaped the graying sand to white. When I placed back the fishes, they all floated up and died. My siblings were so mad at me.

Another time, my cleaning caused a big ruckus. We lived on a remote farm in southern Mindanao in the early 80s and it was de rigueur then to display guns in the living room cabinet. Our display cabinet held our prized Encyclopedia Americana on the lower shelf and my stepfather’s gun collection on the upper shelf. In one of my semestral break cleaning frenzies, I dusted both the encyclopedia and the guns. Going the extra mile, I rearranged the bullets according to size. The bullets were usually placed beside the guns they belonged to, but I thought it looked chaotic. So I rearranged them - from the pointed bullets descending in height all the way to the rounded pellet-sized ones. Unfortunately for me, a few days after my major spring cleaning, there was an alleged intruder on our farm. My stepfather and our farmhands hurried to the cabinet to get the guns to chase out the intruder. Chaos ensued as the guns and bullets were not in one-is-to-one correspondence. Rather they were neatly arranged like Russian dolls all lined up prettily in a row. My stepfather was so mad at me.

When I had my own house, I cleaned it from top to bottom religiously. Then I realized that between my kids and my work, if I added ultra cleaning to the list, I would not have time to read books, play games, go out for drinks, or even sleep. Because of this, I created a manual for housecleaning for our kasambahay or house help. Of course, her level of cleanliness was not up to par with the immaculate standards I dreamt of. I had to learn how to lower my cleanliness expectation a few notches down or look away so I can breathe, read and live.

When we were living in New Zealand, we had no household help. Alone and jobless in suburban Auckland, my dormant cleanliness gene roared to life. Our house was spotlessly clean. Our garage and walkways were continuously swept of pretty autumn leaves. Our clothes were washed, dried, folded, and back in our closets in a day. When I started rearranging our groceries so that all the cans faced one direction, I knew I had crossed a line. I immediately shifted from housekeeper to job hunter. I knew I’d be mad to take my cleaning up to a compulsive level.

Like everyone, I have spent more time at home during this pandemic than ever before. Resisting the urge to do an all-out cleaning drive was a Herculean effort. I opted out of the cleaning stage of the pandemic and chose the Compliance Level of clean that our happy-go-lucky household help offered. This miraculous feat was possible because I do not put on my glasses when I go about the house.

If I scrutinized my house with perfect 20/20 vision, I will find patches of dust on my hundreds of books, residual soot on the pots, Lilliputian crumbs on the counter, rusty spots on the faucets, grime on the bathroom grout, and slime in the deep recesses of the freezer. My kids will wilt under this unforgiving scrutiny. I would find pimples, dandruff, and dirty toenails on them. And my husband, whose things have a nasty habit of crawling out of his stuffed bag and sprawling around the house will be a nervous wreck.

It is quite difficult but my goal is to be mellow with housework. To be happy and at peace in a moderately clean house. I would like to channel my favorite humorist, Erma Bombeck, who said “My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.” There was much wisdom to her funny quips. Following her lead, instead of worrying about the fraying sofa, I choose to lounge in it with my kids and our cat. Instead of continuously dusting the books, I’d sit down and read more. And instead of wrangling with the household help on the quality of her washing, I will sit down and write more.

Who knew I could see more clearly by ditching 20/20 vision?


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