I threw the mop on the kitchen floor with a clatter and announced in a voice that could easily be heard throughout the house, if not the whole neighborhood, “I can’t believe it. I cannnnooootttt belieeeeeve it!”
My two college-age kids quickly came running; my husband was not far behind them. Each added to the chorus: “Are you O.K.? What’s wrong? What’s the matter?”
At first I was so flabbergasted by my sudden burst of insight that I couldn’t explain. I was indignant! I was dumbfounded at the realization that had just dawned on me! I stood there so stunned and speechless, I couldn’t explain my outburst to them.
Charmaine, always tender-hearted and caring, reached out to pat me.
I blurted out: “I don’t like a sponge mop. I like a string mop. Why am I mopping the floor with a sponge mop? I hate a sponge mop. Your dad is the one who likes a sponge mop. Your dad hates a string mop! I am an intelligent, well-educated, professional woman. I can’t believe that for 20 years I have been mopping the kitchen floor with a sponge mop instead of a string mop because my husband likes a sponge mop!”
My “explanation” produced looks of incredulity and shrugs. Instead of understanding the monumental nature of my insight they just looked bewildered.
Charmaine, who is seldom if ever at a loss for words, was clearly puzzled by the contrast between my outburst and my explanation. Trying to reconcile the seeming incongruity, she asked, “O.K. So you like a string mop and dad doesn’t. Why is that such a big deal?”
I tried to explain how incredible it was to suddenly realize that it had never occurred to me to buy a string mop like I preferred simply because my husband didn’t think it was as good as a sponge mop.
I fumed on even though I began to feel a bit sheepish as I saw that my kids could not possibly understand my earthshaking realization. But, I held my ground. I was convinced that they were just too young and inexperienced to comprehend the significance of such stupidity.
Then, I noticed that both kids were trying to keep from laughing because, despite their awareness of the seriousness of all this to me, now that they knew I was not physically injured, they found the whole situation very amusing.
My analytical and athletic son, aptly named Gil, after his father, was still out-of-breath from hearing my scary scream and running to see how he could help. Finding nothing worthy of his considerable problem-solving skills, and not really wanting to be involved in the douement of what he considered an emotional drama, he returned to the peace and quiet of his bedroom.
Charmaine lingered in the kitchen trying to empathize with me. As the adrenaline dissipated, I picked up the mop. As I continued working on the floor, I tried to explain my outburst to her.
Gil Sr. listened quietly for a while, but soon discreetly retreated to his project in the garage.
I told her that it had all started in the early months of our marriage. I had stood by another sink wringing out the mop and feeling smugly confident of my newlywed housekeeping skills. The floor looked shiny and clean and I felt a definite sense of accomplishment that the task was just about finished.
Then Gil came in as I was wringing the dirty water out of the mop. With a frown he said, “Oh, nasty! That’s awful! You shouldn’t be putting your hands in that disgusting water. I don’t want you getting your hands filthy wringing that thing out! You shouldn’t be using a string mop! That thing just spreads the dirt around. I’ll get you a good sponge mop. Then, you won’t have to get your hands dirty.”
Poof there went my pride and satisfaction with the clean floor. There went my confidence in my housekeeping skills. My self-esteem evaporated in the face of Gil’s disdain for my string mop.
Stung by his “criticism,” I retorted, “My mother always uses a string mop!”
My mother had raised seven children and that most certainly qualified her as a bona fide authority on cleaning anything.
I turned to the sink to hide the tears that were threatening. As I looked at the water swirling down the drain, I had to admit that it did look nasty and my defense became a bit more hesitant, “A string mop gets into the corners and REALLY cleans the floor.”
Gil confidently assured me that a sponge mop would be much better. “A sponge mop absorbs the dirty water instead of slinging it all over the place like a string mop does,” he declared with finality. Today, Gil refers to this early period as the stage of his life when he was “often wrong, but seldom in doubt.”
True to his word, that afternoon Gil came home with a fancy sponge mop with a lever on the handle to compress it, so that I didn’t have to get my hands wet squeezing out the dirty water.
For the next 20-some years, whenever needed, I dutifully bought a new sponge mop for us.
Surprisingly, though Gil and I have differed and compromised on a myriad of issues over the years, the question of what kind of mop to use never emerged as a point of contention.
At least not until that fateful Saturday morning: On that morning, I finished mopping the kitchen floor and turned to other tasks on the week-end “to do” list. I was busy putting away groceries in the late afternoon when the doorbell rang.
I noticed that the two kids and my husband were standing in the living room, near the foyer and wondered, briefly, as I rushed past them, why they hadn’t answered the door.
I opened the door and there stood a delivery boy from the local florist holding a brand new string mop with a dozen beautiful red roses artistically arranged up and down the handle!
I stepped back, stunned! Then, I burst into laughter, reached for the bouquet and read the card.
A warm glow welled up inside of me. Gil, Sr. had not dismissed my “insight” as irrelevant after all!
How much did he understand?
The card in his handwriting stated simply, “I don’t care what mop you use, as long as it is our floor you’re mopping! Love, Gil.”
With tears streaming down my face, I saw clearly in that gesture Gil’s love and unconditional acceptance of me.
This episode has very little to do with whether a string mop or a sponge mop is better for cleaning a kitchen floor. It is more about the way our relationship has grown and stretched over the years to allow two very different and strong-willed persons to become one without diminishing either of our identities. It is no small challenge to learn, in our day-to-day living, how to appreciate and value the differences that make each of us unique and sometimes maddening to even those who love us.
Within their own unique circumstances, every husband and wife has to wrestle honestly and sensitively with the complicated business of applying the very difficult principles that build relationships, instead of letting ego and pride destroy romance and undermine love and respect for individuality.
Along with his appreciation of the significance of my great insight, Gil discovered that the price of one string mop and a dozen roses was one of the best investments he ever made!
Versions of this article have appeared in the magazine, Christian Reader, and in the book, Don’t Stop Laughing Now, published by Zondervan in 2002. Copyrighted by Janice Shaw Crouse.