Arts and Entertainment

The cleaning power of a child’s honesty | Jill Urbach

Sometimes I don’t appreciate the honesty of children.

I got a dose of honesty last week from a 5-year-old who was in town visiting her grandparents. She befriended my daughter, so her grandmother and I arranged a play date at my house.

As the kids piled into my minivan after Vacation Bible School, the little girl commented, “Your car is really dirty.”

I smiled patronizingly and explained that the roads get really dry and dusty in summer. I was about to launch into my husband’s theory that a nice coating of dirt actually protects a car’s paint job when I was interrupted.

“It’s really messy inside too.”

It’s a bit embarrassing to recall my first thoughts at this comment. After all, my critic was only 5. I proceeded to form an image of Little Miss Clean’s perfect parents — and grandparents too — who probably had a spotless house and car, going through life with a Dust Buster in one hand and Lysol in the other, giving this child an unrealistic expectation of cleanliness in the real world.

Then I looked around my vehicle.

Now, I was under no illusion that my minivan was spotless. Who has a spotless minivan? The word “minivan” conjures up images of spilled juice boxes, beach sand, garage sale treasures that didn’t quite make it into the house and random fries from the last off-island splurge at McDonald’s.

I have learned to overlook these things on a day to day basis. If I let it get to me, I would spend far too much time cleaning my car and not as much time going to garage sales or the beach.

But when I looked around my vehicle through the eyes of this precocious child, I realized the little twerp was right.

That very night I hauled all the junk out of my car that didn’t belong there. First, I filled a bag with trash. Then I discovered several long-lost items: Books I’d been missing, a jacket I’d forgotten about, a hammer, seven single socks (none of which matched) and a few dollars worth of change that I put to use the following morning at the car wash.

I didn’t have quite enough quarters, so I brought along some dollar bills for the change machine as well. Much as ancient cultures chose their best produce and livestock to present to the gods, I always choose the best bills to present to the Quarter God. He has rejected my offerings more times than I can count.

However, on this fortuitous day, after some begging and pleading, the Quarter God accepted my offering and rewarded me with change. I proceeded to use every setting at the self-serve car wash, finishing up with a wax polish. I dried my minivan by hand and vacuumed every speck of sand from the interior.

The paint shone, and I remembered why I used to call the color “champagne.” The spotless interior made me feel instantly more organized. I had a blissful 10-minute drive.

Until I picked my kids up at the beach, where the first thing they did upon entering the vehicle was take off their sand-filled shoes.

— “Filthy Vehicle Finger Art” is a new Fine Arts category at this year’s county fair.

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