The Neat Freak Gene

When Sean was first born, some people wondered if I was really his mother. He looked nothing like me. When his 85-year-old great aunt first laid eyes on him in the NICU she declared that she could have picked him out as Antique Daddy’s boy out of 1,000 babies. And she was right. They were both bald and had prominent chins.

These days the boy looks more like me – uncooperative hair and usually wearing food. No matter whom he currently resembles, the quirky things he does that his quirky antique parents both do, makes him undeniably our offspring. And I have to wonder – how much of our weirdness is genetically hard-wired into his little (but obviously exceptional) brain?

Sean’s father is an obsessive wiper-downer and I am an obsessive picker-upper. He deals in clutter, but can’t tolerate dust. I’m okay with a little dust, but can’t function in disorder. Antique Daddy will tell you that if he gets up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I will make the bed while he’s gone. But he is a wiper-downer and that is way weirder. The second he boards a plane and gets in his seat, he pulls out his Clorox Wipes and wipes down the tray, armrests, seat back in front of him, anyone sitting next to him — and then shows the grimy gray gossamer remains to any flight attendant that will make eye contact with him. Much weirder than putting your glass in the dishwasher anytime you put it down.

So, the other day I’m busy in the kitchen, putting things away, and it’s kind of quiet, so I look into the den to check on the boy, because you know, toddler + quiet = bad. Anyway, he’s in there with a now empty box of baby wipes, wiping things down – the TV, the sofa, the coffee table, the toy box, his books, my books, his hair. And this is the scary part — he makes eye contact with me over the breakfast bar, holds up the cloth to show me and victoriously exclaims “Doot!” (which in English means “dirt”). And then he gives me the same “Can you believe this filth??” look that his father gives the flight attendant.

The next day, I picked Sean up a little early from school and I had an opportunity to stand at the half-door to his classroom unobserved for a few minutes and watch him. Playing? Napping? Crying for his Mommy? No. He was tidying up the classroom. That’s my boy.

This post was originally published in October 2005.

30 thoughts on “The Neat Freak Gene

  1. I believe much of behavior is culturally influenced and not as a result of genes, ie. parental behavior, which children pick up very fast. Good things to pick up though!


  2. Oh – my son is very obviously a mix of my husband and I – we can almost name which of us individual traits come from. His sense of humor, my temper…

    Poor Harry.

    Watch out – by the sounds of it, you and your husband rolled into one would be “Monk”. Or me.


  3. Damn, Damn, Damn!!!! I live among slobs. I married a slob. I birthed slobs. I can’t get anyone around here interested in picking up the obsessive reins I’m dangling. Congrats on rubbing off on those little darlings. Enjoy your well wiped house. I curse you and all other who have successfully passed on their obsessive traits. I am stuck here, alone, among a houseful of sloths, to fester in my own failure to reproduce in a meaningful way – a way that means tidy bedroom and pubic- free toilet seats.


  4. If even ONE person in our household of 9 had either one of those quirks, I’d be happy. But sadly, every single one of us is a born mess maker, and none of us care enough to be fanatical about it. As long as we can walk and not stick to the floor…. count yourself lucky!


  5. I am plagued by both of those things: mess and doot! I don’t wipe down every surface I see, but I do have the “clean counter-top” syndrome.

    I think it is truly genetic. And maybe a little observation, but heck… they gotta wanna. 🙂


  6. My toddler has the “put it away” gene. If he notices anything out of place, he puts it away. He closes cabinets, throws left-out cans in the trash, closes any doors, turns off any lights when we’re leaving. He’s not even two yet. I think my older children were like that, too, but I trained it out of them. The toddler might be made of tougher stuff.


  7. I just thought of something else. Each year, teaching, there were always one or two kids that loved to straighten up the room at the end of the day. When I was pregnant I might have taken advantage of that just a bit…but some kids just really like to tidy up! Sean sounds like a teacher’s pet in the making!


  8. You and Antique Daddy sounds exactly like us….you might think I’m lying. But I’m always making piles, putting toys and things AWAY. I’m big on getting the laundry squared away each day. He’s always wanting me to “run the carpet cleaner.” My husband wipes the REMOTE with clorox wipes before bed….I’ve never admitted that to anyone…but why not? If Antique Daddy does it, it must not be THAT weird….but it is a little weird : )


  9. My kids had the same epiphany when presented with the opportunity to use Stridex face pads. Rather than wash your face with a lame-o washcloth and soap, it’s much more fun to see how dirty you can get and then PROVE it by wiping down your face with a Stridex. Then, of course, you proudly display the grimy evidence to everyone else. Yuck!


  10. Part of it may be genetic, but most of it is nurture. My daughter has two children she adopted from Russia almost two years ago when they were 3 and 4. In the short time they’ve been with us, they have taken on so many of my daughter’s and her husband’s traits that it very funny, and endearing. The good news is that both you and AD have GOOD traits for Sean to pick up!


  11. I’m with you A.M. Fiddledaddy will be in the middle of making a sandwich, and I will already be putting the condiments away. Drives him insane.

    I have noticed from your last couple of posts, that you are raising Sean to be a most excellent future husband-in-training. Kudos to your genes. Both you and Antique Daddy.


  12. Thanks for making me laugh :D. I am an obsessive picker-upper too. Recently, at the end of DS’s (18mo) first week at childcare, his carer told me that he was such a help. She said “as soon as it comes time to pack up and I get out the string bag for the blocks, he’s right there beside me, helping me put the blocks in the bag”. I didn’t know whether I should be proud or worried! Isn’t it so interesting, this genetics thing?


  13. I think that’s one of the reasons I so dearly want to have a child, especially with my husband. It would be so interesting to see which of our characteristics he inherits and how they combine in one person. Can’t wait!

    I’m like you… Can’t stand clutter!


  14. Wow ! how wonderful
    Can I either have you three visit for a week or just borrow your son / hubby / you for a week?
    I can promise more dust & stuff that needs tidying than you could ever desire, almost a dreamlike amount of mess in fact.
    You would have an activity packed week I can assure you.


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