Clean As You Go

I always enjoy Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Fridays, and I sometimes try to take the prompt she provides us in a slightly different direction than I think other writers will. This one was actually inspired by another blogger’s post I read this morning. Mine is fiction, hers is real.

Clean As You Go


Sitting here, eyes moist, gazing at my teenage daughter, a memory creeps into my mind; my mother sitting next to my hospital bed with, no doubt, the same look upon her face as is now upon mine. I’d had my tonsils out that morning, and by the look of anguish and worry on Mom’s face, you’d have thought I’d just had a heart transplant.

I remember the mornings most; me, at the old yellow Formica-topped table, eating a slice of toast with homemade jam, as Mom bustled about the kitchen, doing the things mothers did back then. I see our kitchen made of chrome; it wasn’t, but it seemed it was by the way it sparkled from Mom’s constant cleaning. “Clean your messes as you go, Annie,” she would tell me. “If you let them sit, they pile up and sometimes leave a stain.”

She told me about the good things life had in store for me, and warned me of the things that could cause me heartache. She told me there would be signs—some pointing the right way, and some pointing to trouble. “Stay on the path,” she always said. “The good things will come, if you stay on the path.”

I was a good listener—a good girl—and I grew up to be what I thought was a good woman and a good mother. But, now, looking down on the drug ravaged body of my teenage daughter—my little girl—I can’t help but blame myself.

I work long hard hours at a job I earned by being the good girl and woman my mother raised me to be, and I give my daughter all the finest things this world has to offer. But, today, as I hold her limp hand in mine, tears streaming down my cheeks, I realize I left out the most important thing… me.

Now, I just want to make up for all the times I hurried out the door in the morning, as she yelled at my back, “Mom, wait! I need to talk to you!”

“There’s money on the kitchen counter!” I’d yell back, as I backed out the long driveway. “I’ll be late again. Get yourself a pizza! Love you!”

I saw the signs—the ones Mom had warned me about—but I was too busy to read them. She’s just a kid, doing what kids do, I thought. She’ll grow out of it. She’ll be okay. But she didn’t grow out of it, and she’s not okay. First came the school suspensions, then finally jail, and each time, I raged at her for causing me to miss work, “How can you do this to me, after all I’ve done for you?”

I realize now, I saw the signs, but left the path, making a mess of her life and mine. I kept pushing her and the messes aside, and now I wonder if it’s even possible to clean things up, and if so, will the stains ever come out.

I just hope I get the chance to try.


To read the non-fiction post I mentioned above, click here —>


  1. Raivenne said

    Wow, Charles. That was just…wow. Cuts so close to home as any parents nightmare. Gut wrenching and yet beautifully penned.

    • Thank you, Raivenne! I appreciate the wonderful comment! And you know I love them Wows!

  2. Sherry Mashburn said

    WOW! Words fail . . .

  3. Addiction is not a respecter of persons, it is sad how often parents blame themselves over an illness they can not prevent. Not that addicts don’t look for someone to blame…….

    Really good write, Charles

  4. Charles, so many parents go through this. The “leaving a stain” resonates. I’d walk through fire for my Riley, but only if she needed it. I had to learn to stop protecting her, you know? Powerful write, man! Amy

    • It’s never easy knowing where to draw the line. One of my sons hasn’t spoken to me in about five years, but I don’t regret my decision. It’s a long story, and not one I’m ready to tell.
      Thanks for the visit and great comment!

  5. Charles, I am so hopeful you will compile all of this into a book. You would have an audience 🙂

    • I’m not sure what you mean about “all this”, Michael. I published a book of encouragements, and had minimal success with it. Poetry doesn’t sell, and if you’re talking about my little slice of life stories, I’d have to do some studying to see which ones, and what type, I could compile to make a book. I’m not negative about it, but I don’t have the funds to self publish and self promote, and publishers won’t give a person the time of day these days. The publishing world is in a rapidly evolving transitional period right now, and if you don’t have name recognition, you aren’t going to sell books. That is, however, why I started blogging–to try and build a following–and my readership is growing. I maintain high hopes that one of these days, BAM, everything takes off!
      The thing is, I love to write, and I’m going to keep writing. It’ll go BAM when it goes BAM!
      Thanks for your interest and constant encouragement!

      • yeah man, I am 100% certain it is about what you put into it. You are doing that and it will go where you want it to go. Yes, the personal slices of life. This is where you explode through and right into our lives Charles. Traditional publishing is as dead as land line telephones. You will succeed on this path and you don’t need money to do it…diligence will win the day.
        I believe in your work 🙂

      • I’m gonna keep pounding the ol’ keyboard, Mike. It’s what I do!
        Thanks again!

      • I look forward to a signed copy of ur first big seller 🙂

      • ah’ight den

  6. terri0729 said

    Aw, Charlie, you brought tears to my eyes!!! This story struck a chord with me deep, I’m sure you know why. I’m just so glad that my mother never had to do that with me. She sorta did with my next older brother, not to that extent though. They had to put him in the psyche ward instead because he was flipping out from cocaine binge and hallucinating from lack of sleep. As I said to you before, I have a wonderful mother like yours!! She has loved us without boundaries and we put her through hell some times 😦 I’m just glad that she is still alive and has seen us all get free from our addictions to alcohol and drugs!! Fabulous job with the prompt!!! hugs, Terri

    • So sorry! It’s a tough subject for a lot of folks.
      Thanks for the comment, Terri!

  7. Awesome…this is why I’m known as a cluttered housekeeper. All things can wait when the kids are around! Thanks!

  8. I have young kids, and this hits HARD. Very well done. Love the concept of “clean as you go.” One of my mottos in life is “keep up, don’t catch up.” Excellent write.

    • Actually, the term “clean as you go” is from my days in the restaurant business, but I held on to the habit. I like your motto, though!
      Thanks for the visit and comment!

  9. Mikael said

    Way to make me cry… This is so powerful, Charles. So emotionally wrought. I’ve seen things like that happen to a couple of my friends and it’s truly terrible. Some kids do well to combat it, but most don’t and fall into this horrible path. So sad. Lovely writing though!

    • It’s a sad fact, Mikael, but we have evolved into a world in which we chase our tails and forget the details. Life has become a rush from one thing to the next, and most folks don’t even enjoy the things they do. I don’t know the answer, but I know the way things are is wrong.
      Thanks for the wonderful comment. Sorry I made you cry!

      • Charles, I have become very fond of your homespun wisdom. You have a unique way of stating your philosophies and it makes for some great reading (and learning!).

      • Wisdom?? You talkin ta me?? I just throw some thoughts at the keyboard, and see what comes out. I’m also fond of saying, “I’m just the pencil.” I truly hope my thoughts and words are, and will remain, inspired by my focus on God.
        Thanks again, Reggie!

      • Your focus on God shines brightly Charles. But seriously, you share some great “common sense philosophy” on your site and in comments around the blogosphere.

      • I seriously just say what’s on my mind, and try to inject a little humor whenever I can. I love doing this! Not just the writing either, I love reading and commenting on other peoples blogs, too! My true hope is that encourage others as I enjoy this bloggin thang!

  10. Oh man, this is a tough read. You did a great job setting the picture and involving your readers emotions.

    Especially tough to read as a parent to at least one child who is very needy emotionally. I worry a ton about what will happen in her future—especially once she moves out from under our roof. I do hope that we are giving her “enough” time and speaking a “love language” into her heart that will make a long term difference.

    At the end of the day, it’s just a matter of knowing that we are doing our best as her parents, raising her to be certain of God’s love and purpose for her life, and then leaving the results up to God.

    When I read this, I certainly felt regret for a mom who had invested too much in the wrong things; it’s important that our family always come before our work. But as a dad who has been too invested in work for most of my years as a parent, I also felt pain for this mom who spent so many years doing what she felt was right, trying to give her daughter the best life she thought she could.

    • The thing is, this isn’t totally fiction; I did a terrible job raising my two sons, but I got lucky; they’re both fine men, and I give most of the credit for that to their mom. Neither of the boys are perfect–they have their faults–but both are doing well, and I thank God for that.
      Yes, we all just do the best we can–there’s no manual sufficient to deal with raising kids–they’re all different, and we as parents are all different, too. I’ve seen kids raised in a wonderful invironment go bad, and I’ve seen kids who didn’t have a prayer (literally) turn out to be awesome people. Like you say, we do the best we can, but in the end they’re in God’s hands. The best thing we can do is plant the seeds of faith in them; God will see that they take root.
      Thanks for the thought-filled comment!

  11. Charles, I’m overwhelmed that my words inspired your post. Only God! 🙂 Deep ache…hope…another chance to love, give, pour into these beautiful kids — His kids — nourished by His grace, washed in His blood, created with hope and a future to bring Him glory.

    Bless you!

    • You never know what God will do with the little things we give not a passing thought to. I think if we focus on Him, EVERYTHING we do will be directed by His hand, and bear fruit. Focus on HIS love! That, m’lady, is the key.
      Blessings right back at ya!

  12. Thank you so much for directing me here…obviously it was my path also. I can completely feel…not only understand the message here. We get so busy doing the right THING that we forget the hearts we touch.

    I wish peace upon you

    • I believe we will touch the hearts God wants us to touch, as long as our focus is on Him. It’s that simple.
      Thank you for the wish!

  13. Reblogged this on Marbles In My Pocket ~ The Official Blog of Charles L. Mashburn ~ Poems, Short Stories, and random thoughts from the author of "Be Still… and know that I am God" and commented:

    Parenting: There is no book of instructions that will work with every child and parent. We do what we think is the right thing to do, and hope for the best.

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