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My mother's alter ego is the Queen of Clean. She runs our household with an iron fist (usually covered by a yellow rubber glove), ready for battle with a Clorox Toilet Wand in one hand and a Swiffer wet pad in the other. Her biggest pet peeve is trash in the trash can. She goes to each room ten times a day and gathers the trash, only to scream at me later for adding more papers to the trash can. For Christmas, we bought my mother a Dyson vacuum, thinking that cleaning was a form of therapy for her. My father and I ended up being the victims of our Christmas splurge, and we spend more time with "The Purple People Eater" than she does.

The second I was old enough to read, my mother put me to work. Every day she would leave little sheets of paper on the mantel labeled with a giant "E" for me and an "A" for my sister. These lists consisted of several abbreviated commands: "MT Trash" (empty trash), "MT DW" (empty dishwasher), and "PU DP" (pick up dog poop). Clever as they were, these lists would have been more useful if my mother had not put them next to the TV.

As the television became more of a distraction, she began taping the lists to the TV. As it neared dinnertime, I'd lower the volume of the TV in order to hear the rumble of the garage door and the roar of my mother's car pulling up the driveway. The second I heard that garage door open, I would jump off the couch, grab the laundry basket, chuck the folded clothes into the drawers, and barrel back down the stairs to greet my mom.

In the hours before my mother's arrival, my sister Aimee would nag me about doing my chores and by the time my mother was on her way home, Aimee had finished half of my list, a sacrifice she made in order to save ourselves from the yelling prompted by unfinished chores. After ten years, the roles in my family have reversed. I am now the one cleaning the bathroom and making the beds as Aimee avoids her chores and makes excuses ("I have exams to study for" or "I couldn't find the list").

As I get older, I realize that I have inherited the neat-freak gene. I spend hours training to succeed my mother as the Queen of Clean. My weapon of choice is the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and I have a tendency to tell my sister, "You missed a spot." -- Erin Bradley, Rancho Bernardo H.S.

M y earliest memory of doing chores is when I was five. My parents, my older brother, and I had just moved to the United States, and we were living in a small apartment in Detroit. My mother had delegated to my brother (two-and-a-half years my senior) the task of vacuuming the house. Because it wouldn't have been fair for him to have a chore and not me, I was enlisted to help. So, as my brother pushed around the vacuum, I had to hold the vacuum's cord so that it would not get tangled. That was back in the good old days, when holding a cord was the extent of my chores. Now, chores include everything from cleaning my room to watering the plants, which happens pretty much as often as an eclipse because I figure if they can't handle the arid California climate, they aren't fit for our garden. Usually, I allow two weeks to pass until a build-up of clothes and papers in my room makes it look like a small, tornado-swept country. During the school year, my only duty used to be homework, but now that my brother is away at college, I have to walk our dog after school. I am generally exempt from chores such as doing the dishes and laundry on weeknights due to excessive amounts of homework.

The most housework is necessary when we are expecting guests -- essentially every weekend -- and my mom goes into crisis cleaning mode. This is a highly volatile state that's impossible to avoid. There is the zealous scrubbing of floors, a frantic dash to Ralph's for more Swiffer pads, and the stuffing of all newspapers and magazines into small crevices. The frenzy is concluded when the house is so sparkling that one needs sunglasses and a five-course meal for the guests is on the dining table.

For my participation in preparing the house for British royalty, I do not receive any monetary allowance. My allowance is in the form of clothes and, especially, shoes. I am not a shopaholic, as friends may categorize me; rather, I appreciate the feeling of a new pair of strappy, towering wedges or velvet, bow-tied flats. -- Jennie Matusova, La Jolla H.S.

I often refer to myself as the modern-day Cinderella. Instead of soot all over my clothes, I have dog hair. It seems I can't get out of the house without having to lint-roll my clothes. My miniature American eskimo, Mollie, and our two cats are the main reasons for all my hard work. I have to vacuum our two-story house once a week or else we are at risk of attack from the army of hairballs and dust-bunnies that my animals create. My other weekly chores include trash duty, cleaning my sink area, and laundry (of course, doing my own laundry and keeping my sink area clean benefit me more than they do my parents). On a daily basis, I am responsible for getting the mail, setting the table, and cleaning the dishes. I can't complain too much about these chores because they only take about 30 minutes or less, compared to the grueling two-hour task of vacuuming. Then, there are the every-so-often chores that I must complete every couple of months or before we have company: I wipe down the windows, clean the porch, polish the mirrors, dust the furniture, and any other chores that happen to pop up.

Compared to my friends, I seem like a housemaid. I'm not sure if any of my friends help around their houses. For my labor, I receive $20 per week, whereas my friends only receive money from their parents for a particular purpose or items such as school supplies. If I am lazy, I don't get the money and am occasionally not allowed to go out with friends until I do what I'm supposed to do. Even though I hate chores, as I'm sure most people do, they have helped me become more responsible and mature. -- Marion Finocchiaro, Grossmont Middle College H.S.

A s much as I'm tempted to portray myself as a suffering slave to an evil stepmother and stepsisters, I have to admit that my life (at least regarding housework) is pretty much a walk in the park, a piece of cake, and any other cliché for easy. I don't have a stepmother, but my mom has always had minimal demands. Besides tidying our rooms, my younger sister and I began our introduction to housework with a weekend ritual. My sister was supposed to empty the trashcans in the house and I vacuumed. For these little chores, my parents paid us a few dollars a week (which was pretty much a joke, considering that they bought everything for us). These days, I usually do a bit more housework than my sister...and I've always helped her with her own chores. Yet, I don't think that I do an unreasonable amount of housework. I usually help a little with meals, dishes, laundry, and tidying of the kitchen and family rooms. My favorite chore is dusting bookshelves; I find immense satisfaction with eradicating dust from surfaces until I give myself an asthma attack. I now receive $20 a month in allowance, but my parents still pay for many things. I make a little spending money on my own from babysitting and writing articles.

Compared to my friends, my workload is probably average. I have some friends who complain when asked to lift a finger, but I know others who toil daily with cooking and cleaning. I'm impressed with the efforts of anyone who works more than me because, often, after school and homework, chores seem impossible.

I'm pretty much a disaster at keeping order, and my only hope for the future is either to make enough money to employ someone to maintain cleanliness in my living space or to marry someone adept at housework. Knowing my own difficulty with cleaning guilts me into helping my parents with daily chores because I will someday need a lot of help from my own family to keep my home livable. -- Megan Zapanta, El Capitan H.S.

L ooking back to when I received my first chore leads me to remember those dreaded words: "Lexie, can you sweep the walkway?" I know, I know, sweeping the walkway does not seem like a toilsome task, but when asked on a frequent basis to perform this duty, it is. (Maybe I was too good at it, which is why my younger brother got away with doing nothing.) I received no pay for my work, but at 11, 12, and 13, I did not have to pay for car insurance or gas, so it didn't bother me as much as it could have. At 13, taking the trash out every week earned me $5. If I didn't do it, I earned no money. These small tasks did not prepare me for the working world, but they did teach me about responsibility. Also, I have come to realize that cleaning creates a better living environment.

The help I lend around the house nowadays remains all voluntary, but not consistent. Occasionally, I put the dishes away, throw a load of laundry in, and tidy up around the house. I don't depend on my parents anymore for money because I realize how hard they work to earn it. -- Lexie Sebring, Carlsbad H.S.

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