Clean Your Room!
Like many women in my stage of life, I've experienced the disconcerting process of watching my mother morph from the out-of-touch, unhip person she was in my teen years to The Source of All Maternal Wisdom whose number is at the top of my speed dial list. I'm not sure I've ever come out and told her that she obviously knew what she was doing all along, but I think she knows.
After those blissful years from age 13 to age 25 when I knew everything, I had a baby and discovered that I knew nothing at all. At least, not when it came to anything involving this small mouthy person who believed that she was the geographic and metaphysical center of the universe, and that my sole purpose in life was to orbit her, reflecting her brilliance and catering to her every whim. Mom gave good advice: If she's too stubborn to eat, it's not going to kill her to miss a meal. She'll fall asleep when she gets tired enough. Be consistent. It's OK to call the pediatrician if you're not sure. And honey, you have GOT to get some sleep.
As Mary got older, my calls to my mom got more frequent, and she continued to dispense wisdom on demand. Sometimes she offered as much commiseration as actual advice, but it was no less welcome for that: You quit taking naps at about that age too, so I just made you have a quiet time so I didn't go crazy. Do you think she'd eat it if you cut it in half first? (I'd nearly forgotten the two-month Sandwich War, which is a story for another day.) She'll use the potty eventually -- how many twelve-year-olds do YOU know who still wear diapers?
Far more often than not, Mom was right. Even when her experience differed from mine as her children differed from mine, she often helped me get out of that day's mental rut, even if it was just by eliciting a tearful laugh from me and persuading me not to find out the going rate for a toddler on eBay.
Recently, though, I have run up against a predicament that I can't ask my mom's advice about. For one thing, she doesn't know the answer because it was one area of parenting where she had to resort to simple damage control. For another, if I told her I was facing this particular parenting challenge, she would laugh herself silly. I suspect that through her snorts of hilarity, I would hear the words "What goes around, comes around."
In my own defense, I will say that I am much more organized now than I was when I was a child. My kitchen counter isn't perfectly tidy and I'm a few years behind on my photo albums, but I pay my bills on time and arrive for my appointments as scheduled. I put my clothes away after they are washed and do a fair job of maintaining order behind the two small whirlwinds to whom I gave birth.
It was not always this way. I'd like to say that it was organized chaos and I knew where everything was even if nobody else did, but that would be, not to put too fine a point on it, an outrageous lie. My childhood bedroom looked like those sad pictures they print in the newspaper after tornados level small Midwestern towns. Dolls, books, and bedding were indiscriminately mixed with lost homework, tangles of yarn for crochet projects, and unidentifiable (but highly treasured) paper crafts. On one memorable occasion, there was even an accidental science project under the bed that resulted in a pungent cup of something resembling cottage cheese.
My parents tried everything to make me keep it clean. Threats, rewards, appeals to my conscience, descriptions of the virtues of an organized room -- all fell on deaf ears, and the mess deepened. After one long Saturday morning on which I was relegated to my room until it was clean, my mother became suspicious of the suddenly visible carpet. A quick peek under the dust ruffle answered the question -- I had simply stuffed everything under the bed, and it was apparent that this was not the first time I had resorted to this method of housekeeping.
At this point, my father intervened. He insisted that I clean out from under the bed, and he would not brook opposition. I suffered from mild claustrophobia, and wailed that I couldn't get under the bed because it was too scary. He told me that if I didn't do it within fifteen minutes, he'd do it.
Well, that sounded like a good plan to me. I sat on my bed for fifteen minutes and read a book, and waited for him to come back. He looked under the bed at the untouched rat's nest of clutter, and started to leave the room. I protested, "Hey, where are you going?" I had fully expected him to kneel down and lovingly remove each item from under the bed, determine its proper home, and put it away for me. This illusion was shattered when he returned shortly with a dirt rake and proceeded to unceremoniously drag several weeks' worth of rubbish to the center of the room. I stomped around and put it all away with bad grace, but for that one day, my embarrassment overcame my natural messiness and I had a clean room.
It wasn't a permanent solution; my room continued to be a sore point between my parents and me. The Rake made for a funny and oft-repeated tale, but my dad wasn't interested in repeating the process. Eventually, a caustic-tongued college roommate provided the motivation to keep my living area neat, and the lesson was driven home by the pleasant discovery that homework could be turned in on time more easily if it wasn't buried two geological layers down in the strata on top of my desk.
Some day, I hope my daughter will learn for herself the joys of an organized closet and a floor you can actually walk on without hearing the crunch of small plastic toys. I would like her to realize that homemade jewelry projects are easier to complete if the beads are not mixed into her sock drawer. I would love to see a bookshelf full of books and a toybox full of toys, instead of an evenly distributed muddle of dolls, craft projects, magazines, and hair ribbons on every flat surface in the room.
In the meantime, though, I will continue to make threats every Saturday morning. I will come in from time to time while she's at school and furtively winnow out the more indeterminate craft projects. I will praise her when she clears a path from the door to the bed. I will hope with all my heart that she finds her own way out of the pigpen.
And if all else fails ... there's always The Rake.