My daughter Samantha is a really terrific kid. The other day she took some Post-It notes and wrote loving messages on them and hid them all over the house for each member of the family. One proclamation of love about being “the best brother on earth” was taped to Drew’s forehead, who was already sound asleep in his room. Mine was found on my jewelry box, Cory’s in his briefcase. A helpful sister, an appreciative daughter, a good eater, and a lover of My Little Ponies, I really have few complaints.
But there are a few.
For example, one of the side effects of having a very tender, thoughtful child is that she is very emotionally attached to EVERYTHING. So when I say, “Samantha, please clean your room”, what she actually hears is, “Samantha, move things around so it looks like you did something and be sure not to throw anything away, especially if it is broken or trash.” It is a nightmare. I’m not even a clean freak, but the degree to which the state of Samantha’s room drives me crazy is not even capable of being measured on the Richter scale. I know this matter seems trivial in the grand scheme of things, and indeed it is. However, I have (what I feel to be realistic) visions of my daughter at the age of 93, living alone with cats in a home stacked with TV Guides from 1934 to the present and complete doll collections purchased from the Home Shopping Network. Sometimes I envision a burglar coming upon her room, only to say to himself, “Hmmm…don’t remember coming in here but it looks like I already got this one.”
So sometimes I clean her room when she’s not home. I have a system – I know that every time I do this, I can successfully fill one trash bag with trash, another with “Things To Give Away”, and it looks so good when she sees the finished product that she doesn’t even notice what’s missing.
At least that’s what usually happens.
Yesterday was one such day where Samantha was invited to a friend’s house and I knew she would be gone for several hours. So I began to tackle her room, when something unexpected happened – the girls had decided to switch homes and were coming back HERE to play! I tried not to panic, but I knew the potential for trauma. After making nice to the friend’s mom at the door I ran to see just how much Samantha had already discovered. A couple of things had already been pulled out of the trash, but otherwise she seemed to be taking it well. We finished the project together, and although it didn’t go as smoothly as normal everything turned out okay…until this morning.
“Mom, did you throw that snowflake away that was on my window?”
“Yes, it was broken and on the floor.”
“Did the trash people already come and take it away?”
“Yes,” I lied. (Which I’m not advocating. You should never lie to your children. It’s just that DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT I’M UP AGAINST HERE???)
She stormed into her room, said she didn’t want to talk to anybody, shut the door and then cried with a fervor that seemed intended to reach all the families in our neighborhood. I shook my head in amazement over the drama that a plastic snowflake had brought into our house on this Sabbath Day of the week, and decided against the lecture about how this thing she so treasured was probably made by a girl her age in a Chinese sweat shop and she should just count her stinkin’ blessings. It wouldn’t have mattered – she just flailed her body on her bed and continued to cry.
Minutes later as I was preparing dinner, a voice from the garage declared, “MOM!! You LIED!!!”
I walked to the garage only to find my 10-year-old framing the doorway with a white trash bag in her hand. Oh boy. I calmly explained that if she was not capable of throwing away something that was broken then she had serious problems, thus cementing my fate of paying for her therapy instead of college. I told her I was not going to fish through the trash because if I did, she would want everything back. She swore that all she wanted was the snowflake, because her window “looked horrible” without it.
Then I was brilliant. I made a deal that I would fish out the snowflake in exchange for three other things from her room to either throw away or give away. It took her twenty minutes to find something, after which she came down with a handful of dry markers and some trash. “Uh…doesn’t count sweetie. Try again.” She didn’t seem surprised by this and returned without argument to her task at hand. Another fifteen minutes had passed when she came down with three playing cards. “Okay, I’ll count that as one thing.” Another ten minutes and she came down with SIX cards asking, “Does 6 cards count as TWO things?” Seriously. “Sorry – keep trying.” After about a total of an hour and a half we settled on the playing cards, a Strawberry Shortcake figurine and a plastic dolphin the size of my pinky.
So at the end of the day I’ve decided four things. One, don’t throw away things that are broken. Two, establish a back up trash can for the days you clean your child’s room and don’t tell your children where it is. Three, you shouldn’t lie to your kids unless you’re not going to get caught. And finally, never give up on college.