Notes from the Children’s Rooms

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We are having a big giant party tomorrow–well, open house, no games, no cake, just come hang out–and that has meant facing the peculiar terror known to every parent of a child, Cleaning The Child’s Room.

Every morning for the last week I’ve woken up and delivered a stern warning–Today, if you hear my voice, do not harden your heart, Clean Your Room. Every day the minutes tick along and the house pass, and I reiterated, Clean Your Room. And finally, yesterday morning I went round to consider the progress, the truth of the matter.

And it was as I suspected, and indeed feared, with a great abiding fear that made me sure we should never have any kind of big gathering where people come and the children are invited to roam over the house, looking into all the nooks and crannies. Not that children notice dirt and clutter, even other people’s children. But then comes that sick moment when your dear friend calls out to her child, “Time to go!” and all the children in existence go into hiding and then your dear friend mounts the stairs to dislodge her own, and then she walks into your child’s room, and…there you are, humiliated again.

This happens to me all the time on the small scale of daily life. But I don’t want to live through it for a whole day with All my friends who I hope will come hang out. So “clean your room” I had said all week, and there, on Friday, I stood surveying the wreckage of their efforts.

There are two fundamental properties of the child’s psyche, both of which one hopes he will leave behind him as he fairs ever forward into the world of Adulting. The first is incompetence. The second is garbage collecting.

All children, no matter how sweet and kind, how obedient and amiable, are incompetent. That is the nature of childhood. You begin in infancy, able to do nothing at all but manipulate your mother for food and attention, and from thence you slowly gather the wherewithal  to walk, and chew, and color with a crayon, and throw bits of tiny cut up pieces of paper all over every corner of every room. The parent rejoices over each new ability, each monumental step taken by the child to learn and grow. The first step toddled, the first word read, the first paragraph assembled, the first dish washed, the first…shall I swear here? Or would that be inappropriate?….room cleaned.

The child, so capable with scissors and dreams, when faced with his own room, comes all to pieces. He sits on the floor languorously, moving bits of garbage in a semi circle of despair.

Which is his second characteristic–garbage collector. “Why are you keeping all this garbage in the corner of your room?” asked Matt, as the long day wore on, his voice tight and controlled.
“What garbage?” inquired the child, looking around all over but not at the pile right there under his nose.
“This right here,” intoned Matt, all the patience of Job emanating from his being. “This empty coke can, these bits of paper and string, this dead apple. Why do you have food in your room? You’re not meant to have food and coke in your room.”
The child gazed at his precious garbage and shrugged. “I dunno,” he said.

Meanwhile I was coping with the piles of carefully assembled garbage in the girl’s room (why yes, autocorrect, ‘doom’ would have been a good substitute.)–broken bits of bracelets, snapped hair ties, torn birthday cards, chewed up legos, naked dolls missing limbs, bits of dried up play doh.

We worked All Day, all day. And two rooms are done. The third remains to be swept and set to rights. The hallway is full of garbage in piles and garbage in bags. We collapsed on the top stop of our gracious stairwell and gazed out of the majestic window. The heart, which should normally lift itself up in the face of such beauty, remained burdened by the piles of refuse and foolishness behind.
“How does this happen?” Matt asked, “every. single. time.”
“I dunno,” I said.

So if you’re in Bing tomorrow, come see our beautiful new house and the clean children’s rooms! This is an opportunity that may never occur again! PM me for details, and don’t bother if you hate me and all my blogging.

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