Clean the Room is one of those things that he could do by himself, and would do willingly, if only there weren’t so many decisions and distractions involved. I mean, it’s hard to know what to pick up first and even harder not to play with it once you’ve decided what should be first and you actually have it in your hands.
And why struggle against such obstacles when, with just a little lagging and a little mumbling, Mother will come solve all those problems and add a little mutual interaction.
It’s the interaction that’s the clincher. When I was young, several people kept telling me, very profoundly, that “a child would rather be beaten than ignored.” And while I’ve never done so far as to actually test that hypothesis, I can tell you from experience that small boys glow like soft pink lightbulbs whenever they can successfully drag attention out of Mother that Mother hadn’t planned to give. It’s a bonus – a little power surge with a dose of half-concealed elation thrown in.
Clean the Room is almost a tradition, now. Periodically, I get tired of saying “I told you an hour ago to clean this room. That doesn’t mean play, that means clean.” Only to hear, “I did clean it,” without any difference apparent in the room. I kick, shove, or throw every offending article in the room into a pile and sit on the edge of the bed. While Firstborn fitfully sorts through it all, I sound an occasional “pick up”, “keep going”, “clean – don’t play”, or “more it” in varying degrees of gruffness.
With these words to prod him along, Firstborn sorts what goes in his toy box from what goes in his bookshelf from what goes in the dirty clothes from what goes in the trash. He is now about three quarters of the way done and starting to ask questions in hopes of starting a conversation so he can stop, or at least slow down for awhile.
I meet all of his opening gambits with curt answers and the words “keep cleaning.”
Then he asks, “Where are we going tomorrow?”
I growl, “To the library – keep cleaning.”
Firstborn perks up. Smiling all over his face, he asks, “Are you going to get a book that tells how to turn blue?”
That did it. I’m laughing now. He knows he has me. The conversation has started. Darn his grinning little hide.
I thought he had forgotten that turning blue nonsense. I certainly had.
You see, yesterday while I was playing with him, I told him that I could turn blue. He told me I couldn’t, but his voice and eyes had been unsure. You never could tell with parents. Maybe I could.
I said that, yes, I could, and asked if he’d like to see me do it. While he sat, round eyed, I sat really still, to set the stage. I took a deep breath. Then I squeezed down hard on it, contorting my face and squeezing my eyes shut. I held it as long as I could. Then I let out the breath in a loud rush and said, “There!”
By then he knew it was a game and twinkling, he told me that I hadn’t turned blue. I expressed disbelief. Was he sure? Yes, he was sure.
I checked in the mirror. Sure enough. No blue. Maybe I’d better try again? Giggles.
I tried twice more, harder each time, and having failed both times, I conceded that I must have forgotten how. I said I’d have to read up on it. Then we’d gone on with whatever we had been doing and it hadn’t been mentioned since.
Well. He remembered it. And now we’re laughing about it all over again. He’s still young enough that it amazes me when he makes a smooth connection to something he’s remembered. Especially when he makes a connection that I haven’t made.
So I’m laughing and proud at the same time. I remember that I love this kid. The conversation he has started bounces back and forth between us as he smiles, pleased the he was able to sneak it in past me.
The pile fades slowly until it’s gone. It would have faded faster if a conversation hadn’t been added to slow it, but what the heck. He needs the attention. I’m the one who needed a clean room.- - -
Now he’s asleep and I’m remembering again that I love this kid. And remembering that I gave him a little piece of nonsense that he had thought was precious enough to save. And remembering that he won’t be four much longer.
Next time I start Clean the Room Time, I think I’ll bring us both a glass of ginger ale.