We are faced with many decisions throughout our day, both in our personal lives and our professional lives. As we make these decisions the outside world begins to place labels, expectations and predictions on who we are and what we will accomplish. The older I get the more I realize there is always a right way and that way isn’t necessarily the easy way.
This past Sunday my husband and I asked our two boys to clean up their playroom…. And we asked and we asked. It had been a fun weekend of playing and their area was a hot mess. After much pleading, we finally told them anything left on the floor when it was time for bed would be put in the trash. And, we meant it. You see we started this power struggle at noon so they had a good eight hours notice to do what had to be done. Throughout the rest of that day they continued to play with their things and instead of cleaning up, they made even bigger messes. We never mentioned it again and just counted down the hours with fingers crossed that they would choose to do the right thing.
At one point, I noticed Grady (age 5) pulling canvas totes off the shelves and essentially dumping them on the floor. Legos, toy cars, crayons and markers, puzzles, you name it. I realize now that I completely imagined this but I actually convinced myself he was in there singing, “Up Yours, Uuuuup Yours, Uuuuup Yours.” He was saying nothing, but in my mind that little turd was mocking me. As I am sure you guessed, 8:00pm rolled around and off to baths and bed they went—playroom looking worse than ever.
As I tucked them into bed that evening, my heart sunk. They were holding our feet to the fire and now we had to stand firm on our word. I heard my husband head to the garage and return with plastic garbage bags. Not just the 13 gallon kitchen bags, but the huge, black ones you use for leaves, construction debris, etc. One by one, I could hear the familiar sound of each bag being flailed in the air, opening up and gobbling up toys. There were three bags in fact, and he filled them to the top with all their prized possessions left on the floor. I could’ve imagined this as well but I am pretty sure he was whistling with glee while he ransacked their playroom. He hates clutter and I am sure deep down inside he hoped they’d call our bluff.
At first I was really comfortable with all of this but then I got increasingly anxious. A lot of the toys had sentimental value… both for them and me. Growing up poor has made me a bit of a hoarder and since I didn’t have a whole lot as a kid my “stuff” was always something I cherished. I couldn’t help but wonder what their reaction would be in the morning and I started to dread it. It certainly would be so much easier for us to just leave everything where it was and to “try again” tomorrow. And without a doubt, giving them yet another opportunity to tidy it up (or just picking it all up myself) would have been even easier. But these stubborn little boys were going to learn from their even more stubborn parents that we don’t make threats, we make promises and we were going to stand by those promises. This was a great opportunity to teach them about consequences, respect, and life; better for them to learn this at ages three and five vs. 23 and 25.
In anticipation of their reaction (and perhaps because I was starting to second guess our decision) I posted something on Facebook, looking for a little feedback. The words of wisdom and support that kept filtering in were amazing. Some parents shared similar experiences, others wished they had the courage to do the same and one even told me how much she regretted all the “cleaning up of messes” she did for her kids because now as young adults they can barely wipe their own bums. In reading through the dozens of messages encouraging us to stay strong, do what is right and not give in, it made me realize our society is seeking a community that rises above the challenges, teaches our children the difference between wrong and right and doesn’t just back down because it is “hard.” Last I checked there were nearly 60 responses and all were so encouraging.
The next morning came and it wasn’t pretty, to say the least. My most stubborn child got very frustrated that his “super special markers” were nowhere in sight. Our littlest guy was in tears that his Spider Man “pack-pack” for school was also gone. I offered a reusable grocery bag to carry his things to pre-school and let’s just say that didn’t go over so well.
Now, I will not confirm nor deny that I was being somewhat of a rascal when I did this but as calm as possible, I reiterated that I was disappointed in their choices as well and I am sorry if they were sad but Mommy and Daddy were really clear what was going to happen if they didn’t clean up their things. It’s now been three days and each morning they discover something else that is “super special” that is no longer in their playroom. At the advice of many parents and grandparents, we opted to take the trash bags from the curb and instead hide them in the garden shed so we had a bit more time to decide how to close out this learning opportunity. It’s a good thing Daddy was able to reach our garbage man and have him set everything aside for a few weeks (wink, wink).
Grady knows once he achieves the status of “role model” three more times at school he will earn one item back and it just warmed my heart today to overhear him tell Griff that in two more days he should be able to choose something and, “Don’t worry Bubba, I will get your pack-pack back for you.”
So to all of you out there making the hard tough decisions, we commend you. I am still figuring this parenting thing out and I am now convinced that each year will come with more blessings and even more challenges. But you see, I learned a lesson myself this past week. I will not be a person who threatens, but I will be a person who makes promises and keeps them.