More mess, piles of messes, big messes, little messes. Make it stop!

by | Jan 22, 2009 | Parenting | 9 comments

You know it’s bad when you have the urge to stop in the middle of dealing with your children, say, “Wait right here!” and go consult all your parenting self-help books. What exactly was I supposed to do? I hadn’t slept at all the night before, between teething Zuzu and continues-to-scream-out-for-me-every-night Eli. The boys were playing together fairly well, but their playing seemed to consist of making a giant mess and then moving on to trash the next room. I suddenly felt like (once again) we had way too much Stuff, and it just got thrown around everywhere, and all the kids do all day is make demands on me and Dave and then whine if they don’t get their way (Henry actually said, at one point, “I command you to read me a book!”).

So then they totally deconstructed their bed, unmaking the whole thing, including pulling off the very-heavy memory foam mattress pad. And they upended the rocking chair for good rock star measure. And I completely lost it. It was so much the last straw, and I was so tired, but you know? Even if I wasn’t tired, it was still totally not ok to just trash a room so much that you can’t even open the door, and then leave.

I made some fairly unintelligible squawking burbles, and then just righted the rocking chair, sat down, closed my eyes, and sat (mostly because I didn’t feel like struggling again to open the door so I could go downstairs to all the parenting books). I breathed. I could think of two options. One was to take away some toys (just because this is my default). The other made more sense: make them clean up their mess.

So I called them back in and told them they’d have to clean it all up, to remake the bed. It took them three hours. Sometimes I’d sit with them and talk them through it, other times I’d have to leave because I felt like my head was about to explode. Three times I got so annoyed by their lack of motivation and seeming lack of caring that I got a plastic bag and filled it with toys (saying something about “if you won’t respect my things, I won’t respect yours”). Which seems heartlessly cruel now, but at the time seemed like I was letting them off easy (like my only other choice was to sell them on the street corner). (Ok, and in my defense, most of the toys I got rid of were baby toys that we would be getting rid of soon anyway, but I also included this horrible noisy fire station and a Popeye lunchbox which serves no purpose in my mind, though Eli does like to put things in it sometimes. We’ll see if I take out the fire station before I unload these toys.)

Three hours. They were literally in the room the whole time, alternately whining and rolling around in the comforter and just chatting with each other. What kills me is I’m not even sure if I made an impression with any of this. It’s highly possible that they could repeat the entire episode today.

And part of me knows they were just playing around, and having a good time together, but my current rant is something about “there are five people in this family, and I have enough to do taking care of my own stuff, I can’t do everyone else’s too!” I know they say that kids have to try a new food 15 times before they like it; how many times do you have to ask them to clear their dinner dishes or put their pajamas in the hamper before they actually start doing it? I don’t expect them to do it after one time, but it’s been years at this point. Figuring in a margin of error surrounding being too young to comprehend what I’m saying, this gets them cleaning up after themselves in…what?…2018?


  1. Clog

    Playing is their priority. Cleaning up the room is yours. It is a tough call, one that moms have struggled with for years.

  2. emily

    I tell 11th and 12th graders, who have heard it about 9,000 times, to do things like, er, spell they’re and their differently, and make their topic sentences borrow language from the thesis statement, and, much more basic things like, you know, be quiet sometimes so we can be loud and having fun at others, and “never watch someone work without offering to help” and any number of things I can’t believe I STILL have to say. But your mom’s right — playing (socializing) with each other is STILL very much their priority, and they’re not quite there yet, to that place where they really respect others first and get pleasure later. at 16, 17. and sometimes I worry that I haven’t made them be responsible, like, I haven’t structured class enough so they have to do things themselves more…(but know also that it would be hard to get things done if all was up to them, and they have to learn some stuff from me…erg).

    on a lighter note, wylie just said, conversationally, “on the other hand, poops DO come from bottoms…” – so I think I better go!

    You’re doing GREAT. I really, really admire the patience that 3 hours took on your part.

  3. Paticus

    We’re dealing with the “deconstruction as funtime” as well.
    Thankfully, they have very little in their bedroom to deconstruct, but they can sure make a disaster area of the living room in a hurry.We have just begun the “you clean it up’ approach, and it seems to be taking hold, but we’ll see.
    good luck to all of us, i guess!

  4. sarah

    Jaya came into our room last night 10 minutes after he went to bed and said “I can’t sleep. I need someone to lie down with me”. I felt like I was in one of those bad 50’s B grade movies where someone is doing the Edvard Munch “scream” face while twirling backwards through time. Or am I thinking of the Twilight Zone? Well, both aptly describe the moment.

  5. Kate

    What deja vu! I’ve experienced similar room trashing episodes where the boys are giggling and having no end of fun while steam is coming out of my ears. I have also stalked about in an angry rage looking for things to throw away and in the end I feel like my explosion is only part of their days’ entertainment and I’ve become the unreasonable child throwing a silly tantrum. I like the three hour cleaning session but I have to admit that once it was done I wouldn’t be able to help myself from going to straighten it so everything is just-so. Trying to control the chaos somehow makes me feel better – like I might actually be an adult or something!

  6. Elizabeth

    Sometimes, I dream that I am living in a one-bedroom apartment, alone, with only MY stuff. Is this wrong?

  7. Julie

    Well, I’m glad I’m not the only one. The thing is, I can totally see how it WOULD be fun, I just can’t handle it. And it’s highly possible that me freaking out is part of the fun. Henry always looks worried, but Eli can’t control himself and openly laughs when I’m mad (I’m not very good at being mad — I must look fairly comical).

  8. Julie

    Elizabeth, that had better be ok, because it’s totally my Happy Place to imagine myself living alone with only my stuff. Luckily Dave has the same fantasy, so we’re on board with that and don’t have to be secretive about it. I have a copy of the poem “Alone” by Gerald Stern, a gift from Sutswana, taped up in the diaper closet, so I can view it and fantasy while I’m in the midst of poopy diapers (it starts “I was alone and could do what I wanted”).

  9. Annette

    I feel…so not alone. Thank you Julie. In my empty nest fantasy we live in a loft in Portland with exposed brick walls, soaring windows and the fewest belongings as possible. As for the kids we are currently cleaning out and I’ve promised them there will be a place for everything or we won’t have it at all.


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