mess

Thoughts While Putting Away My Children’s Toys

I recently read Maura Quint’s “The Entirety of My Thoughts As I Eat My Son’s Mac and Cheese Dinner,” cleaned my children’s bedrooms and closet-size playroom, and was then inspired to write this:

Didn’t 4 year olds work in fields 150 years ago? Probably not. That actually sounds awful. But still, mine should at least be capable of putting Chutes and Ladders back in its box, right?

I hate Chutes and Ladders.

They have too many toys. I should donate half of them. Most of them. All but three of them.

Why are there candy wrappers stuffed in the Lego bin?

I am not their maid. A maid would be so nice. And a laundress. And a chef. And a personal trainer. Definitely a personal trainer.

I wonder how many calories I’m burning shoving stuff in bins. I should get one of those Fitbits. Or actually go to the Y. They can play with toys in Child Watch. Toys I don’t have to deal with. I wonder if I can find a place to hide and read in the Y while they play in Child Watch.

Another capless marker, wasted. That’s it. No more markers. Ever.

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD THEM TO PUT THE CAPS BACK ON THEIR GLUE STICKS? No more glue sticks. Ever.

Huh. A Barbie shoe. I thought surely I had vacuumed all those up by now.

Why are there 76 pieces of paper with one line drawn on each of them?

I’m going to have to hide these in the recycling bin to avoid the apocalypse that will surely happen if they find out I’ve recycled their one-line masterpieces.

Maybe my children are hoarders. Maybe there’s a mental issue here. I should email the pediatrician.

I will never allow their rooms to get this messy again. Maybe I should try the Saturday Box. Or the Marble Jar. Or the Popsicle Stick Jar. Or the Reward Chart. I should check Pinterest.

Or maybe I just get rid of it all. I mean, seriously, they’re downstairs playing with empty boxes. Empty. Boxes.

Isn’t it monks who find joy in everyday tasks? I don’t think monks have children, though. They’ve never had to deal with 8,000 .$97 Matchbox cars. Or Rainbow Loom bands. Or Perler Beads. I hate Perler Beads.

I wonder what my friends are doing at work. I bet they’re wearing heels. I bet they had a salad with some kind of candied nut on it for lunch. I bet, after a meeting, everyone picks up their papers and pens and tablets and coffee mugs and puts them away, without any reminders or timers or let’s-see-how-fast-we-can-get-this-done games.

All these crayons are broken and worn down to little nubs. They really need some new crayons. I should get some the next time I’m at the store. And markers. And glue sticks.

At least we’re out of the finger paint stage. Those were some colossal messes.

Gosh, I miss those finger paint pictures on the fridge. Why do they have to grow up so fast?

[SILENT CURSING. A LOT OF IT.] I will not miss the Legos on my bare feet. I don’t care how crazy creative they get with their creations I will not miss those pain-inducing little pieces of plastic.

Why do people even buy Legos anymore? It’s not like they break. Or get old. Where are all the Legos people have been building with since, when were Legos invented, the 70s?

Probably in the trash. Probably parents stepping on them and throwing them, one by one, in the trash.

I actually love that they got Legos for Christmas. They play with them for so long. So much silence for such long periods of time. I should send the Lego company a thank-you note.

Our house cannot handle any more toys. Can I tell people not to buy toys? Is that rude? Is that too minimalist? Is that too Grinch-like? My children do not need any more toys.

We should become minimalists.

Well, minimalists with a few toys. Five each.

But then there’s March. I hate March. How many toys will it take to entertain them indoors in March?

I need more bins.

“And this mess is so big
And so deep and so tall,
We cannot pick it up.
There is no way at all!” —Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

Sophie’s Purple Party

Late 2013, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Sophie decided to have a Purple Party. This meant she spent an afternoon taking every single thing out of her room that wasn’t purple, filling the upstairs hallway.

You had to wear purple to attend …

and you were only allowed to eat purple treats.

We played purple games, won purple prizes, danced to purple songs and then spent the rest of the evening putting her room back together. (This mess, though, was worth it.)

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” —Alice Walker

Reclaiming My Bedroom—My Messy Beautiful

Glennon Melton of Momastery recently asked writers to post an essay about their messy, beautiful lives to celebrate the paperback release of her book Carry On, Warrior. I realize she’s using “messy” in reference to life’s big things—parenting, work, marriage, friendship, health. But I decided to take a literal spin on the project and write about one of my own messy beautifuls that I carefully hide behind a closed door—my bedroom.

For months, it’s been a disaster.

Something had to give. Every child goes through tougher periods and for Owen and James, 3 has been hard. With everyone in school in the mornings, I’ve tried to pick up a lot more freelance work. Thankfully, I’ve been successful. Unfortunately, it has taken me many months of 2am bedtimes and feeling like I was failing at stay-at-home parenting as well as freelancing before I allowed myself the grace of sometimes hiring daytime babysitters. I’ve had some odd health things going on, the latest of which requires light therapy treatments up in Cincinnati three times a week. My current life story is the same as all of our current life stories. We’re all busy (even when I try, daily, to live a life of not-busy). It just happens.

Still, something had to give.

So I threw in the towel (literally, into a pile of all the other clean clothes on the floor, waiting to be folded) on trying to maintain a clean bedroom.

It was so easy.

Sophie has a play date and I don’t want the kids getting into the paint? Throw it into the bedroom. Guests coming over and I don’t have time to properly put everything away? Throw it into the bedroom. Seasons change and I don’t have time to switch the clothes over? Stack the boxes in the bedroom.

I would go through and pick things up, put things away. But always there was a clothes basket filled with odds and ends that needed sorted and put away—wooden beads, game pieces, Barbie shoes, car wheels, a broken Nutcracker, loose change, a half-empty pack of wipes, mesh bags used when traveling, pencils that needed sharpened, too-small socks, too-big shorts bought on clearance, the extra contents of a purse acquired when I switched everything else of importance over to another one.

I wasn’t always like this. In my previous life I was managing editor at several magazines, a job that is based around organization. In my previous life I prided myself on having an always-cleaned-out fridge, an organized basement and books arranged alphabetically on my bookshelf. In my previous life I hung up my clothes by sleeve length with a nod toward the color wheel and sorted my M&Ms before eating them.

Children change you.

These days, I’m lucky if my clothes even make it to the closet. Turns out, when I have more than just my wardrobe to deal with, I’m terrible at laundry. Every morning, while sifting through the piles of washed-thanks-to-Andy-who-takes-care-of-that-every-time-he-video-games-in-the-basement-but-per-our-deal-I-never-actually-fold-and-put-away clothes I silently curse and swear I’ll fold everything that night. I continue silently cursing while ironing everyone’s outfits because everything is wrinkled and while giving up on matching socks because everyone has approximately three minutes to get to school before they will be considered late.

While lamenting to a friend about my laundry woes she mentioned that she was hiring a laundress. A laundress. It sounded so decadent, so Downton Abbyish. I daydreamed about my own laundress (a modern Cinderella came to mind) before coming back to the reality that some days the kids are going to have to play a board game (or five) without me and some nights I’m going to have to forgo freelance work and/or skip puttering around on the Internet, reading a book or watching a show.

There’s a threshold for everything. And last night, I reached mine.

Despite my freelance deadlines, despite the fact that I had pulled late nights two nights prior, despite the fact that I’m three episodes behind on “Parenthood,” I cleaned my bedroom.

And instead of dreading it, all day, I looked forward to it. All it took was some rethinking. I wasn’t cleaning my bedroom. I wasn’t giving up play time with the kids or my nightly TV show with Andy. I was reclaiming my bedroom. My beautiful bedroom I purposefully painted off-white and in which I hung floor-to-ceiling white drapes from Ikea to create a sense of calm. My beautiful bedroom with the huge leather chair I found on Craigslist, with the ribbon board my mom made for me years ago hung up behind it, filled with loved mementos, and the broken brushed-brass floor lamp next to it, held together with some twine—my reading nook I never used, because of the pile of clothes encroaching it. My beautiful bedroom with the queen-size bed that more often than not holds five instead of two, the same bed with the wedding album tucked underneath it, which Sophie loves to pull out and look through (when the room is clean enough for her to be able to). My beautiful bedroom with the two Target dressers I so desperately want to replace with antiques, the same dressers that now hold framed photos, alarm clocks and perfume bottles but for years held handmade burp cloths and breast pump parts and were decorated with rings of milk leftover from bottles. My beautiful bedroom with the handmade jewelry cabinet my uncle made filled with handmade jewelry my mother-in-law made. My beautiful bedroom with the non-working fireplace and gorgeous wood-and-mirrored-and-columned mantel that surrounds it, one of the key things that made me fall in love with the house before we even purchased it.

So I took out all the dirty clothes. And old water glasses. And gathered all the loose items and put them in their proper places, which took a ridiculous amount of time (and prompted a glass of wine). Then I turned on “Weeds” on Netflix and for two hours I folded. I folded all the clothes. All.of.them. And put them away.

I reclaimed my bedroom.

I reclaimed my office (which is my bed).

I reclaimed my reading nook and dusted off the pile of magazines next to it, noting the bookmark in my book that hasn’t been moved in weeks.

I reclaimed the floor, another play space in our small, old house.

I reclaimed my bed, which the boys immediately jumped into the next day insisting I make a cave with our down comforter and my arms and feet for them to play in.

I reclaimed my sanity. My sanctuary. The place I go to read. To write. To sleep. To be on my own. To be with Andy. To snuggle with the kids during a middle-of-the-night thunderstorm. To dress for the day ahead. To retreat after a day done well. To hide after a day done poorly. To be.

And now my door is wide open. I’m calmer, just thinking about it. I’ve already allowed myself grace, for when it will invariably get messy again. But I also have given myself permission to reclaim it more quickly. Life is easy when you can throw a bunch of stuff in a room during a super-quick cleanup and close the door. But it’s a short-lived easy. Because even though the rest of the house may be beautiful, there’s still a hidden mess to deal with (isn’t there always?). And already, this morning, I’ve learned this: Life is a whole lot easier when clothes are in drawers and all the socks match.

“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.” —D.H. Lawrence

And now, a giveaway! The folks at Simon & Schuster were kind enough to send me a copy of Glennon’s book, Carry On, Warrior, which I would love to pass on to you. Simply post a comment telling me how you deal with laundry by Saturday, May 10. I’ll randomly choose a winner on Mother’s Day, and send it your way!

Play

“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori

James & Owen’s “Concert”

About 10 minutes ago Owen and James ran downstairs and started shouting something about a concert.

“What?” I asked.

“We have a concert for you!” they said. “Come upstairs to our concert!”

They were so excited.

And so was I. How imaginative! They did it all on their own! And I had heard no screaming for the 30 minutes prior so they did it together happily, nicely—no fighting at all.

We got to their bedroom door. It was closed, with a little tag hanging from the doorway.

How cute, I thought.

With great fanfare, they opened their door to …

this.

“Ta da!” they said.

“It’s everything in your room in a big pile,” I said.

“Yes!” they screamed. “It’s our concert!”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “When does the concert start?”

“This is it! This is our concert! OUR CONCERT!”

“So this big pile of stuff in your room is the concert?”

“Yes.”

“Are you going to clean the concert up?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“When we’re done with the concert.”

“Is the concert over now?”

“Yes.”

I left.

I still don’t understand.

And instead of hearing the concert being cleaned up, I hear things being added to the concert.

“Owen! There’s another blanket! Put it in the concert!”

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A Now-Pink Highchair

Sophie’s dolls (some of which were my dolls, when I was little) eat their meals in the same highchair my dolls used when I was little. Katy and I shared the highchair, as well as a doll crib. It’s seen some great wear, but still, Sophie was thrilled to receive it (Colleen has the crib).

One boring, cold, rainy Saturday afternoon, while the boys were sleeping and Andy was away, I decided we should paint it. Sophie wanted it to be pink, of course, which was easy because we had leftover pink paint from painting her bedroom walls.

And yes, I opened the paint can with a chisel.

And yes, I stirred it with a broken mini-blind rod, which I found in a pile in the basement.

We moved into our house when the boys were three months old. My days were a hard cycle of pumping, feeding, changing, unpacking. Some parts of the move, such as the basement, were never properly dealt with. As the weeks went by and we needed things from the basement we’d dig around in boxes, leaving messes, never organizing a thing. Andy has never minded it but I’ve always felt agitated, walking around our first floor knowing below me was a mini disaster, well beyond your typical basement disaster. (We made a path so our meter reader wouldn’t break an ankle.)

But putting off cleaning the basement is easy to do. Especially with three small children.

However, the frustration I felt trying to find a paint can opener, stirrer and brush in our throw-it-down-the-steps-and-deal-with-it-later basement put me into a full-blown tizzy.

Operation Clean Basement is underway.

Andy is less-than-thrilled.

Back to the highchair. It’s amazing what a couple coats of paint can do. Sophie loved the project. Sure she missed a bunch of spots, and at times she applied the paint too thickly and too evenly (I did, too). Paint got on the kitchen floor (despite the newspaper) the bottom of her feet (and mine), on my elbow and in her hair. But given that I’m a terrible painter, I loved having her help me. Because no matter how it turned out (and honestly, it turned out surprisingly OK), I could say “Sophie helped me!” when anyone commented on the paint job.

“Life is a great big canvas; throw all the paint you can at it.” —Danny Kaye

A Win?

I don’t often write about the details of potty training because, no one, honestly, wants to read about the details of potty training. But I do want to share this short story today.

James followed Sophie into the bathroom this afternoon, as he often does. While Sophie did her thing on the adult toilet he took off his pants and diaper and sat on the training potty chair. Usually, nothing happens. (We haven’t really started the training process yet.) So I was surprised when Sophie started screaming “James went in the potty! James went in the potty!”

I looked.

He did.

So I joined in with Sophie, clapping my hands, giving James kisses on the cheeks, telling him what a good job he did. Owen joined in, too. James was beyond excited. I wrangled him just long enough to get a new diaper and pants on and then all four of us were being silly, running around the first floor of the house, clapping, yelling and cheering for James. He was loving it.

So much so that he threw up.

All over himself and the entry floor rug.

Apparently we all got a little too excited about this milestone.

A bath, change of clothes and carpet cleaning followed.

I know messes are to be anticipated when potty training. I just didn’t expect that kind of mess.

“I know how sobering and exhausting parenthood is. But the reality is that our children’s future depends on us as parents. Because we know that the first years truly last forever.” —Rob Reiner

Two Little Monkeys …

After finding James perched on his crib rail, much like a bird on a tree limb, we decided it was time to put the boys in their twin beds.

It’s going well.

“Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.” —JoJo Jensen

Some Days, I Have No Words

“It would seem that something which means poverty, disorder and violence every single day should be avoided entirely, but the desire to beget children is a natural urge.” —Phyllis Diller