I cleaned the boys’ bedrooms.
Yes, I know they should clean them on their own. There are many things they should do. Add this to the list.
I laid down the ultimatum a couple of weeks ago – you have an afternoon to clean your room. If you choose not to, then I will clean it for you. And believe me, young men, you do not want me to clean it for you. My process involves trash bags. And no sharpies for labeling and retrieving.
I wonder if every parent ever has tried this tactic. I remember wailing at the kitchen table, grieving the contents of the trash bag, most of all the lavender corduroy pants. (Let’s all just take a moment for lavender cordury pants.) To put away or throw away: that was the question.
My mom still talks about the time this backfired on her. She swept through my brother’s room, filling bag after bag of his stuff, and she told him he could earn it back. Seven years later, he graduated from high school, and my mom found the trash bag of his treasures where she had hidden it in the back of her closet. At that point, my brother said, “It’s all right, Mom. You can have all that stuff.”
I tend to operate well under deadlines, great and small. When I write, I set my timer for 8 minutes and 44 seconds. Nothing sacred about that amount of time, just a good formula that is neither too short nor too long. And if the timer beeps and I have more to say, well, then command-R. Reset and we’re good to go. Check back in with me in another 8:44.
I do the same thing with cleaning. I set my timer for 15 minutes, thinking, ‘surely I can clean for fifteen minutes. I can do anything for fifteen minutes.’ And then I gain so much momentum that by the time those 15 minutes are up, I barely want to pause long enough to make the beeping stop.
Such was the case with the boys’ bedrooms. I was Tazmanian in my degree of productivity.
What I didn’t see coming, as I cleaned the boys’ rooms was the spiritual metaphor in this gift of grace.
In part, they hadn’t cleaned their rooms because – like their mother – they don’t like such menial tasks. But also, they didn’t clean their rooms because they didn’t know where to even begin in this sea of Legos and markers and library books and angry birds and yogurt wrappers and divorced pairs of socks.
I cleaned their slate.
When they came home, when they saw their carpet once again, they spilled with thanks. Thank you, Mommy! Oh, thank you! One of them actually knelt down to the floor to enjoy the plush carpet on his fingers and against his face. Thank you, Mommy.
They wanted out of the mess. They didn’t know where to start.
I get that, guys. Been there too.