I also have a slight preference for plastic hangers

By Mir
July 6, 2006

You know that phrase, “Pick your battles?” Oh, if you’re a parent, I’ll bet it’s not so much a phrase as a mantra. That and “this too shall pass” have gotten many a parent through some dark hours.

I don’t like to pick my battles. More to the point: I want to pick ALL of the battles. Not because I enjoy fighting. I don’t. But I want to be in charge. And I want it done my way. Let’s face it; my job is to turn these kids into functioning members of society, and that means inflicting my will on them until they stop acting like crazed baboons.

Still, sometimes I decide to try this whole “picking my battles” thing. It rarely ends well.

Take, for example, the case of The Playroom. My spoiled brats are lucky enough to have a room completely dedicated to their altar to materialism. It’s actually an all-season porch, and I would love to have an all-season porch at my disposal, but I love not having legos all over my family room more.

I used to insist on daily tidying of the playroom. It involved lots of whining and cajoling and yelling and in the end, I did most of the cleaning. The playroom was clean, but I was cranky. And the children were afraid.

I decided to PICK MY BATTLES! And so I decided that I would PICK not to BATTLE them on the state of the playroom! Yessir! I would allow them to wallow in their filth and not be able to find their stuff and they would discover the consequences of their actions and I would just let it go and be calm and not even say I TOLD YOU SO when they—inevitably—saw the light.

The best laid plans….

The result of this strategy is that the children spend approximately 37% of their time crying and whining that they can’t find [some very important item] and they really NEED [some very important item] and will I help them FIND [some very important item]? (Answer: No. You cannot find it because the playroom is a pigsty. Clean it up and you will find [worthless piece of crap].)

Although this means I spend 37% of MY time hoping that they will get a clue before I give up and go lie down in traffic, it’s not a terrible system.

The problem is when a certain young lady decides that the status quo simply isn’t meeting her needs and decides to take matters into her own hands. And then I happen to come downstairs and find the children playing dollhouse in my living room (the ONE ROOM of the house they are not to hang out or otherwise spread their stuff out in) because, after all, there isn’t any room to PLAY in the playroom.

What happens then is quite simply what I like to refer to as “Mama losing her shit.”

It’s all kind of blur, what exactly happened. I believe it started with “OH. HELL. NO.” and ended with “… and then I am coming in here with a garbage bag and THROWING AWAY THE REST.”

While I lay down on the couch with a cold compress and my beloved vapors, somehow the playroom was magically cleared and set to rights.

Could I just enjoy the moment? Appreciate the fruits of their labors? No, I could not. I congratulated both kids on a job well done and then said:

“Now WHY do I have to yell and scream and get angry to get you two to clean up? Wouldn’t this have been SO MUCH NICER if you had just kept it clean in the first place?”

My children exchanged looks, silent commiseration. Chickadee cleared her throat.

“Yes, Mama, you shouldn’t have to yell. We should be better about cleaning up. But you know, it’s clean now, so you can stop talking.”

I sure am glad I let them figure it out all on their own, and they came through it with such tremendous character growth. Another job well done.


  1. Cele

    There is the good part of me that wants to say…”Job well done Mir.”

    There’s the other part that says.”Uh, oh Mir’s in trouble, the kids got into I know the right answers box.”

    I’ve always felt a bucket of Margaritas serves a wonderful purpose in these trying times.

  2. buffi

    I’m just SO impressed that this story did not end with, “And then I ripped her head from her body and threw IT in the garbage.

    Because that is exactly how it would have ended if SugarPlum had said that. Maybe it’s time to up my meds…

  3. Chookooloonks

    Buffi, I’m with you there — although, just to keep things exciting, with Alex, my story would’ve ended something more like, “and then I reached my hand into her chest, grabbed her heart, and showed it to her while it was still beating.”

    Amazing self-restraint, Mir. This is why you are the Goddess of Motherhood, and I am yet a mommy neophtyte.


  4. Red

    Good thing I wasn’t drinking anything when I read buffi’s comment. OMG that was funny!

    Anyway, I commiserate with you. Been there, done that, as they say. You need to pick your battles or you will be ‘losing your shit’ a lot more.

    I use to take a box of garbage bags to my son’s room, after telling him days before that I was going to ‘clean’ his room. By the time I was done I had at least five to ten bags full of trash. I would tell him that if he wanted to keep whatever then whatever had better be put away or whatever would be in the trash. I did this at least once a year. Saved yelling and ‘losing my shit’. I would also have more towels and dishes.

    I picked my battles with the knowledge that one day they would leave home for their own lives. Then I would move and they would never find me again. lol No, that last part isn’t true, but still you gotta be firm, stand your ground, and pick your battles. Not necessarily in that order.

  5. Niki

    Mir, I swear you have my house wired, so that you know what happens here from day to day. We have finally gotten the playroom under control, now it’s just the girls’ rooms that are (and I quote) “the pit of hell”. And yes, I have used that phrase with them. Just yesterday my youngest had a meltdown on the way out the door because she could not find her wallet (she’s 11, don’t know why she needs a wallet, she never has money), but apparently there’s $10 in there, and she was going to a friend’s house for a few days. If I had $10, I sure as heck would know where it was! We looked in vain for a few minutes, but there’s just so much crap. My oldest is the worst – who knew that a 15 year old girl who cares so much about how she looks could live in squalor? Yet every time her dad fusses, I tell him I’m “picking my battles” and her room isn’t it today. There’s enough I need to fuss about – her driving, her phone bill, her grades, her attitude! And as my stepmom is kind enough to remind me on a regular basis, “this too shall pass”. Get me my gun and a large adult beverage – in that order.

  6. Elleoz

    Wow! What self-restraint. While my darlings aren’t quite old enough to truly pick up their own toys I can only imagine the confrontations I will have in the near future. Luckily, I think I have passed on my OCD to my daughter. She insists on “clean up” every where we go and won’t go to sleep until her toys are put away.

    My son on the other hand. He is like a living tornado.

    Mommy dearest, here I come.

  7. peek317537

    Do you how wonderful it is to hear how insanely crazy your children drive you so that I know I’m not alone? You have done a good job though because they cleaned up the room and didn’t ask you, at least 100 times, to help them. Yours didn’t even ask once. Apparently I need to take some lessons from you. Just this morning Kitten immediately started whining and crying because she couldn’t find the stickers she got yesterday. My tolerance is zero at this point and I immediately start yelling that she had them last and she needs to find them, etc. etc. Mother of the Year here.

  8. Carol

    Wow! I’m so impressed! I have threatened (actually, I THREATEN) to throw my boys’ toys away because they refuse to pick them up. They tell me, “Fine, throw them away. Want me to get you a garbage bag?” All they care about is that they don’t have to pick anything up. *sigh*

  9. tori

    Because I am such a crazy person about making my kids clean up (I do the same garbage bag thing and the whole “throwing away the rest”) their friends parents love to have them come over to play. Apparently at other people’s houses, my kids are extremely good about cleaning up even without the crazy psycho yelling mom. On the one hand, that’s great, but on the other, why do I have to yell to get them to do it? We have donated bags and bags of toys to charity when they don’t clean them up. Then they say “yeah, we didn’t really want those anyway” which makes me so frustrated I want to run away to Hawaii and just never come back!

  10. Melanie Lynne Hauser

    OK, I guess it’s been a while since I’ve left my own little world because I have to say, your new layout is mahvelous! Veddy, veddy classy.

    And my battle zone has decreased as my kids got older – I pretty much leave their rooms alone, figuring it will be easier to just excavate everything once they’re in college and start all over.

  11. Bob

    loosing your shit is the equivalent of “the button” on the president’s desk in the arsenal of parenting. Sometimes you have to reach for the big guns when you’ve exhausted all other options. Because it is the big gun it is seldom used and therefor more effective.

    I had one other weapon I could use before “the button”. It starts in the sitting position and begins with “That’s it. I’ve had enough….” in my DAD voice. Believe me, I had their complete and undivided attention. Of course, that only works if you weigh over 200 pounds and can make your voice reverberate throughout the house.

  12. jonniker

    What’s frightening me about this post is that it reminds me of the exchanges I have with my husband. I’m a slob, he’s a nag. Finally, I give in, and he starts to lecture me about how he shouldn’t have to nag to get it done, blah blah bliggity blah, and I’m all, “SHUT UP! It’s DONE!” and he’s all, “WHY DID I HAVE TO GET ANNOYED TO GET IT DONE?”

    Oh my god, I’m like an 8 year old. I shall be clean from now on, and he will never ever know why.

  13. Amy-Go

    Having just recieved the news that I will be Remaining In Kansas Possibly For The Rest Of My Life (all join me in a moment of not so silent mourning) I am now shopping for a new house to console myself. What is the goal of the new house? A PLAYROOM!! Preferably in the basement where I never have to see it. And now you tell me that even if I never have to see it I will still have the “I can’t find it” problem to deal with?!?! You are killing me, woman. Way to destroy the dream. I have to go lie down now.

  14. InterstellarLass

    My daughter currently has three trash bags full of toys sitting in the garage. All because she didn’t clean her room.

    My son lost a $20 gift card because he took his wallet somewhere he wasn’t supposed to without telling me. “I told you so” were the first words that came out of my mouth. Then I said “and I’m not replacing the gift card”.

  15. Daisy

    After reading the post and the comments, I think I can summarize: speak softly and carry a big garbage bag and a big margarita.

  16. Jill

    So my two daughter’s do a great job at making a mess (ages 4 & 6)…. but my younger daughter loves to clean! Yes, she actually likes to organize her room and make it spiffy. My older daughter, well… she is a slob! I swear, there is a trail that follows behind her. Clothes come off and land on the floor, toys are never put away, hamma beads explode all over her room – and she just does NOT care.

    A few weeks ago, I did a clean sweep of her room and tossed more junk then I care to write. I don’t even think she noticed that anything was missing.

    Co-Founder, Silicon Valley Moms Blog

  17. carolyn

    I did the garbage bag thing this week while my kids are with their dad. My son’s instructions were …”try not to throw away anything I play with”. Huh?? My daughter, the neo-teen, informed me that she “Does too play with barbies”, so that stuff needed to stay as well. Personally, it was a joy to go through their rooms and pitch and clean and tidy, you get the picture. My bet is, they won’t miss a thing I discarded.

  18. Shiz


    You a tough cookie!

  19. Brenda

    Oh, Mir. If Chickadee had said that to me, I would have followed her around, for at least the next hour or so, talking continuously about things that interest me, bore her, and make her beg for mercy. I have done this. It usually takes much less than an hour.

    And if you’re not physically imposing like Bob, may I suggest a drama class. I have a large voice anyway (building up from when I was a child and my mother would send me out to yell for my sisters to come home for dinner), but drama will teach you how to project your voice, deeply, loudly, and commandly, through your entire home. It’s awesome!

  20. Jenn2


    I love that girl of yours.

  21. Nothing But Bonfires

    Eh, can’t you just make them keep their toys outside and play out there? Year-round I mean, even though I know you live in New England? Because it would be SO AWESOME to have an all-purpose, all-weather porch at your disposal. I’m picturing a few sunbeds and a minibar.

  22. Mary Tsao

    I am quickly approaching all of these points and battles: the messy playroom overflowing with toys, the whining, the encroachment on MY SPACE, the ultimatums… I only hope my kids will actually start picking up after themselves one day.

    Maybe I should try the cold compress and vapors approach. Seems to work…

  23. Erin (erin-erin-bo-berin)

    Mir – I want to thank you for telling the truth that I cannot. It’s your honesty that makes you transparent, a quality that I strive for daily. I wanna be like you when I grow up. Maybe I could arrange for us to leave our kids and our hubbies at home so we can go to Las Vegas, this time next year? Assuming that neither of us is in prison for using a staple gun and/or duct tape to exercise our ultimate control over our kids…

  24. MetroDad

    As always, I love the perspective you bring to the situation. Sometimes, I read your blog and get glimpses into my future. Glad to see that you’re still fighting the good fight. Remember, it’s ok to lose the battles but win the war! Never say die! Remember the Alamo!

  25. Gilllian

    Gee, the Mama Stomp! Good to see some traditions live on.
    You know I used to have wonderful visions of the femme lying back on her chaise lounge with a lace hankie to her forehead having ‘the vapors’. I was totally devastated to learn that it meant having gas. Um, so I guess I wanted to pass along the sorrow…think i will slink away now.

  26. Carol

    GAK! THAT’s what “having the vapors” means? That you have to FART?! I’ll never be the same again….

  27. ishouldbeworking

    I have done the garbage bag thing 2-3 times per year since my daughter has been a toddler. When she got old enough to figure out what had happened while she was away, she threw fits! I told her that if she could name one specific thing that I had tossed, she could get it back. Know what? She has NEVER been able to. She’s 12, I still do it, and she still hasn’t been able to name anything specific.

  28. Bryn, North Wales, UK

    Somehow, God alone knows how, my son (aged 14) has managed to avoid having his head unscrewed and placed on a pike as a warning to untidy kids everywhere………….
    He knows he’s on very thin ice on a sunny day when I leave a shovel and several garden refuse sacks outside his bedroom door, along with a note stating “GENTLE HINT : pocket money & all activities and privileges suspended until further notice….”
    As if by a miracle, our dishwasher fills up with long lost crockery & glassware, and the laundry baskets fill up to overflowing (although sometimes I wish he’d put some of the more fermented items of clothing on the compost heap)……on second thoughts, I’m sure that some little tin-pot dictator somewhere would like some fresh biological weaponry; my washing machine would last a lot longer as well…..!!!

  29. JGS

    We’re having a similar issue with eating dinner. They never want to eat it, always want dessert and we always want them to eat if they want dessert. There is much frustrating, slinging heads back into the chair, fake screaming/crying, urging, pleasding, feeding just to get them to eat a little bit. I’m thinking if we let them not eat for a few nights they’ll realize being hungry is no fun. Of course maybe they won’t and I will feel terribly guilty. Is this one of those pick my battle situations? Not quite sure yet.

    But hey, in the end, you WON!!!!

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