Scrub the floors with a toothbrush

By Mir
November 18, 2006

I’m taking a break from yelling at my children to sit down and breathe deeply and count to ten. Or maybe ten million.

Last night I came up with a shockingly simple premise, and I even laid it out for them before bed so that there would be no surprises today: If the playroom gets picked up in the morning so that a person can actually, I don’t know, WALK IN THERE without tripping on or otherwise stomping and breaking things, we will go see Happy Feet at the theater this afternoon. I may have even offered to buy popcorn.

I will give you three guesses—though the first two don’t count—as to how the cleaning is going.

There is some basic background one needs to appreciate the gravity of this situation:

One: I hardly ever take the kids to the movies. We rent DVDs, yes, but the big-screen experience is something we don’t get very often. To say that this offer is a treat is rather like saying that Satan is slightly unpleasant.

Two: The so-called playroom is a converted all-season porch, perhaps 10 or 12 feet square. It isn’t a particularly large room. And all I ask is that the toys be picked up, the books put away, and the trash cleared out. I did not set them loose in the palace ballroom with buckets and grout brushes and tell them that I wish to see my reflection in the floor.

Three: I used to enforce a nightly tidying of the playroom before bed, and it made everyone miserable. The current rule is “You can do whatever you want in there as long as I can close the door and ignore it—provided that it doesn’t involve food and, therefore, bugs—but you acknowledge and accept that periodically I will Flip Out and demand that you set the room to rights or I will do it for you, and my method involves large garbage bags.”

Four: It has been well over a month since I last flipped out per the rule laid out in Three, above.

Now, you might read through the above items and surmise that my children were right now cleaning up. Perhaps you would allow for a bit of grumbling, and a few moments of horseplay, but overall: Cleaning. Because: Movie! With popcorn!

But you would be so, so wrong. Here is what my children have been doing for the past hour, despite my continued exhortations—growing more purple-faced by the moment—to just. do. what. I. asked. already:

Chickadee has tied a trash bag around her waist, apron-style, and has thrown exactly four pieces of paper into it. Three of those she dangled in Monkey’s face, first, with an accompanying taunt (“This was yours but I’m throwing it aaaaa-waaaaaay!”) and an evil cackle.

Monkey has come to me crying, three times, to wail that Chickadee is throwing away his things.

Chickadee has discovered the blood pressure cuff from the old doctor set, attached it to her wrist, and announced to no one in particular that she has to stop and check herself, fifteen times.

Monkey has discovered four missing bottlecaps and recounted, Rainman-style, where each came from and why it is important and why he’s so so so so SO happy that he found it.

Chickadee has had to stop and rest, multiple times, because it’s hard work, checking your blood pressure repeatedly.

Three times Monkey has brought me pieces of dismantled and/or destroyed toys and asked me to find the missing parts and then had a small meltdown when, each time, I intoned “If you do not take care of your toys, you will have broken toys.”

Four times I have had to storm the playroom to separate them, bodily, because they’d gotten into a grabbing match over some coveted piece of… something. Usually garbage.

Twice I have caught them just scooping up junk and dumping it into the nearest bin, and twice I have broken up games they started playing when they found enough pieces of something to become distracted.

And now I am going to lock them in there and go to the movies by myself. They can come out when I can see my reflection in the floor.

Too bad there’s carpet in there, huh?


  1. Patricia

    Evil. Evil. Evil Mommy. Movie AND Popcorn bribes? Wow. Adopt me? I’ll clean my playroom, promise!!!

    Seriously I’m right there with you. Every Saturday morning that rolls, I get up and go to a meeting and the boys hang out in bed until I get home to make them breakfast. After breakfast I send the youngest off to clean his room before he gets anymore TV (afterall, he just got 2 solid hours while waiting for me to cme home to feed them).

    Now, someone kindly explain to me WHY, oh WHY, I’m the only person in this house that can make oatmeal? The three year old is excused, no being allowed to touch the microwave — but what about the 33 year old? WHY? (Oh, and also explain to me, while you are at it, why my 3 year old cleans better than my 33 year old?)

  2. Stjernesol

    Sorry that I’m laughing… ;)

    You write delightful!

  3. Daily Tragedies

    I SWEAR I was a better kid than this. But I’m probably mistaken. Poor Mama!

  4. Fold My Laundry Please

    My kids are still to small to protest (4, 3, and 1) nightly toy pickup. They’re still at the “I want to be big so give me chores” stage. I’m not looking forward to the day when they realize that chores = work! And work stinks!

  5. bob

    I’m sorry, you are surprised at this outcome? And when you don’t take them to the movies because they didn’t clean up the room there will be a complete and total meltdown and you will be able to retain your title as world’s worst mom who doesn’t love her children.

  6. Terri

    That is So.My.Life. Except that our playroom is the converted dining room, so I can’t ignore it. And now we’re at the stage that the oldest (7) whines nonstop that he’s the ooooonlyyyy one cleaning and it’s not faaaaaairrrrrrr. Join me in the evil mommy camp!

  7. Sara

    Ummm….is it possible that our children are in some way related? I swear that I have had this very thing happen at our house with the same results. And yeah, when the dangled carrot gets yanked away because the children were unable to complete the task set before them before showtime, there is always great wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then I know that my position as “Meanest Mother EVER!” is totally safe.

  8. Michelle

    May want to see my review before you shell out the money. A warning.

  9. Charity

    You just described what I’ve been dealing with all day. At one point, my drama queen daughter even came to me in tears, drops to her knees, and when I asked, “Finished picking up yet?” She wails, “But, I need somebody to do TEAMWORK!”

    I wonder sometimes, where in the world did we go wrong as parents. Surely better parents would be able to get their kids to do the simpilist of tasks. WHEW! I am so relieved to know, We aren’t the only ones!

  10. Tracey

    You just described my place. And such a typical scenario. Only we have to walk through the ‘playroom’ to get to the stairs to our room – so you have a recipe for disaster. The add another child to the mix and stir.

    To make that even more interesting, the younger two are the ones that usually make the mess because they have to share a room, and so have their desks in the playroom. So the eldest always maintains that none of it is her mess. Throw in the cleaning up of the shared room into the scenario as well.

    Sometimes the eldest tries to ‘help’ me help them clean up. And we get the ‘you’re not the boss of me’ sibling wars. Oh Happy Days.

    Things I have learnt:

    The chances of all parties involved (even if it’s only the two of them) being focused on cleaning up at the same time are a million to one.

    The mess has always, apparently, been made by ‘the other one’. Or Mr Nobody.

    I’ve been a failure of a parent in the ‘keeping the house tidy’ stakes. I’m not a clean freak myself.. but the kids have taken it over the edge.

    Sometimes (and I caution you.. _sometimes_…) cleaning up to music works. Sometimes.

    I’m a horrible horrible mother too. Can I join your club?

    We have started the ball rolling with getting extensions done – because having 2 kids sharing a room, and one not, doesn’t work. Who would have thought?! And when we do, THERE WILL BE NO PLAYROOM. Each child responsible for own room. It won’t solve the cleaning up problem.. but it will remove the ‘teamwork timing’ aspect of attacking a shared room.

  11. Elleana

    My kids… your kids… they all must be related. Let’s seal them in that room together and go see Happy Feet. I’ll buy the drinks.

  12. Susan

    Uh, Bob, I hope you’re being ironic, because I’m having a hard time figuring out how asking kids to be responsible is a bad thing.

    Also, Mir will have to fight me for the title of “world’s worst mom who doesn’t love her children,” as I have also been known to use this same approach (both the bribery and the trash bags loaded with stuff left on the floor) to get various parts of my house picked up.

    That is all.

  13. Rebecca

    The last time I told my daughter to clean her room, I ended up with a trash bag by the back door full of legitimate garbage and shoes…my bra…a belt…books, etc. So Mommy got to pick through the trash. I guess I wasn’t specific enough. Gah! Kids!

  14. Christina

    I’m making my husband read this entry as I’m still laughing, this is basically my approach to our playroom and frequently don’t get anywhere.

  15. Picklemommy

    Today things with my 4 and 6 year old sons got so bad that we took out all of their toys in their room except one bin and told them that would have to earn back the privilege of having more than one toy out at a time. I already feel so much lighter! Fighting with them about cleaning is the worst and now, rather than sending them to bed when I am cranky with them for not cleaning they got a kiss and a smile from me, and NO badgering. Good luck with your two, I am right there with you!

  16. bob

    yes, Susan – irony is my middle name, although I was really shooting for sarcasm. What I was trying to say that the behaviour being described is pretty typical – we had the same out of our kids when they were at that age. (also almost every comment after mine mentioned similar behaviour from their kids.) I fully appreciate the valuable lessen of responsibility, I spent 20 years teaching it to our children. I know that Mir is an excellent parent and is more than capable of teaching her children responsibility and that she is loved by her children – who in no way think of her as a witch.

  17. Laura

    I found that I only needed to go through with the trash bag thing once. I mean, really go through with it. I threw out what was undonatable, and sent the rest off to charity. Luckily nothing that was a treasure happened to be on the floor at the time.

    Yes, I was the MEANEST MOMMY EVER but now when I threaten to get the trash bag my words carry a hell of a lot of weight…

  18. Cory

    “What I have to clean my room?” 15 seconds later, “Oooooooh, something shiny! lalalalalalalala” 3 hours later the room is no more cleaner than when my 8 yr. started.

  19. MMM

    That’s hilarious…I mean…I’m so sorry.

  20. Dawn

    Your third child apparently lives at my house. So familiar, so very familiar.

  21. Antique Mommy

    Sometimes when my 3-year-old is at school, I thin out some of the toys and it’s eerie how he can walk in the door and sense that a broken McToy from a year a go is no longer present. He is omnicient I tell you.

  22. tori

    I have gone in and thrown things away/donated lots and lots of toys and still every time I tell them to “really clean it all up” the same thing happens to me. It’s almost Christmas, so they will be restocked. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I sure do sympathize!

  23. shannon

    Yeah, the animals…they can’t sass back. I keep telling you, get yourself some critters that are four legged instead of two legged! You don’t have to pay for braces, no college, no fights about cleaning up. And they are just as snuggly as the two legged kind (but even more so at times).

    I’m just sayin’.

  24. rachel

    same story here, I am just not as funny as you are. And we added one extra child to the mix.

    gah. If you come up with a wonderful way to get them to clean without any more yelling, please let me know.

  25. Susan

    Thank you, Bob–I think perhaps I needed Chickie to come and take MY blood pressure, as I had spent the afternoon playing CLEAN UP YOUR STUFF RIGHT NOW! with my kids. Forgive me for poking at you.

    Now where’s that blood pressure cuff? Probably in one of those trash bags . . .

  26. Keri

    Wow. Lucky children. They have a playroom. I had a simple bedroom. Where I stuffed everything under the bed. no wait. That’s right. My father turned one corner in the basement behind the laundry room into a playroom. It had cinder block walls which he painted bright blue. He then took and stuck Disney wall stickers on it… bambi and thumper and various characters such as these… he put some linoleum squares down on the concrete. And a rug was thrown down on top of this. There was the mandate that at the end of the day all toys get thrown back into the toy box. yes, it’s all coming back to me now. The wooden toy box with the heavy lid that I would have to lift and prop back against the wall… and if I leaned against the box too hard it would slide back and the lid would then come crashing down on the top of my head or on my hands. :(

    Lucky little kids. Lock them in. go to the damn movie. ;)

  27. Kris

    Mir, sometimes I swear we share a life.

    Time for you to take over their playroom and make it your “Craft supply area” or something. I have to do the same. :sigh:

    Of course WE are never that messy. No, ma’am. *snort*

  28. Em

    Oh my god, I have SO been there! Your #3 on the ‘basic background’ info is a rule I’ve adopted regarding a few places in our home. Cause I used to be the cleaning nazi and finally my wife told me the entire family was starting to hate me. LOL So now I keep MY space clean and they are on their own – until I flip out. :)

  29. Rissa Roo

    I can relate. We live in a small house and don’t have a lot of extra space, so my son doesn’t get a whole play room. But thankfully he is a bit OCD and actually clean up his toys pretty well. However, he does want to keep every peice of paper, plastic, packaging, pen, picture or plaything he has every touched. He is allowed to keep all of this treasure in his “special drawer” which we clean out about once month. This is an enormous ordeal and involves tears over every peice of paper.

  30. Two Sirius

    Does it make me sick and twisted that the main reason I want to go see Happy Feet is to be able to watch the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix trailer on full screen?

    It does?

    Oh well…

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