…Clean up, clean up, before your mom pulls out her hair.
Somewhere in the universe there is a two-and-a-half-year-old who does everything she is told, when she is told. And happily. She doesn’t even whine. She says, “Okay, Mommy,” and scrapes her leftovers into the trash, and puts on her shoes when it’s time to go, and stops picking at her effing fingernails when you remind her not to because they will become bloody stumps otherwise. (Ahem. This is another issue I’ve been struggling with. But this is not the place, not today.)
I’ve never seen that two-and-a-half-year-old. She’s not in this house. Here we have the Ever-Suffering Mother trying to manage an adorable monster. We’ve tried bribing her to clean up by giving her “special occasion” toys. We’ve tried special songs – from the ever-popular classic “Clean Up, Clean Up” to Ricky Martin’s upbeat “Pegate,” to the ever-inspiring “Love Shack” by the B52’s. We’ve tried time-outs. We’ve tried time-ins. (Not really the time-ins, I just thought it sounded good.) Finally, what worked best was taking toys away if she didn’t clean them up.
Why did it work best? Not for the reason you’d hope, that she’d be suddenly transformed into a little cleaner-upper at the thought of losing her precious stuffed animal friends. No. It works best because when the toys disappear to the basement, there is less for her to clean up the next night, and the night after, and so on. Because the Ever-Suffering Mother does NOT traipse down to the basement every day to collect whatever toys were banished the day previous. So they sort of collect there.
The family room empties, the basement fills up.
And then, yesterday. I brought up armloads of toys from the basement, some of them Z hasn’t seen in ages. I made piles of toys in the family room. Guess what she did. Okay, fine, I’ll tell you: she put them away. And then she said something kind of sad, but so cute. “I’m not taking anything out.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Then I won’t have to put it away!”