My kids are straight up savages when it comes to cleaning up after themselves. I’m not saying they make a mess; I’m saying they are like gummy, human bombs made out of dirt/markers/unidentified liquid substances, and they leave a trail of literal garbage in their wake. They could be hovering directly over the trashcan and still manage to litter the floor with food wrappers, or discard old banana peels between my couch cushions. I don’t even know where they find the garbage they leave in every nook and cranny of my house. Do they secretly dumpster dive in my neighbours’ trashcans? Do they have it shipped in?! I don’t get it, and I’m done with it.
BB (Before Breakdown), I would hassle my 4 and 7 year olds to clean up after themselves (I am pretty sure I say “garbage goes in the garbage” no less than a million times a day), but eventually I’d crumble beneath the pressure of their inactivity and tidy it myself because the constant nagging and reminding drove both me and them insane. I don’t know if they hated me more for the constant harassment, or if I hated them more for ignoring my every request (Pretty sure I hated them more… Yep. Definitely hated them more).
So I just fell into the habit of picking up after them. Clothes strewn all over my living room, despite the fact that their laundry hampers AND dressers are an entire floor away? No problem; I’ll pick them up. Grapes left on a high traffic area of my rug and ground into the fibres? Mom’s job. Bathroom under an inch of water and toothpaste because the girls decided to have a “spa day”? There’s a parent for that!
The beginning of the end happened about a month ago when the Bean had a friend over to play. She was setting up a tea party, which is code for gigantic, sticky mess, and I told her that she could not, under any circumstance, use real food. Long story short, she took advantage of the fact that I was upstairs cleaning the mess she made when she and her friend put on bathing suits and swam in the bath tub, and I came downstairs to find my youngest daughter pouring orange juice into an overflowing bowl, my oldest making a mystery stew with the soy sauce, and tiny plates piled high with random bits of food, covering every inch of my kitchen. I mean, I know you’re reading this and you’re thinking “I bet the mess wasn’t that big. What’s some orange juice and some soy sauce?” I cannot stress how huge this mess was. Food and spilled drinks everywhere. I was LIVID. I yelled at her to clean it up IMMEDIATELY. She pretended to clean for a second before abandoning her job and continuing to play in the food wasteland. I yelled some more. She yelled back. And then my beautiful little daughter said the worst possible thing you could ever say to a martyr like me. She said “I am not your maid!”
Excuuuuuse me? She’s not MY maid? I was vibrating, I was so angry and hurt. I have never felt so devalued in my entire life, and I used to be the first point of contact for angry American customers at a call centre. I LIVE for these ungrateful brats. I work my ass off at my job just so I can spend 100% of my income to clothe, house and feed them. I moved to my hometown because of them when I’d much rather be living in the city and vacationing with my childless friends. I cook and clean for them. Pick their garbage off the ground. I chauffeur them to school, play dates, and expensive extracurricular activities. I play with them even though I’m bored and tired. I help with homework, kiss imaginary boo boos, listen to their inane little kid problems. I babysit other children on my days off just so they have someone to play with. And she’s not MY maid? Fuck right off, kid.
Now, full disclosure: I am NOT Suzy Homemaker. There are plenty of nights when I leave the dinner dishes on the table to rot until the next night. My own clothes don’t always make it into the laundry hamper. I never make my bed. Ain’t nobody got time for that. BUT, I try to be good. I’m trying to be better. I AM being better. Because I’m constantly and consistently cleaning up after myself now (as of about 4 days ago), I am dragging my kids along on this journey with me. And IT.IS.TERRIBLE.
How hard is it to pick up a toy? To put your used plate in the dishwasher? To discard that red waxy bit from the Babybel cheese into the trash bin? REALLY EFFING HARD, APPARENTLY. It’s a whole, involved process. First, you have to walk away from the toy/plate/wax-you-dropped-on-the-floor-where-you-stood-eating-your-cheese. Then, you have to ignore your mother’s request to pick it up. Then you have to ignore her SECOND request. Then, you have to whine about how you don’t WANT to pick it up while you circle your mess in such a way as to trick your mom into thinking you’re going to pick it up before stealthily sneaking away. Then you have to ignore your mom’s third, fourth and fifth requests, including her threats to send you to your room and never take you anywhere again. MAYBE on the 6th request, because you’re tired of listening to the crazy woman yell at you, you might consider cleaning up that toy/dish/garbage. But by now, you’ve created 10 other messes around the house and the cycle just repeats ad nauseam all day.
On the third day, I thought the kids were going to have a breakthrough. I sat them down to breakfast, and I said “I know you guys are getting the hang of this. I know I’m not going to have to remind you to put your dishes in the dishwasher when you’re done anymore.” Five minutes later, the kids were gone and their bowls were still on the table. Arrrrrrrgg!
I can’t say it’s gotten easier on any of us since day 1 (every time I have to point out a dirty dish or request they tidy up, it makes me want to fly into a blind rage), but I refuse to give up this time. We’ve been through this song and dance before, and I just have to prove that my resolve is tougher than theirs. I will persevere. My will is strong. I AM NOT THEIR MAID, GODDAMNIT!
It is pretty clear, though, that I’m going to need some strategies that go beyond reminding and nagging. I have some ideas I’m going to implement and if they work, I will let you know. In the meantime, if you have suggestions…