“Go clean your room.”
They are futile words. At least in my house they are. We tell the kids to go clean their room and we know deep down that saying anything else at all would have been a better way to spend that breath.
The room will, inevitably, not be cleaned in any sort of reasonable time frame or by any sort of reasonable standard. But we try.
We say, “Go clean your room” and here’s what happens.
They salute (sort of), say “Yes sir” (even if it’s Mommy who says it) and they head up the steps with firm resolve to clean the room (or at least I tell myself that). And five minutes later they are playing with something, fighting with each other or one of them has (somehow) been locked in the bathroom.
We must intervene (several times) to deal with these situations but eventually our reminders to “clean your room” sink in. They realize that we might actually be right (gasp). They won’t get to play, have fun, eat a snack, or even grow older until they clean their room.
But instead of cleaning they shift to a new strategy.
Upon our next inspection they’ve become deceptively silent. We glance around the room and notice a few things.
The floor is clear! The beds are made(ish)! The drawers are all closed. (Even the one that sticks all the time.) And our first instinct is to cover the kids with positive reinforcement and affirmation and then shower them with gummy candy.
Then we notice something else. We notice that this sudden onset of peacefulness and calm is quite foreign to our home, and our children. It is while we briefly bask in this peacefulness that we are suddenly struck with the realization that something is amiss.
The kids stand next to the wall, their clothes disheveled and wide grins on their faces. It seems perfect, too perfect.
Then we see the toy dinosaur peeking out at us from under the bed. And he has friends. And clothes. I kneel down to take a look only to find that all manner of chaos has been moved from its random spreading around the room to one, almost hidden, spot. All of everything is shoved under the bed in such a way that one wonders what laws of physics have been suspended to keep it all in there.
The conversation is short (and one-sided).
Now, with their options severely limited and their creativity exhausted, they are left with one final strategy. All they can do is surrender. In defeat, they start to pull it all out, toy by toy. Very little is said during this stage. They know what they should do. They know where things belong and they reluctantly put them away. And what could have been accomplished in thirty minutes wipes out an entire morning.
It’s easy to see it in kids. It doesn’t take much to find that dinosaur. And when you do, you find everything. They don’t have much to hide and they’re not very creative with where they hide it. Once they surrender, it’s a fairly simple act.
If only they would learn to surrender first. They would save themselves so much time and energy. It would cut down on so much conflict. Get in there, get it all cleaned up the way it’s meant to be cleaned up, the only way it can be cleaned up. If only they saw how simple it really is.
It’s not as simple with us, is it? We get better at hiding the dinosaur. In fact, we’ve hidden things in so many places we forget where some of those places are and what some of those things might be. We’ve learned to leave one drawer open on purpose. It’s the one we let them look in and we hope it distracts from the closed ones.
If only we would learn to surrender first.