I grew up in a chaotically messy home, with a busy mom who disdained cleaning AND cleaning women. Our cat’s litter box was changed approximately every three years. If the screen door ripped, it stayed ripped. Half the food in the fridge was covered in green and white fuzzy mold.
My little corner room was my oasis. You could eat off the polished wood floor. My four-poster bed had hospital corners. The three windows sparkled with Windex. I scrubbed the toilet adjacent to my room once a week (sometimes twice).
Perhaps not surprisingly, as a mom myself I have veered to the far end of the neatness spectrum. I am adamant that shared family spaces, such as the kitchen, dining room, and playroom, stay spotless. My three kids and their friends know the rules. Part of my happiness as a wife and mom depend directly upon living in a neat, clean home. In my house, respect for family means not leaving your sneakers, your winter coat, your homework, your dirty dishes or your stinky socks strewn all over the place.
My kids lack my zeal for tidiness. But over time, they have become compliant about cleaning up the common spaces. Mostly because I take away their dessert and their iPhones if they leave out their shoes, cups, coats or headphones.
However, each of my kids is lucky to have their own room. And, kinda like my own mom, I let them keep their rooms as they wish. (They do have to sanitize before a friend comes over though). It is a hard call. I want them to learn how to keep their rooms neat. However, I don’t have the time, energy or desire to police their rooms.
Many times I just shut their doors.
This dual-standard system works well for us. I feel sorry for the kids’ future roommates and spouses. But it’s easy to ignore frustrations of people I have not yet met.
Surely making Mom smile up in heaven, all three of my kids are as messy as she was, behind their closed doors. The girls are slobs in a girly-girl way. Nail polish bottles, discarded clothes, a plethora of hair products and straighteners are regularly strewn all over the place. Their rooms look like TJ Maxx dressing areas. The air smells like the hair salon where I get my roots dyed.
However, the girls don’t come close to the boy in mess competition. His room doesn’t smell like any sort of retail space. It comes closer to the Redskins locker room after an August practice. Wet towels carpet the floor. Dirty clothes form a layer on top. A forest of stray sneakers sprouting up from the ground provide excellent tripping hazards.
As, it turns out, I’m not alone in choosing to let my kids be as wildly piggy as possible, according to a recent article about teenagers’ bedrooms in the New York Times. Many other parents across the country have found similar compromises to the age old “clean your room!” tug of war.
Every so often, though, I break down. Last week, I couldn’t take it any longer. Instead of shutting my son’s door, I peeked in. I couldn’t resist going in to clean up.
Just a little, I told myself. First I collected the wet towels (there were three). Then I started tackling the dirty underwear and socks.
It was one of those warm Indian summer days.
I was barefoot.
I stepped on something squishy.
I didn’t have on my glasses, so I had to bend down, a few inches from the floor, to see what was under my foot. Perhaps it was a gummy worm or a Sour Patch Kid, two of my son’s favorite Halloween treats.
I am amazed you all didn’t hear my scream.
It was a dead mouse. Probably courtesy of my son’s cat, just as big a slob as he is. Who knows how long it had been there.
I’m not going in again until he leaves home for good.