While our 15-year-old son was away at summer camp, his father and I managed to peaceably co-clean and de-clutter his personal storage bin, otherwise known as his bedroom.
This is surprising, considering my husband’s idea of cleaning up means throwing away, while I like to save 89-cent Easter baskets. He fashions himself a minimalist, while I say, “Yes, Benjie still needs all six of those posters on his walls.” He has no interest in playing a game of remember-when, while I want to sit cross-legged on the floor and sing lullabies as we sift through old elementary school pictures and feng shui his underwear drawer.
But the real bone of contention has to do with the very phrasing:
“I am cleaning my child’s room.”
My husband thinks if a child is old enough to walk, he’s old enough to clean his room. Cleaning one’s room teaches responsibility and order. Cleaning one’s room is payback for rent.
I believe today’s teen-agers have enough to figure out, what with hormones and teachers, what with soccer schedules and college applications already, what with girls and social media, hair gel and deodorant. Asking a teen-aged child to clean his room, really clean his room to Hampton Inn standards, is like asking the devil to perform random acts of kindness.
“Dad, you have to understand,” my son said before he left for camp. “I’m a teen-ager. Cleaning my room is just not a priority.”
Such adolescent pith 50 years ago would have earned Benjie daily military inspection for the next six months, and 500 pushups in the dirt at dawn to go along with it. But in our house, where the kids are otherwise pretty good people, my son has a point.
As does his armchair lawyer mother. To be clear, I reminded my husband, we’re not talking about picking the towels up off the floor and throwing away the candy wrappers. We’re talking about deep-cleaning and reorganizing a very small room that we helped clutter with stuff for the last 15 years. There’s a reason the adolescent comic strip “Zits” approaches the messy teenager’s room like it’s an institution. It takes a few policy wonks to make it run efficiently.
And so, as a gift to ourselves (our bedroom is next to his) and to our son, who would soon be returning home with a mildewed footlocker that would create an even more hospitable haven for granddaddy long-legs, we put aside our differences.
Armed with brooms and dust cloths, we made a pathway through the fortress and took up stations. I found stuff for my husband to throw away. He stepped aside while I re-taped posters to the wall. He moved the bed. I swept behind it.
I also put a big bin in the hallway into which my husband put all the stuff he really wanted to throw away.
It was only after my husband left this weekend to retrieve Benjie – that I sat on the floor and boo-hooed over old baby pictures and Harry Potter wands. And, with the exception of a small box of trash, I found a place for every single item in that bin. This, by the way, is one of those facts of family life Dad never needs to know.
Meanwhile, guess what the camper exclaimed when he saw his room anew?
“I’ll never mess it up again!”
Famous last words maybe, but they sure sounded good.
(Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio (www.debralynnhook.com), has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. Read her blog at http://debralynn-bloopbloopotter.blogspot.com/ or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or join her Facebook discussion group on this column: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Debra-Lynn-Hook-Bringing-Up-Mommy/195642263780710.)
2012 Debra-Lynn B. Hook
By DEBRA-LYNN B. HOOK