Friday, November 4, 2011

Clean-up time

Holly is invited to a sleepover that starts at dinnertime tonight, and I’ll celebrate her absence the best way I know how: by cleaning up her room.

I realize how many principles of good parenting this comes into direct conflict with. Holly should clean up her own room. In fact, cleaning up her room should be a prerequisite for going to a sleepover. In fact, her room shouldn’t even need clean-up; tidying should be part of her everyday routine.

In the best of all worlds, yes. In my world, not hardly.

Holly’s room is a mess. Holly’s room is always a mess, with the rare exceptions of the times that I absolutely insist we spend some quality time together cleaning it up – which is less fun than a dentist appointment followed by a trip to the transfer station – or the times like tonight when I wait until she’s out of the house and then do a kamikaze cleaning job on it.

And it’s not good for any of us. The stress of seeing so much stuff all over the floor and furniture gives me a headache. Both Rick and I have stepped painfully on small, hard, occasionally sharp objects in the dark while up in her room saying goodnight. Things she needs get lost in the strata of materials. Small containers of colored water left over from painting projects have splashed on the rug. Beads have become embedded in the carpet strands. Library books have gone missing.

But she seems unable to improve in this area. She loves her mess, and as I wrote about last month, our trip to an Open Studios event didn’t help at all: Holly considers herself a practicing studio artist, and when she discovered that almost all of the professional artists whose workspaces we visited that day also favored a colorful but chaotic mess of art supplies and works-in-progress, it only served to fortify her argument that this is how artists need to work. “I like to see what I have, Mommy,” she says by way of explaining the necessity of keeping cloth swatches, sets of scissors, containers of beads, paint sets, books, paper, markers and more piled all over the floor in her room. “It helps me figure out what I want to do.”

Perhaps this is true and perhaps she’s just being devious, because the fact is that the way to put something over on me is to pledge creativity. Holly must know on some level that claiming her mess inspires her is the best way to ensure that I’ll never really truly insist that she keep neater. As a writer, I’m all about the creative process, and not a bit willing to stifle it in someone else.

Still, on that rare opportunity when Holly is out of the house while I’m home and it’s not what I consider work hours, I make my move. Tonight, I’ll pick up, and until she gets back home, I’ll enjoy the absolute sense of serenity that comes from a tidy, well-ordered room. She won’t be happy with my efforts. She will immediately start asking for items that she’ll insist she needs but that we won’t be able to find: the stub of a blue-green Crayola, a tiny booklet that she made for a tiny doll, three beads strung on a segment of floss. Inevitably, I’ll end up going through the same garbage bag I just filled in search of some obscure project.

But at least I’ll have until Saturday morning to know her room is neat. I’ll sleep soundly, happy with the order I’ve imposed on her chaos. And if once she’s home she starts creating that chaos once again, I’ll suppress my frustration. It’s all part of the creative process, I suppose. And who knows, maybe someday that same process with inspire her to create a new way to keep her things in order.

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