By: Shannon Ralph
It’s Friday night and the kids and I are hanging out at home. I am the lone adult in the house, as usual. Ruanita is at work, as she is every Friday night. I made a mistake this evening by telling my children that we would stay up late tonight and watch a movie if they helped me clean the house. I didn’t have to make a deal with them since they created the entire mess. Toys covering every inch of space in each and every room of this house. At some point during the day, someone had gotten the bright idea to rip the paper off of all of their crayons, so a veritable rainbow of paper shreds covered the floor, as well. I should have just demanded they clean up their mess. I should have laid down the law. No deals. No bargains. No bribes. Just clean up your mess before I step on one more Lego and go all ninja on your skinny little asses. But no. There were no laws laid down tonight. Instead, I made a deal with the devil. I thought, Why not? It’s Friday night. We can stay up late and watch a movie. Might be fun. Just the kids and me. Stupid, stupid, naive mommy! As I am sure you can garner from my introduction, things did not go as planned. I envisioned a peaceful night of cuddling on the couch with my beloved children, watching a movie, and perhaps sharing a tub of freshly popped buttered popcorn. The picture of familial harmony and bliss. As usual, however, my kids had a different idea.
My first mistake was assuming the kids could clean the house without a full-scale wartime offensive. I should have known a battle would break out, but I was feeling stupidly optimistic as a new weekend dawned. Lucas, being the oldest, immediately assumed command of the troops and began ordering Sophie and Nicky around. Nicholas completely ignored Lucas, wandering from room to room humming “California Girls” in a trance-like state. I believe he picked up one, and only one, toy and simply carried it around with him the entire time, so as to appear busy. He has mastered the art of not cleaning while conveniently flying under the radar. Sophie, on the other hand, never flies under the radar. She immediately—and quite loudly—voiced her outrage at Lucas’s assumption that he was in charge of the mission. Sophie is not one to bow to authority. For a good fifteen minutes, Sophie and Lucas fought over precisely who had to clean exactly what, neither picking up a single toy. Sophie argued that none of the toys were hers, so she did not feel that she should have to put them away. Of course, none of the toys were hers because she prefers most of the time to play with her brothers’ toys. Convenient, huh? Lucas simply screamed and barked orders. I tried to explain to him that yelling is not the way to galvanize the troops and inspire them to follow his command. I pointed out that most people respond better to encouragement than to criticism. He wasn’t buying it, however. I have no idea where he learned to bark commands like that.
The entire time the children were arguing about cleaning, I walked from room to room announcing to the walls (because my kids certainly weren’t listening) that they had five minutes to finish or there would be no movie tonight. I even borrowed a trick from Ruanita’s playbook. I grabbed a garbage bag and told the children that I was going to start tossing all of the toys remaining on the floor into the garbage bag to donate to needy children who would take better care of them. I am sure I looked like a madwoman running around bra-less in my exceedingly sexy sweatpants and paint-stained t-shirt, waving a garbage bag in the air. Unfortunately, my children are well aware that the empty threat is my go-to parenting style of choice. And they ignore me, accordingly.
The kids did end up cleaning up the house…eventually. Half-heartedly. Half-assed. In about triple the time it would have taken me to do it alone. The cleanliness lasted all of about fifteen minutes. Almost immediately, the toys found their way back into the middle of the living room floor. And there I was…stuck with my promise to let the kids stay up late. I put on a movie (Despicable Me, appropriately enough) with the hope that they would settle down and fall asleep during the movie. Of course, I had no such luck. Grandma had visited this afternoon with Hershey’s miniature chocolate bars. “I only gave them one or two” she said. Yea, one or two, my ass! She pumped them full of enough sugar to keep them awake for days. So here I sit, typing. Trying desperately to ignore the chocolate-induced chaos unfolding around me. I made a deal with the devil and my soul is paying the price.