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Clean-Up Time

Contradictions in Cleanliness

Before Nomi and I had children of our own, we knew from visiting friends of ours who were already parents that children lead to clutter.  Now, Nomi and I are used to having some clutter around, but in general we manage to control it somewhat. Our general rule is a pile for everything, and everything in its pile.

Muffin and Squeaker don’t have a good sense yet of how to control their clutter in the same way. Part of playing with their toys or reading their books seems to be figuring out how to fill every square centimeter of the floor with stuff. I wouldn’t mind so much if I didn’t have to step on the floor occasionally without piercing my feet. And as they’ve gotten older, it’s gotten to be more of a problem.

When the kids were babies, we accumulated a lot of stuff for them, but we understood that they weren’t yet at the developmental stage of being able to clean up after themselves. If toys got scattered around, Nomi and I would do what we could to move the toys back into their appropriate boxes. Frankly, the clutter of toy cars, wooden blocks, and stuffed animals that accumulated in odd places was probably just as much our fault as theirs.

But the girls are preschoolers now, and they not only understand the difference between a clean space and a messy space, they’ve learned that after playtime comes clean-up time. They even know the clean-up song that every preschooler learns (not the one by John Lennon). They know that they have the ability to clean up their own messes.

Assuming, of course, that they are willing to do so.

I’m not sure why it is, but Muffin and Squeaker don’t seem to want to clean up their Legos, or card matching games, or spaceships after they play with them. And I don’t think it can be blamed on their age, because on the other hand, they do love to clean.

As some of you may recall, Muffin and Squeaker took to the broom just last year, even though they didn’t yet have the dexterity to use it correctly. A few weeks ago, at my request, Nomi bought a Swiffer brand Sweeper because I had been reading about them and it sounded like a useful cleaning tool for our hardwood floors. (And to be clear, we bought our own, and the company doesn’t even know I’m mentioning their product here.) Muffin and Squeaker saw the Swiffer, and immediately it became their new favorite toy.

I think it might be because the girls have been dropping a lot of crumbs on the floor, which attracts the occasional ant. When they see an ant, they get very upset and take personal umbrage at the insect that has dared to invade their personal space. So, realizing that the Swiffer would get up the crumbs easily, they both insisted on sweeping up the dining room floor immediately.

Now, with a broom, there’s no extra cost to a second sweep. But the Swiffer uses dry cloth refills, and neither girl was willing to keep using the Swiffer while the old dry cloth was on it. Otherwise, they’d miss out on all the fun of attaching a new dry cloth to the sweeper! And then they want to do it again, and again, and again... by which time, the dining room floor is spotless, and their own room is still a hazard to navigation.

In short, the cleaning up we want the kids to do, they don’t. The cleaning up that we can handle just fine, they insist on doing themselves, and they do it by wasting as many resources as possible. Not to mention the fighting over who gets to use the sweeper next. Seriously, I don’t understand the appeal.

I’m just hoping the girls will remember how much they love doing chores in a few years, when my friends Tom and Huck need their fence whitewashed.

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

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