Monday, October 24, 2011

The Gene Pool (Room cleaning day)

A simple statement of fact: I have four boys. Each one is different, an island unto himself. Their various responses to being corrected or called out for rule breaking never ceases to fascinate me--after the fact.

Yesterday I had to step into Joe and Sam's room. Note I said "had to". Those two words alone should tell you what fears this action strikes in this mother's heart. I typically ask them to clean their room once a week--sometimes I check behind them, sometimes I don't. This should keep them on their toes and should keep them on task and honest. Two days ago I was assured that it was clean and I had chosen to believe them because I was busy studying. Joe is largely an honest soul and Sam is inclined to be orderly in his habits so it is easy to let this kind of thing slide with them.

In brief,yesterday the room wasn't clean. In fact, messes I'd pointed out then were still in place.They'd chosen to toss some items behind furniture, kick it under their beds, and so forth. I felt betrayed and angry. 

I roused the two boys telling them as their feet hit the floor why they were in trouble (room not clean, lying)  and that they would be grounded from TV and computer for a week. 

Had this been Jeremiah he would have a) argued that he didn't understand the rules of "clean" as I had laid them out. b)argued that the room was indeed clean and I just wasn't looking at it right. c)argued that those messes weren't there when he went to sleep the night before d)argued that I had not been clear that those particular messes should have been cleaned up so he cleaned up other messes. He would continue this throughout the day, would even--sometimes successfully--go to his father to argue his case (it took a few years for Gary to realize he was being played, but he did catch on) and would finally, amid much continued grousing would do the job. He would never, ever admit culpability. 

I do wish the boy would consider a career in law. Or politics.

Daniel would have stared at me looking vaguely deer-caught-in-the-headlights-like. He wouldn't argue, but he'd require very specific directions as to how to manage the situation. He would stand around between jobs unsure of what to do next. He would be the target of Jeremiah's frustration. But what he did organize would be perfectly lined up. We didn't find out until Daniel was given his own room three years ago that Daniel was in fact a neat freak. 

Joseph tried Jeremiah's method of argument first. a) They had cleaned and those messes had accrued since then. b)(this one came along later on in the day and is my favorite) he was not aware that he was supposed to clean out the closet when he cleaned the room as he didn't understand that the closet was actually part of the room. But he didn't gripe at me or argue beyond this. He squared his shoulders, reverted to being Joseph (thank goodness) and decided it was time to rearrange his room anyway. This was when they discovered the closet (even I'm not brave enough to go in there) and also came to the conclusion that they had far too many clothes and weeded them out on their own--going the extra mile as Joe is typically inclined to do.

Sam (thirteen now by the way) quietly got moving, did his morning chores, and approached me after breakfast. "I'm sorry we didn't do what we said were going to do," he said. I accepted his apology and told him to make it right. He then set about cleaning his room without another word of protest. A few hours after they'd put a sizable dent in the mess (and uncovered the disaster in their closet), he approached me again. "If we get this all cleaned up today, and rearrange it so that it doesn't happen again, can we get off grounding early?" 

I frankly didn't know quite what to say. None of them have ever been this reasonable, accepted responsibility for his actions, and then attempted negotiate a settlement before. "We'll talk," I said. He smiled and returned to his room.

They did a very, very good job--going the extra mile with no urging from us. Gary and I talked quietly. We take a dim view of being deceived, but recognize that effort (however tardy) should have some reward. We shortened the grounding by two days. Had this been Jeremiah, he would have continued to argue his case until one of us threatened to lengthen the sentence. Daniel would have been silently relieved. Joseph (who still insisted he didn't entirely understand what I was upset over) accepted the reward politely. Sam--who I'm sure wasn't happy--thanked us and said that seemed like a reasonable compromise.

Maybe he should be the lawyer.


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Ohhh, you just have to have a soft spot in your heart for Sam. God bless him, he's helping his brothers out as well and doesn't even know it. :)

Pencil Writer said...

O da joy o da parenthood! Do you suppose my son and your son Jeremiah discussed such strategies? They could be twins . . . in thought for sure.

Young son now shares apartment with oldest sister--11 years his senior. We've teased about renting a front-end loader . . . She actually offered to clean up his room because one can barely get past the door and he tends to get overwhelmed and go into shut-down. She told me that he actually considered paying her to do the dirty work and if she does, it will COST him. It's really weird about him, too. When I once cleaned out his room at home--into the garbage with a ton of stuff--I found out he can even be rather OCD about keeping it neat. It just doesn't last long. Raising kids is a job of many interests! and Challenges.

Scotty said...

Heh, the post made me smile.

A lot of guys take a while to realise that the definition of 'clean' is quite different for a man and a woman. My daughter is fastidious and my two boys are average but as I explained to my boys - "You will probably spend a good portion of your life with a woman in it so you'd better get used to her definition of 'clean' or be prepared to argue a lot, lol."

Good to see how your boys negotiated with you - I taught my kids that conversation and compromise go a lot further than digging your heels because you believe you're right. That's not to say that you shouldn't dig your heels in but rather, choose the right circumstances for doing so otherwise all of life becomes a battle.

Good post, Mary.


Mary O. Paddock said...

HEM--I have a very big soft spot for him. They're all good kids, but I truly appreciate his sweetness.

PW--I think some kids just get overwhelmed by the volume of the mess they've made and don't know how to manage it. Once someone helps them sort it out, they tend to be okay--at least for a while. Daniel was a bit like this.

Scotty--LOL on that "woman's standards are different". I can't count the times I've said, "That's not clean and they've (all five of them) just stare at me uncomprehendingly.