Monday, July 25, 2011

It's Not the Crime, It's the Coverup (Babble)

My kids are very sweet.  They are polite, they play well together, and for the most part they are pretty easy.  For the most part.  But they are messy.  Hopelessly messy.

Now, truthfully, this probably just proves they are mine, because my mom could tell you stories of dishes left for weeks in my room and how seldom we ever saw my floor because it was covered in laundry and books and who knows what.  That’s fine.  I admit to my former slobbish ways.

But where’s the fun in parenting if you can’t enjoy a little hypocrisy learning from your past?  So I keep on my kids about picking up their rooms, at least enough that I can walk in there at night if I need to and not kill myself on something sharp.  Quinn’s room is just a giant dumping ground for toys most of the time, and although I don’t care too much I still occasionally pitch a fit and make them all help get everything off the floor.  But their rooms are their own space, and I only get upset when it’s getting downright dangerous.

The rest of the house, however, is another matter.  I don’t want to live in a pit. I can’t function when things get too messy in the space I use.  I can’t think in clutter.  I also don’t appreciate when my kids are careless and trash things that don’t belong to them.  They don’t mean to be disrespectful of our stuff, but they just don’t pay attention and it’s frustrating.

The family room where they watch T.V. and use their computer gets pretty bad.  They are not allowed to have food in there because it attracts ants, but we find plates and cups and crumbs in there anyway.  They know they are not supposed to leave a mess, but they knock over all the DVDs and don’t pick them back up.  They make projects while they watch their shows and leave scraps of paper and duct tape and crayons and scissors everywhere.  It looks terrible and drives us crazy.

When the kids blatantly break rules like that, they get a boring lecture, they get warnings, sometimes they get yelled at, they have gotten grounded, they’ve had privileges taken away….  They always seem genuinely sorry, they cry, they feel bad, they apologize, they try to make it better, and then they forget all of that and do it again the next day.  It’s baffling, a little insulting, and definitely annoying.  But it’s life with kids, and they do enough things right that the few things they do wrong are just not that important.

Recently we moved their laptop from the family room to the dining room in the hopes that it might be an easier place to keep clean.  We were wrong.  There have been several problems with letting the kids congregate in the dining room, but the worst one was the paint.

The rules about using paint in our house are pretty straightforward.  Tell us when you are using paint, paint stays in the kitchen, put it away when you are done and a parent will even help wash out bushes.  But for some reason that is still unclear to me, Aden brought a set of special (read ‘non-washable’) paints left over from a craft project into the dining room.  Also unclear to me is why Mona opened them.  But she did, and permanent white paint went all over.

It was an accident.  It was a particularly stupid accident, but still, Mona didn’t mean to do it.  We’d have been upset but not crazy upset.

The problem is, Mona was so worried about the idea of our getting mad that she decided it was better to hide the evidence than admit to the crime.  She threw a towel over the paint on the floor and sort of wiped up the white paint on the black leather chairs with her hands and I guess sat over it.  Aden and Quinn were in the dining room too and either didn’t notice the problem or just ignored it.  I’m not sure.  I was at work, and Ian called me to describe his discovery which I didn’t see until I got home.

What a mess.  There were little splatters of white paint on the china cabinet, paint smeared on the seats of two chairs, on top of the table (which we are smart enough to keep a pad on, so that’s something), on the edges of the table, on the floor…. We explained to Mona that if it hadn’t all dried onto everything it would have been a lot easier to fix.  She felt terrible, and it is as pointless to yell at Mona as it was to yell at the pet bunnies we used to have before we had kids, which is to say, you feel like a monster doing it and it doesn’t accomplish anything.  So I explained gently that one, no more paint in the dining room, and two, next time there is a mess she needs to tell us right away.


Anyway, I was able to pick all the paint splatters off the woodwork with dental tools that I happen to keep in my shop (for getting into some odd violin crevices), the chairs will never look quite the same but they don’t look bad.  The floor was the worst because the solvent I used to get up the paint also took up the finish, so I had to find the polyurethane and reseal a large swath of hardwood.

Mona really did want to make amends, though, which I appreciated, so while I worked on the floor I had Mona make blueberry pancake batter.  She was sad at first because she likes to cook with me, not alone, but she was proud of herself for following the recipe correctly, and I told her she was being helpful because I couldn’t do both things at once but with her help I didn’t have to.

(My sweet, contrite Mona)

So the dining room is back to normal.  Aden wrote up a list of rules about using the computer in the dining room without trashing the place, so we’ll see how long they follow it.  The rules don’t look any different from the ones Ian and I came up with originally, but maybe since it’s in her own handwriting now maybe it will be easier for Aden to remember.  Hard to say.  (Now we can just get them to put their bikes away before it rains….)

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