We have to pick our battles


(No, this is not one of my kid’s rooms. If it was, I’d be Dead Mother Walking.)

By Lisa Sugarman

Believe it or not, there are certain things I’m forbidden to talk about here. Certain topics that are off limits. Not allowed. Complete radio silence. And it would be a fair assumption on your part to think that it’s my editor Kris who’s censoring me. But you’d be wrong. Ironically enough, the taboo list comes from my kids. And the list, as I’m sure you can imagine, is very specific.

Both of my girls are acutely aware whenever I start typing a column, that the over/under is pretty high that it’s somehow going to relate back to them. And that’s not always a good thing. (Teenagers. Pffft.)

So we have this unspoken agreement about what I can and can’t write about. And just to make sure they have no reason to divorce me as their mother, I try awfully hard to stay within the parameters of that agreement. Anything relating to anyone else is obviously fine. They could care less if I insult, ridicule, or degrade anybody else as long as neither of their names is mentioned. As long as I steer clear of a few specific things I’m ok. And these things are: boys (in any context whatsoever that relates to them), sex, or dating.

There are, however, a few grey areas that have not been formally dropped into the off-limits category, so those are the ones I try to exploit as long as I can. Or at least until they read the newspaper and get added to The List.

Bringing me to what I really want to talk about this week, while I still have the chance. Actually, no. Strike that. I take it back. I don’t want to talk. I want to vent. See, I’m deeply confused about something and I think that vomiting my confusion out all over you might make me feel better. Sorry.

There are actually many things that I’m confronted with that I don’t understand. But the majority of them are things I can resign myself to never understanding and move on, like why pulsars pulse and what dark matter really is. I can let those go. But why my kids cannot, for the life of them, keep their bedrooms clean, is something that not only confuses me but troubles me deeply. Sorry, girls, but this is what happens when mommies with columns get pushed too far.

Now I suppose part of my confusion stems from the fact that my kids obviously come from at least half of my gene pool, and without seeming like I’m bragging, that happens to be an extremely clean end of the pool. No offense to Dave and his genes, but I’m ever so slightly more anal than he is. Just ask my mom. I was borderline Sleeping-With-the-Enemy neat from the time I could understand what drawer separators and closet organizers were. So naturally, I just assumed that some of those tendencies would pass down to my kids. After all, my mom is super organized too, and so was my grandmother, so I always felt like the deck was stacked in my favor.

Unfortunately for me, my theory was shattered once my kids reached the age when I was no longer allowed in their rooms without a formal, written invitation. You know, the kind on the good Crane’s paper. So since I was no longer welcome in their rooms, I lost the ability to tidy them up as I was cleaning up the rest of the house. And that’s fine. In fact, that’s good. Actually, it’s great. Because that’s supposed to be the natural evolution of childhood. In the early years, we model for our kids. Then we hand-hold. Then we let go of the back of the bike entirely, at which point they wobble a little, maybe fall a few times, and then, ultimately, they learn to ride on their own.

I mean, that was the expectation. And we were right on track with the first two stages of Cleanliness Development. The girls used to help me tidy up when they were little, even put their laundry away in their little drawers. Then something happened that derailed the train. And I’ll tell you exactly what it was. Puberty. Damn puberty, throws everything off completely. Because, unfortunately for me, it forced the complete bypass of Stage Three of Cleanliness Development. And there went my genetic code out with the trash.

Sadly, I’m still waiting for the scream on the day each of them wakes up and sees their bedrooms through a different lens—a clearer, more mature lens.  When the chaos that surrounds them finally turns their stomachs.

But for now, our modified plan—which, by the way, is against my nature—is to just close their doors and keep walking. I’ve lost many battles in this fight, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna lose the war. It’s all about strategy, as far as I’m concerned. And what my kids don’t know is that I can keep closing that door for as long it takes.

See, the biggest problem, as far as I can tell, is that my kids try to insist that every single teenage kid has a room that looks like theirs. To which I say, you’re a kid, your brain isn’t fully developed yet, and you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

And the irony is, every parent out there is saying the exact same thing to their kids about keeping their rooms clean, in spite of the fact that all kids think their parents are the only ones making their lives miserable. Don’t kids realize we all talk? I mean, really.

Now we both know I could go on and on and probably a little further on about this, but the one constraint my editor does give me is a word count. So it’s time for me to stop venting and say something encouraging. As much for you as for me.

So here’s what I know. Most things have a miraculous way of coming around. Most. Especially where kids are concerned. And I’m really counting on that. Because I’m not sure how much longer I can handle turning my head the other way.

For the record, though, I (we) constantly give our girls the spiel about respecting their space and taking pride in what’s theirs, but clearly that hasn’t left much of a mark. And since they both have so many other good and redeeming qualities, we’ve decided that the natural consequence for keeping their room like a nasty pit is living in a room that looks like a nasty pit. No more, no less. So that’s where we are. At least until more synapses connect in their brains.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to pick my battles carefully and focus on the fact that as long as what’s going on in their rooms doesn’t spill out into the rest of the house, I’m good. Because that would be a game changer. Beyond that, I just have to cross my fingers that what people have always said about kids growing out of most phases is truth. And if that doesn’t pan out, then I can only pray that they get anal roommates in college and those girls rip my kids a new one.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn. You can also listen to her read some of her favorite columns online on YouTube by searching Lisa Sugarman. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at Spirit of ’76 Bookstore.


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