Surviving Switzerland

an expat's experiences navigating the land of mountains, cheese and chocolate

My soon-to-be-adolescent son is cleaning his room

on December 5, 2014
It seems like only yesterday he could put together a new set of Legos in less than an hour, but couldn't quite manage to close the cereal bag

It seems like only yesterday he could put together a new set of Legos in less than an hour, but couldn’t quite manage to close the cereal bag

It boggles the mind. He isn’t just piling his papers together, shoving Lego pieces in big boxes and dumping his dirty laundry in the basket; he is cleaning his room. He asked for help to clear the trash.

 “Mom, can you hold the trash bag so I can empty this?”

 Dropping the spatula and leaving the fish frying in their pan, I raced to his room to lend a hand. I always have a hand to lend if it means holding the trash bag open in one of my kid’s rooms. Trash in there collects like driftwood and debris after a flood. I come from Missouri, right next to the Missouri River. I have seen driftwood and debris piled up after a major flood. I know all about it.

What kind of messy place do I live in? Well, it’s not that bad. Nothing that the police need to be notified about, thankfully. The kids just bring home stuff constantly. Their loving grandparents and gracious aunts and uncles supply them with it. Toys. You know. Cute, little toys with slews of batteries, larger toys with a thousand pieces for construction play, humongous toys that show how much the grandparents love them every Christmas. Personally, I buy the kids very small, easily organized toys. Like books and underwear.

That’s not always true. But there are too many toys and I try to keep things under control by suggesting that family members do ‘outings’ for Christmas and birthday presents. Somewhat a pack rat myself, I make the effort to show the kids how to organize the construction toys and doll house trinkets in one place or in labelled boxes. I have my stash of yarn nice and neat in the bottom of my closet.

 My children think I’m crazy.

 The place for toys and the bajillion pieces that go with them is on the floor, behind the door, under the bed, in the corners of their rooms and overflowing into the hallway and living room. Legos, Playmobile people, airplanes, cars, My Little Ponies, Disney princesses, train tracks, wooden blocks, Star Wars figurines, spy equipment, dress-up costumes, scraps of paper they cut up after drawing on them, Transformers, board games, puzzles, puzzle pieces out of the box, single Barbie shoes, legions of stuffed animals, random monster teeth, miniature guns, Nerf guns, light sabers made of floaty noodles, assorted markers from 4 ½ different sets, coloring books, crayons, parts of a kitchen play set….I have to stop.

The kids hang onto this stuff like it’s a valuable investment. That it’s gaining in market value. I suggest things such as, “You know, we could give some of these toys you don’t play with away and make space in your rooms….” Yeah, right. They answer that they need and play with all their toys.

My son was never into kitchen or play-house toys. He liked machines when he was little. His first word was ‘beep-beep’ for the sound trucks make when they are backing up. Not ‘mama’ or ‘milk’ or ‘papa’ or ‘kitty’ or something like that. He would shout ‘Beep-beep!’ from his baby seat in the car, his whole face lit up with pure joy: he had spotted a construction machine.

These days, I can’t get his head out of his DS when we are in the car. I confiscated all his electronic games several days ago, though, because the whole reason we started cleaning his room was to find a lost key.

I can’t prove he lost the key and he isn’t in trouble, but we all (my husband, our daughter (otherwise known as the little sister) and I) strongly suspect it is somewhere in his room. The only way to make him believe that I am serious about straightening up and finding the key is to confiscate what he holds dearest: his electronic gadgets.

Searching for that key started out like an archeological dig, only scarier.

But somewhere between the moment that I suggested he deep clean his room, that I went in there to sort his books and board games, and when he continued cleaning after I left to make dinner; he started cleaning all on his own. Emptying his drawers, scraping things out from underneath his desk. And throwing out the toys he didn’t need anymore.

I remember growing up. It didn’t feel gradual or smooth. It felt bumpy, rough. All of a sudden something inside me or my brain switched gears and jerked me forward. I remember the first time I went to a friend’s house and we didn’t ask each other what we wanted to play; we just hung out on her floor and talked. I wasn’t much older than my son is now.

I also remember the first time I asked him to get me something. He was a year and a half old, and I had just sat down on the sofa. He was toddling around and I asked if he could get the phone for me from the kitchen. He came in with the phone and a smile to light the North Pole in winter. His first taste of doing something not all by himself, but of doing something for someone else. It’s a good feeling. It’s a sudden jump forward.

I can’t believe that same kid is old enough to beta-read a YA book I wrote. This boy who popped out scrawny and wrinkly and had beady-black eyes and a holler to wake the dead and was obviously the most beautiful creature to ever exist up, until I saw his sister who might even have surpassed him on the beauty scale. O.K., so I’m paying him to read the book, but he is still happy to do it, proud to prove that he can. A few months ago, he wasn’t ready for a lengthy book, especially with no goofy drawings.

My baby is cleaning his room. It’s been two days since I went in to sort his books and board games. Now, he goes in, closes the door, turns on the radio and when he comes out he says things like, “Can we give this truck to baby Clé (his cousin)?” or “Does this go in paper recycling or the regular trash?” or “I don’t play with this anymore.”

I remember being a teenager. I know this isn’t the beginning of a magical trend where he actually keeps his room clean, it’s just a moment that he sorts through the little boy stuff that he doesn’t need. There’s a lot of stuff he won’t need where he’s going. Some toys will always stay—I have a My Little Pony in my treasure drawer from when I was little. But so many things that he thought he needed for so long just aren’t necessary anymore. He’s jumping forward.

 And we have yet to find that stupid key.

Have you seen me?

Have you seen me?


4 responses to “My soon-to-be-adolescent son is cleaning his room

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    The good news is, my teen boys have cleaned their rooms many times. The bad news is, it doesn’t stay clean. Sigh. But they keep the rest of the house neat, so that’s good. Here’s hoping your son goes against the teenage grain and keeps his clean. Fingers crossed for you! 🙂

  2. Sam Rappaz says:

    Wonderfully written. Loved every word!

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