Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Weary Weekend, A Basement Cleaned

The place was TRASHED. There is no other way to describe it. From one wall to the next, there were toys and pieces of toys literally everywhere. We could not walk through freely and the kids had begun to take over other parts of the house in their search for a place to play. Our basement was out of control.

I am a woman who likes things neat. I think I can handle some clutter and I certainly do not walk around with cleaning products in my pocket but I like my house to be neat. The truth is that each day my four sweet children traipse off to school and I want to feel like there is a place where I can relax and not be overwhelmed by whatever it is they have left behind. And truly, it seems like a reasonable request. Pick up what is yours and I will do the same. If we all do this, the house will be clean, right?

I wish.

Here is the reality...

-My garage is half full of things we have not had time to unpack... in years...

-Some days... okay, most days... my kids' rooms are cleaner than mine. After working to clean common areas, the last thing I want to do is clean another bedroom.

-Keeping the living room, family room and dining room neat often feels like all I can do in a day.

-And in terms of the basement, we gave up. We gave up on that area and it took on a life of it's own. It was using that life to hold us hostage... from having kids over to play or friends over to visit.

So this weekend, we reclaimed our home and dared to dream about what it could become if we managed it instead of the other way around. We all had a three-day weekend and so we chose to hold our kids accountable to their mess and draw a line in the sand. The basement had to get done.

Immediately, we were bombarded with parent-guilt about this crazy use of time. Shouldn't we be doing something fun? Don't we owe our children some fantastic experience with the extra time we all had off? Surely we can't make THEM clean it all?

And then we came to our senses. They made the mess. They did. I never went down those basement stairs and dumped containers of creative toys willy-nilly all over the floor! I never popped some doll's head and arms off or left Legos laying about.

I did, however, work with my husband to choose a house that fit our needs. I did, however, buy said house and move into with my crazy kids. So, when did I decide that it didn't matter what happened to that space? When did we actually give up and allow children to be children and have say over a fifth of our home?

I have no idea when that happened... but it did. Yep, we gave up and gave in and in doing so, taught our children nothing. Nothing about responsibility. Nothing about accountability. Nothing about consequences.

So this weekend, we looked parent-guilt in the face and laughed out-loud. No fun trips. No hours of screen-time. No. Instead, we put on our grown-up pants and sent our kids to the basement to undo what they had done.

I probably should have taken before pics. Except I would never want to show them.

After three days of warning them that The Great Clean-up of 2011 was going to occur (during which no one even thought about getting a head start...), we began on Saturday morning. I think they thought we were kidding. In the past, we have helped them out. In the past, we have done it ourselves. But, it always ended with the basement a mess again. We knew we needed a new plan.

Now, I know you are thinking that either:

1. You would never let your basement become such a mess.

or

2. Your kids wouldn't clean it up.

But please understand, they did not go quietly into this work! No, they fought. They cried. They told us we had no right. They snuck up the stairs to get out of the work. They hid things under furniture. They worked lightly so others would have to work hard and they complained without ceasing for hours on end.

After each of the kids had left the basement way too many times (I need a drink. I need a snack. Elizabeth is not helping. Noah is being bossy. Josiah is playing, not working. Benjamin won't throw anything out.), we told them they would have to stay downstairs til we saw a significant change. This, they did not like.

It was horrible.


More crying. More carrying on. We were weary and frustrated, too.

Then, they had the guts to complain that we were not helping enough. Not a good move. We explained to them that the mess was theirs. That we had helped before. That this happens again and again. And then we went upstairs. The truth is, Mark and I had things to do. I had meals to plan and Mark had plumbing to tend to and the banister was broken and all of it had to be done. So, we left them to their mess and went on to what we had planned.

It was not fun.

By bedtime on Saturday, one third of the basement was like a wonderland of toys. The floor had been found and vacuumed, the dog took up residence in a nice, clear spot. My kids literally rolled around in the space they had cleared and all had smiles on their faces. Utopia... short-lived.

Mark and I called a family meeting. We used the newly cleaned area of the basement to gather our children around and tell them what they didn't want to know.

"You are not done."

We explained that Sunday was the Sabbath and so we would not be working on the basement on Sunday. Now Monday... that was a different tale.

:::Resume wailing and carrying on:::

One even said, "I cannot believe you are doing this to us. I had so looked forward to this weekend!"

(Sometimes, when my kids try to make me feel guilty, I am all the more determined to feel nothing of the sort. )

So Monday morning, they returned. And no one was happy and it was awful and I was tired and I hated the whole of it. Sometimes, being a grown-up is like that. Sometimes, being an adult and being a parent means I have to do what I don't want to do... because it is needful or because it is best. Or both.

We took a break for breakfast and we took a break for lunch. But, somewhere in the midst of it all, I think they began to understand that the basement was going to get clean and that they were going to do it. Somewhere between meals, I think they began to understand that the mess they were cleaning was theirs and that picking it up was not some cruel punishment but instead, a logical consequence. And so they cleaned.

We finally hit a point where we knew adult help would be needed. At that point, Mark and I stepped in to help. After hours and hours of working, there was actually a sense of gratitude when that decision was made and I was aware again that my children learn what I teach them. If everything is easy, if everything is taken care of on their behalf, there is no reason to be thankful because it's just the way it is. But, if they know that work is hard and they know that messes get cleaned and they know that getting it done takes time and effort... they come to appreciate a hand in a whole new way.

By dinner-time last night, our basement was under control. We still have things to work on. But, the space is usable. It is clear. It is inching toward organized. And my kids are THRILLED.

They know now to appreciate the wonder of that space. They remember now the joy in having room to move. And we do, too.

Mark and I have learned that it makes no sense to hand a portion of our home to children without holding them accountable for what will happen in that space. Even as I type that line, I know there will be people who disagree. But, this is our family home and allowing our kids to rule that roost had rendered a portion unusable. For us, that is not okay.

We sat with our kids in that open space and dreamed about what it could become. We dreamed of a day when we could afford a TV for down there, a few simple pieces of furniture. We dreamed about having "teen-space" and "play-space" for all our kids to enjoy. We dreamed together about the things that a bit of neatness buys us... not in pride of ownership but in ways that it might benefit relationship. We talked about having space to entertain friends, room to build Legos with siblings, a place to go and hang out. Because for us, that is what it is all about. I may be a woman who likes things neat, but it is not for neatness sake. I want order because it buys us so many options and affords us so much time... time spent this weekend on cleaning might have been used in other ways...

I don't think this weekend will go down in history as one of my children's best. But, this I know for sure: Last night, I sat upstairs and listened to Noah and Benjamin hanging out in the newly cleaned basement. They had started a game of chess. Noah was coaching his brother on moves that make a difference and extending him lots of grace. They were both laughing and talking about things that brothers talk together about... and it was good. Two boys in their own spot, doing what young boys do.

Two days of cleaning bought us that time... and so many moments like that, to come.

And just like that, it was worth it after all.

Blessings on your day.

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