April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Some of my kids have a problem. They pick things up to use or play with, and when they are done they drop it on the floor. I understand the evolution behind this. My baby used to do this at most meals—he sits in his high chair, and whatever food he would deem unfit for his consumption he would methodically pick up and toss overboard, piece by piece, until all the food I just spent time carefully cutting into teeny tiny, non-choking-hazard bits would be in a scramble on the floor. Doesn’t want another sip from his cup? Hurled on the floor. No more rice? Sprinkled like confetti at Mardi Gras. If his high chair was too close to the table, he would also perform this favor for the other kids, removing things from their plates, or taking their cups and pouring them out.

He did this with toys too. Happily playing with a hairbrush, if I were to offer him something better, like a set of keys or maybe even the bottle of hair detangler, he would pause, look at the brush in his hands, and slowly open his fingers, letting the now forgotten item fall to the abyss below. For some reason, some of my kids have not outgrown this habit.

The floor has become a canvas that tells the story of our day. I know how much was or wasn’t eaten, who played “throw the food in the air and try to catch it in my mouth” with the fresh blueberries I brought home, who snuck a chocolate bar from the snack closet, what toys were that day’s favorites, what projects were done. I know that someone went a little wild with the BAND-AID supply, and someone else spent time reading library books instead of doing homework. A third person cut up a pink knit glove to turn into a doll hat, and left scraps of it for me to admire. The floor is a welcome mat that embraces their backpacks, shoes and coats every afternoon when they walk through the door. It is the surface my babies so intimately knew, splayed across the cold tiles, piled carpets, smooth wood, vying for these discarded treasures.

It makes me crazy, the dropping thing. “Do I throw things when I’m done with it?” I ask the kids one day, and demonstrate by waltzing through the kitchen and tossing every item over my shoulder. They laugh, and realize the ridiculousness in this action.

“Now you’ll have to clean it up!” they taunt, and I know I do. For a moment, I think I have affected them. But the moment passes and there are two pairs of shoes abandoned under the kitchen table, and a pair of socks dangling off of the chair.

I have tried implementing a “collections box,” where I picked up whatever I found and saved it in a glass vase. I then told the kids that they had to earn or buy back whatever it was that was theirs from the box, but nobody seemed to ever want anything after it was taken by me. I guess that’s why it was on the floor in the first place. Loss of interest.

The goal was to motivate them to pick up after themselves, but instead it became a way to rat out a sibling. They would pick up after each other, and gleefully submit things to this vase that didn’t belong to them, so that another child would have to buy it back. Maybe it is an effective way to eliminate long-term clutter, but it was also effective at causing sibling rivalry. I discarded the collections box, and much of its contents. Nobody seemed to care.

We have tried many other systems that included cash incentives, auctions and races. They have all failed, but mostly because I have not been consistent at implementing them. The only thing that has been consistent is me cleaning up after everyone, or me feeling frustrated. I wish there was a magic button I could push and the house would clean itself, but even then, I wouldn’t be satisfied, because I want my children to learn the value of their possessions, and to take ownership over them.

Maybe they see the floor as an extension of themselves, a private place to stow their belongings, but clearly we don’t see things in the same ways. The floor is a no-man’s land, an open-ended plane in which any kid can come and smash a tediously built lego house, mess up an-hour’s long monopoly game, or can crumple up a book report helplessly abandoned over a long weekend. And then there will be tears. Both theirs and mine.

In the meantime, until I can get my act together and discipline myself enough to stick with a system, or until, by some miracle, my kids learn on their own to pick up after themselves, perhaps I should accept the smorgasbord of exciting things scattered throughout our home. One day it will be perfectly empty, and I bet then I’ll miss the chaotic elegance of the floor. Or maybe not.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected].

By Sarah Abenaim

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