A messy situation

It’s been two weeks since I posted? Really? How did that happen? Oh, yeah:

  • My patience was buried in the kids’ bedroom under their shared space.
  • My sanity was buried under Stink’s desk.
  • And somewhere along the line I permanently lost my brain among toys and games that had missing pieces and migraines from having their parts shoved so hard into shelving they couldn’t be wrenched out with crow bar.

Thank God Farmer Stacey — a dear friend I met from my Baby Center writing days because, you know, I was such and expert in parenting — gave me some super helpful advice in dealing with kids and their stuff. She promised it would make my life, and theirs, so much smoother. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

Day 1

Me: You are raising 5 boys under 14 in a 100-square-foot house. You seem more calm than I am. What’s your secret?
Farmer Stacey: We are minimalists.
Me: Sounds good to me, but how do you do it?
Farmer Stacey: You need only tell them three words.
Me: I Love You?
Farmer Stacey: Throw It Out.
Me: But their three words will be, “But I can’t?”
Farmer Stacey: And your three words will be “Then I will.”
Me: Huh.

Day 2

Me: I don’t want my kids to be consumer L.A. kids. I pride myself on my thrift store clothes and shared living quarters. I don’t know how realistic it is to really get rid of it. I mean, we’d have to toss 50 percent.
Farmer Stacey: From the looks of those pictures, more like 75 percent.
Me: But that leaves maybe two shelves for them each.
Farmer Stacey: Sounds about right. They’ll have to actually make choices and get rid of stuff they don’t use.
Me: But what about their opinions on stuff?
Farmer Stacey: Let them decide.
Me: But what if something is special?
Farmer Stacey: Let them pick their favorite.
Me: But what if everything is important?
Farmer Stacey: Then it’s not really special.
Me: But what about their feelings about it all?
Farmer Stacey: (Huge laugh) You crazy L.A. self-esteem folk. (serious) Life is about choices! You’re not hurting them. You’re helping them learn to regulate. You could hire a maid like a lot of people and strip them of their ability to be independent and organized, or you can teach them.
Me: I want both.
Farmer Stacey: Now we’re back to that “Making decisions are hard, Andrea.”
Me: Huh.

Day 3

Me: So I am ready to implement. The room is in such a state, it’s going to have to be done in phases.
Farmer Stacey: Sounds awesome! Send me pics of your progress!

So I did. But first, there were tons of tears. And then, we came up with the idea of a garage sale to sell some of their treasures. And then I told myself, not dissimilar to tics, that this clean-up thing was not for the faint of heart. I started to see it as a marathon, not a sprint. I made up a plan to get it done, and stayed consistent.

I decided not to yell, scream or lose my cool in any way. After all, what’s the point of organized perfection if you ruin relationship in the process? It’s about balance. “No, you can’t have 10,000 Legos. Anything that doesn’t fit in the bin has to go…. Yes, you can keep your stuffed animals. I will have Papa build us a shelf.”

You might wonder why I’m spending all this time talking about room cleaning. For me, it’s because when the tics are up (right now? non stop vocals) I need to remember that my kid has other gifts. And I can’t really have him working on those (writing, reading, playing piano) when there is so much crud he can’t find his sheet music or books.

I write this because, in getting rid of things we don’t need, we can make room for new and beautiful memories.

And I document this because there was a time before the Tourette. Before all the junk of life piled up. A time when I just had two little babies and a very spartan nursery and the world unfolded in front of me like a dream. All was going to be as shiny and hopeful as the bright blue walls. My dreams would sparkle like the stars on their border.

And guess what, Tourette or not, they still do.

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