rooms give me an attitude. It’s not even the mess that bothers me as
much as what the mess symbolizes: lack of respect.
It was time for a talk. Our two
youngest children—aged eleven and fifteen—sat on the floor in front of
me, their long legs vying for space. I prepared for the ninetieth
repetition of the Clean Room Talk. But this time, I felt a different
emphasis brewing. The kids were older now. The essence of the Clean
Room Talk needed to go beyond picking up their toys.
I took a deep breath. “What do
your messy rooms tell me?”
The kids exchanged a look that
said, “This sounds like a trick question.” They were right; it was
a trick question.
I gave them a hint. “It has
something to do with respect.”
Carson perked up. “When our
rooms are a mess it shows we don’t respect them.”
“Or the things in them, or us as
your parents. Or even yourselves.”
“Wow,” Laurel said. “All that
because we don’t hang up our clothes?”
“All that,” I said. “And so . .
. I want you to go off by yourselves and figure out how you want to
handle it. Through the years we’ve tried nearly everything. My rules
haven’t worked. So now it’s your turn. What will entice you to keep
your rooms clean? Reward or punishment, it’s up to you.”
They looked at me as if I were
crazy. Maybe I was crazy. Or lazy. Truth be told,
I was weary of trying to come up with “the answer.” Charts, star
stickers, pop inspections . . . years’ worth of aborted attempts to
attain “clean” for more than an hour had worn me down.
A few minutes later, the kids
returned. Carson was spokesman. “If we keep our rooms clean for a
month, we each get $25. If we lie about it, or don’t do it, we lose the
TV for one week. And if we don’t do it three times in a month, we lose
all chance of getting the $25.”
conditions were stricter than I would have imposed.
agree,” I said. “Now go to it. Get them clean.”
A while later they appeared
before me. “We’re done.” Stupid me; I believed them. Only later in the
evening did I discover what all mothers know: our idea of clean is not
our children’s idea
clean. It wasn’t even close. But after pointing
out that dirty clothes do not belong in drawers or under
beds and that the perimeter of the room doesn’t have to look like a
display at a garage sale, they got back to work, their discouragement
I showed some mercy. “Since we
haven’t really gotten started with your deal, we’ll say it doesn’t
count this time. And I’ll lessen the penalty. No TV tonight. But you
can watch it tomorrow.”
Carson shook his head. “No, Mom.
It does count. We lied. We didn’t do what we should have done. It
Laurel looked at her brother,
appalled. I looked at him, amazed. Somehow in the fifteen years of his
life, he’d found integrity and honor. He was willing to accept his
punishment as deserved and just. He was willing to change. What more
can a mother ask?
It made me think of my own life,
and my own battle with authority—with God. Did I have the integrity and
honor to accept the punishment I deserved? Did I have the determination
My son had humbled me.
Yes, messy rooms give me an
attitude. But this time, in spite of the messy rooms—perhaps because of
them—Carson and I experienced a wonderful new emotion.
Respect. For authority, for each
other, and for ourselves.