Otherwise titled: How to get your three-year-old to pick up his toys in 15 minutes flat.
I did a bad thing. A very bad thing. Something that I swore I’d never do, because I hated having it done to me.
I lied to the three-year-old. And I made his toys come alive. And then I made him feel sorry for them. It was brilliant. It was effective. He’ll probably be scarred for life, unable to so much as drop a toy on the ground without feeling like he’s hurt its feelings.
Of course, he’s a boy. So he may escape unharmed.
We were having one of those nights. The Monkey Boy had dropped a stack of plastic tea-set plates on his sister’s head and made her cry. Munchkin girl was uninterested in eating, despite being very hungry. The healthy food fakeout – where you tempt with a piece of banana and, when the mouth is open, quickly insert the spoon full of tasteless, spiceless, disgusting orange vegetable mush – only led to screams of, “WHY, Auntie Bobs, WHY? I thought you loved me?!”
Then, because I was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad babysitter, I DARED go potty. And during that time, the Monkey Boy did something else. I don’t know what. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. All I know is that it made Munchkin Girl VERY VERY angry. Ear-piercing angry. I’m-Beating-You-With-A-Hot-Poker-Screams angry.
So there I was, one child in my arms trying to burst my eardrums, and another steadfastly declaring that he hadn’t done anything wrong. There was still uneaten food on the dinner table, and it looked like a toy-bomb had gone off in the house. I only had two options. I could sit in the middle of the living room floor, cover my ears with my hands, and start screaming uncontrollably, or I could somehow get the naughty three-year-old to help pick up the mess so that he would be occupied and I could vacuum. (Because when you’re at your wit’s end, and you have a screaming child, vacuuming is the way to go. After all, she couldn’t have really screamed LOUDER at that point. Gotta take advantage of these opportunities if you want to get things done.)
And then, I got diabolical. It’s really my mother’s fault.
See, my mother is a wonderful woman with an imagination like no other. She’s soft hearted and compassionate – and has a way of making things come alive.
Because of this, I still can’t eat food that is shaped like an animal. No chocolate bunnies for me at easter. No marshmallow peeps. Because of her, I feel sad for my computer, knowing that I’m going to replace it – because my computer will be sad, of course. I feel guilty when I don’t give equal time to my shoes. The couch I own? I have it because I didn’t want to make it feel unloved. And don’t even get me STARTED on stuffed animals.
I swore I’d never do this to my children (or my nephews and nieces, as the case here may be). I promised myself that I wouldn’t scar them in such a way. That they would know the joys of eating chocolate bunnies at Easter, and they wouldn’t feel even a little bit bad about biting off the poor little bunny ears.
But in my desperation, I found myself channeling my mother. Looking around at the explosion of toys on the floor, I concocted a plan. With the screaming baby on my hip, I walked into the kitchen and calmly hit the timer button on the stove. Per usual, the beep called out to the Monkey Boy, like a beacon of light in a storm, and he came rushing into the kitchen.
“What you set the timer for?” He asked.
“Well, I have a secret.” I said. “You wanna know?”
“You wanna know?” I asked, trying to build suspense, while simultaneously working out the story in my head.
“WHAT’S THE TIMER FOR?”
I crouched down.
“Monkey, look!” I pointed at all the toys on the floor. “You see all of those toys? There are lots and lots of them, aren’t there?”
“Yeah, there are lotsa toys.” He said.
“Well, they’re all really naughty toys.”
“Why are they naughty?”
“Because they aren’t where they belong! They won’t listen and go back to where they’re supposed to be, in their toy chest and boxes in the playroom. And that’s very, very naughty, when the toys don’t listen – but I don’t think they understand that they’re being naughty! And you know what?”
“If they keep being naughty, they’re going to have to get a time out and go away for a really long time to think about why they’re naughty. So look here.” I pointed at the timer. “The timer is set for FIFTEEN minutes. When the timer beeps, any toys that aren’t where they belong are going to have to go into time out, and they they’ll be really really sad. They won’t get to play with Monkey anymore, and that’ll make them cry, like baby sister.”
Baby sister inserted an appropriate wail.
“So you have to help them!” I continued. “You have to hurry hurry and pick up all of the toys and put them where they belong, so they won’t get a time out and be sad. Hurry hurry!”
I have never seen the Monkey Boy pick up toys so fast.
Cleaning, which is usually punctuated with whines of “but I need you to heeeeeeeelp me! Bobbbbbbiiiiiii, you have to HEEEELP MEEEEEE!”, was instead carried out with cries of “Oh no, we have to hurry hurry! Hurry hurry!”
In fifteen minutes flat, every toy was out of the living room, kitchen, and dining room, and all of the toys in the playroom were put into their boxes.
I did help, but only to gather toys from the less obvious locations and to round up the books, which belonged somewhere else entirely.
When the timer beeped, there was much cheering.
I wish I could say that it was the turning around point for our night, but I can’t. The Munchkin Girl continued to scream, unwilling to eat anything but a banana, until I finally gave up and put her to bed. She was OUT in fewer than three songs, which makes me think that she was just overly tired and whatever mystery-torture the Monkey Boy had bestowed upon her was just the straw the broke the camel’s back. I still had to threaten to hang Monkey by his toes when he refused to stop running around upstairs, and we had a rousing argument about the correct pronunciation of “pajamas.” (It’s pa-JAH-mas, dammit.)
He then launched into a soliloquy about Chuggington trains that didn’t end until Daddy got home and took over the bathtime routine. In fact, I don’t think it actually ended there. I just excused myself from it at that point.
Still, thanks to my mother, lies, and manipulation, I got the toys cleaned up. A small success in the midst of many, many hair-pulling moments. And really, in the House of Chaos, small successes are what you shoot for. Anything else is just gravy.
Monkey Boy: 0