Friday, February 6, 2009

Overheard downstairs this morning:

"Don't clean up, Mommy."

"Honey, I can't not clean up. It's what mommys do."

I don't know why the Little Ditchman wanted mommy to stop cleaning up, but it would be easy to get her to: just stop leaving a mess around! I think Mommy was cleaning up in front of the tv while Tigger and Pooh was on. Oh, can't see the tv? Hold on while I get some compression bandages for my bleeding heart!

People don't realize that when you decide to have kids, you're really applying for the worst janitorial job in the known universe. (I'm waiting for the Dirty Jobs episode where Mike Rowe becomes a single father of two for a weekend. He will run screaming.) You work 24/7 for twenty years straight, no pay. Job responsibilities include: the preparation of all food, followed by the cleaning up of all eliminated food wastes, the washing of perpetually soiled laundry, the bending over and picking up of a vast array of small plastic objects, repeatedly, until your knees and back scream out in anguish. Hazzards include being urinated upon, vomited upon, berated, incensed, and ignored by your subordinates. I could go on and on. I won't. It does.

WE HAVE A MILLION TOYS. We don't buy any of them, they're just given to us, mostly by people who don't have kids, and they accumulate in baroque piles in the corners of the house -upstairs, downstairs, everywhere. The Little Ditchman knows each one and if a tiny part is lost, she is aware of it. Sometimes these toys break and we have to pry the wretched things out her little clenched fists. She's two, and we've started her early: "Oh, honey, looks like that toy is broken beyond repair. We're going to have to throw it in the trash. Come on." And then we walk her to the garbage can, toss it in, and say farewell. We didn't have a choice. One day a while back the kid opened the trash can and saw one of her old things, which we hated and had tried to get rid of. We caught her reaching in for it. "Hey! Did you put this in the trash, Mommy?" Busted! Sometimes I find things in the toy pile that I know I threw away yesterday. For a while I was sneaking busted kidstuff out to the curb to cram in the trash can, under the cover of night, during bathtime.

Anyway, these little girls will turn in to your grandma with their piles of junk and newspapers stacked around them until their dying days, if you're not careful. You've got to start them early. Have little funerals for the toys. This item has run its course and served its purpose, child. Say goodbye. It was fun while it lasted. Hold my hand and sing with me: "To everything turn, turn, turn... There is a landfill, turn, turn, turn..."

The act of picking up the toys is a daily one, inescapable and unrelenting. To those of you who claim that they will teach their kids to pick up after themselves, I congratulate you on the millions you will make when you publish the book on it. A good child will clean up some of their mess, surely, but a smart child doesn't make a mess. There is a singular purpose to the meticulously organized array, and the child will explain it to you, speaking from her high horse, shaking her head at you, oh dumb and feeble-minded parent. You just don't get it.

An example.

You come around the corner:

A mess of toys on the kitchen floor, right? Well, clean it up!

But wait... Not so fast. Upon closer inspection...

Yes, that's right. Clearly, it's a dinosaur breakfast. Do you want to interrupt the dinosaur breakfast? Believe me, the wrath of the little girl will be much greater than that of the brachiosaur and the dimetrodon. You let it go for now. This mess is cuter than the others. Get the camera.

So it goes. I often clean up the toys after I do the dishes at night so I can sit on the couch in peace. I move them to the other room entirely, so I don't have to look at them. It's haunting, those dolls piled up in the corner staring back at you with their lifeless eyes. Every now and then one of them will make a noise, totally spontaneously, uninitiated by you. Just the other day I was shutting down the house at the stroke of midnight and I turned off the last light at the foot of the stairs. Out of the silent darkness, the tiny mechanical voice of a Little Einstein cackled from beneath something else: "HOORAY FOR ROCKET!" and my heart skipped a beat. I quickly turned the light back on and saw... nothing. I shook my head and flipped the switch off again, and immediately the voice of another Einstein: "GREAT JOB, ROCKET!" Damn these toys! They're messing with me!

Turns out it was some new-fangled talking puzzle (a talking puzzle!) that was being activated by the ambient light in the house. Of course. Right. Knew that. All the same, the fear lingers: one day you're going to throw away one too many toys, and those things are going to come alive at night, looking for revenge. It'll be after a long day and an extra beer. You'll feel a bit wobbly from exhaustion, and something plastic with wheels is going to do a slow roll over to the top of the stairs and wait there in the dark. And wait....

And wait...

Try not to think about it. Have a splendiforous weekend.