Closed doors | happy mom

Beths_phone 151I have long been of the opinion that kids should be able to keep their rooms the way they want. Or maybe it’s just that I rarely feel like cleaning up their space, nor do I feel inclined to yell them into cleaning it themselves. There’s enough other stuff to yell about during a normal day. I tell the kids as long as they don’t keep dirty dishes or stray cats in their rooms, and there’s a clear escape path in case of fire, we’re good.

I close doors. That’s how I cope.

But there are days even closed doors don’t cut it.  I’m pretty sure there’s a tenant of Feng Shui that says disorder anywhere in the universe, even if it’s only on the edge of my perception, is going to mess with my cosmic energy.

Or maybe the fact that I’m a lazy person (hey, do what you want with your stuff) with control issues (but do know your clutter will make me insane) has created the conundrum I find myself in. Whatever.

The problem became especially clear when I decided to move my office upstairs.

We have an office in the back corner of the basement. It’s at the end of a long hallway, past the  furnace room and the laundry room. It holds our luggage and our camping gear and all our financial records back about 20 years. There’s a Huggies box with my scrapbooking material from when I used to scrapbook, and a bunch of Rubbermaid bins full of fabric scraps from when I used to sew. Somewhere under all that is a desk and a file cabinet.

I’m pretty sure the slack-jawed, scraggly-haired phantom from The Grudge hangs out under the desk, when she’s not in our attic. It’s kind of a spooky place.

I’ve never worked in that room. I like my spot by the window where I can see what’s happening in the hood, where sunlight can reach me, where stairs don’t separate me from the coffee machine. Where the air doesn’t smell like dryer sheets and doom.

But my files don’t need to be taking over the living room, so I’m moving up to the space between the boys’ rooms that used to be filled with a ginormous Thomas the Train table, bins full of Star Wars action figures, and a drum set.

It’s a space where, if his door isn’t closed, I can look directly into my teenager’s room.

It was bad. Worse than bad. It was a Colossal Mess.

I’m pretty sure the chaos he lived in was causing strife in his teen psyche he wasn’t even conscious of. Even if it wasn’t, the mess called to me through the closed door: you’re not doing your job, the Colossal Mess said to me. Your son is going to end up homeless and penniless and living in a van …. Colossal Mess was mocking me with SNL skits.

So this week, after cajoling, coercing, bribing, and finally promising a trip to the video game store, we worked together on Colossal Mess.

It was overwhelming. I talked to him about breaking the task into bite-sized chunks, just focus on pulling stuff out from under the bed and sorting what could be thrown away and what could be put aside for the neighbor kid who is still a Pokemon fan. Don’t worry about anything but this twenty square feet for now, and yes I’ll stop grimacing and sucking my breath in through my teeth (but, oh my GOD, the filth. HOW is it we are not being overrun by rodents?). Come on, buddy, work with me.

Jack did work. He worked for a solid three minutes before collapsing on the floor muttering something about oppression and how I just didn’t get “his people.”

Over the course of two days, we filled the garbage bin and the recycle bin for the week, sent Dad off with two truck loads of stuff to donate, and filled a box for the Pokemon kid. We moved furniture and vacuumed underneath. We found all the pieces to the science set and put them in one box, and the CSI forensics kit and put them in another box. We found bins for all the Lego pieces, and sorted through what had to have been four years of school papers, notes, and artwork. We found the zombie novel he’d started writing last year. I gave that a special corner of his desk, tilted attractively next to the lamp, and tucked a pencil in next to it. I hope he keeps writing.

Eventually, I found myself working entirely alone, but with the end in sight. I realized I’d experienced none of the reluctance I expected when I finally got rid of all the vestiges of his younger years. Woody and Buzz and the Hot Wheels cars would doubtlessly make some other little person happy.

I could feel every fibre of every muscle in my back. I’d earned a beer.

Colin caught me on my way to the fridge.

“Hey, um, mom? Could we work on my room tomorrow?”


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  1. So brave of you. All of us who have had teenagers salute you! You earned that beer, and more. Could you and the kids come over and help Gary with the garage next?

    1. That depends on whether Gary would follow me around questioning every little scrap of paper or piece of broken crap I chose to throw away. I\’d like to maintain your friendship … Come to think of it, OUR garage needs that kind of work. Oy. Maybe next year.

  2. A beer for sure, maybe even a martini! I always thought I had seen the worst my elder daughter could produce, her room was always horrible. I was wrong, so very wrong. At the end of Ali\’s freshman year at college she was battling a wrist injury and strep the week before finals. We told her to concentrate on her studies, Mom would come down with Dad and help pack up her dorm room. She was solo in her room the second semester after her roommate went to live with some friends. We arrived a beautiful and sunny Santa Clara day…THE HORROR!!!! I never could have imagined what one 19 year old girl could do to a dorm room. I though girls were cleaner. I am still horrified and it was two years ago. I was able to take a small amount of solace in the screams I heard reverberating down the dorm hallway as other mothers entered their children\’s rooms. I have not helped since….and I still wonder if the story I got about the roommate moving out was legit….

    1. Oh, Maggie, I\’m glad I\’m not alone! And yes, I know I had roommates like your daughter in college (in fact I wasn\’t much better, I\’m sure), so girls are certainly not exempt from the slobbery. One roommate in my sorority earned us the weekly \’pigpen\’ award, the punishment for which was we had to serve everyone dinner that Sunday night. Thing was, she was never around on Sunday to help. She even had a mouse in a cage in our room. Bleh!

  3. Oh my kids are only in elementary school and the mess… oh my the mess! My Mom gave me the great advice of letting the mess be and closing the door. But it can only go so far. Aaaaaaaaaaa!

  4. Bwahahaha! An OCD Mom\’s work is never done! \’…smell of dryer sheets and doom…\’ That cracked me up! 🙂

  5. \”Your son is going to end up homeless and penniless and living in a van …. \” My internal self-defeating monologue while I was trying to find a preschool for my son. He\’s pretty good at keeping his room clean because Dad is a freak about it. Glad I don\’t have to be the enforcer there.

    1. Lucky you. Things have to get really fuzzy around here before Dad freaks about it. Of course, I haven\’t been much of an enforcer, either.

  6. LOL: He worked for a solid three minutes before collapsing on the floor muttering something about oppression and how I just didn’t get “his people.”

    That is amazing. I can only close my eyes and wish my son not to do that to his poor OCD mother… but he will, oh, he will, won\’t he….. 🙂

  7. Well, at least your second son wants to get his room clean. I think it\’s a human trend, something from the caveman time. Hoarding everything in your cave, not letting anyone else get in. Preparing it for the possible mate… Maybe she\’ll like something I have here and I can lure her in-thing. Maybe…

    1. Good point, Joanna, although what possible mate he might attract with the mess isn\’t one mom\’s going to approve of.