A clean sweep of mother-son relations

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Can this relationship be saved?

When it comes to cleaning, my 9-year-old son thinks a horizontal surface is a space onto which he can drop trading cards, old homework, various action figures, and tiny plastic parts barely visible to the naked eye belonging to erector sets he does not even remember owning.

He calls these spaces “my room just how I like it.” I call these spaces dumpsters.

Can’t change him. Ladies, if you are reading this, let me set you straight: not only is it quite nearly impossible to ever “change” a man, you barely have a fighting chance even when you’ve had him in your clutches since birth.

Talk about a “self made man.” I made this (future) man and I have had no more luck in “teaching” him to be naturally neat than I would have had in teaching my dog to tap dance.

My son is a good boy. He’s a lovely person if I do say so myself and we get many compliments on him. Overall, we think he’s a keeper.

Mounds. Then I walk into his room and I just about want to cry. Or light a match. There are simply mounds everywhere. Mounds of clothing (some clean, some dirty, the problem is in knowing which is which?) Mounds of bedding. Mounds of colorful plastic that must be part of something terrifically creative — or terribly deranged.

This boy has never seen a horizontal surface he didn’t think would be perfect to pile something — anything — upon. It’s as if the very sight of a clean, uncluttered flat surface leaves him somehow incomplete.

I have entered the room, looked around, and unable to discern signs of life been forced to call out (slightly panicked) for him.

Peek-a-boo. He will pop up from under some pile or other and say “I’m right here mom!” as if the small bulge in the teetering mound of wadded up laundry, bedding, a drum set, desk chair, and a couple hundred pounds of Pokemon cards should clearly have indicated his presence all along.

I understand that some mothers just throw in the towel (and pillowcase, dirty laundry, and crusty bowls stashed under the bed). I, however, am no pushover.

I’ve tried playing the heavy, but my son’s room is enough to make “don’t make me come in there!” less a strong, disciplinary missive and more a pathetic plea for mercy.

Hope springs eternal and I really thought I could mold a man (and what, after all, is a 9-year-old boy but simply a mini-man sans car keys and a career by which to bankroll his own cleaning staff?)

Purple power. From the time he was very small I would cheerfully demonstrate how much “fun” it could be to clean up after ourselves. I was the Improv mommy! I pantomimed that lying Barney the Dinosaur in sing-song “clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere, clean up, clean up everybody do their share!”

The awesome power of a purple dinosaur combined with my can’t-carry-a-tune-in-a-bucket singing notwithstanding, I was shocked to discover as young as age 3 that my son absorbed the spirit, if not the letter of the thing.

Grabbing one of the toy baskets I would say brightly “let’s clean up just like Barney says!” and my son, light of my life, would respond happily and with unbridled enthusiasm “OK!”

Within minutes he would be plopped down with a book, toy truck, or errant dust mote he spied floating by and cleaning nothing much at all.

Forever committed to a lost cause, I once attempted to use logic (never a good idea on a man of any age): “Honey, doesn’t Barney say “everybody do their share?” Who do you think everybody is sweetie?”

To which my son replied cheerily and with utter sincerity: “you?”

He was 3, which is why I let him live. I love my son and he has many strengths. He is thoughtful, punctual, and kind. I fear nonetheless that I have given birth to the messierhalf of the Odd Couple.

Odd Couple. My son is Oscar to my Felix. Worse, his trash isbecoming my bag. Or baggage. I can only apologize to any future daughter-in-law I may be blessed with and hope that she’ll love me anyway when I say I tried dear. I tried.

Until then, when it comes to my son and I and our wildly different definitions of “clean” I can only wonder “can this relationship be saved?”

More importantly, can old homework, torn trading cards, and Legos be saved too?

(Kymberly Foster Seabolt daydreams about tidy bookshelves. She welcomes comments c/o lifeoutloud@comcast.net; http://kymberlyfosterseabolt.com; or P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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