The Summertime Blues Sing a Sad Song

The Summertime Blues Sing a Sad Song

Since our first son started school five years ago, we have come to equate summers with looser time constraints, creative projects our boys will complain about doing (one of these days they’ll think it’s cool…maybe), and the supreme enjoyment of family togetherness. Boys have the wide open space of a day to do whatever it is their hearts wish (usually that’s complaining about how they’re so bored), with few requirements beyond chores, tidying, and daily reading time.

The problem is that, right around August, we all start singing the summertime blues.

It’s not just because it’s so hot here in South Texas (105 on a good day). It’s also because we get a little tired of each other.

The last few years have been tight budget-wise as Husband and I have worked relentlessly to build businesses from the ground up with a bunch of crazy children interrupting us at inopportune times. That means we haven’t been able to justify the expense of any extra trips or special activities, which means we’ve mostly stayed around the house, all cooped up inside together, because if you go outside, you disintegrate.

You can measure how tired of each other we are by the number of arguments that happen in the course of a day and the volume of our voices during those arguments. Parents are short with children, children are short with each other, no one listens to anyone anymore. We live in a relatively small house, so there aren’t many places to hide from each other.

One of my boys, the one who loves the Great Outdoors, takes refuge outside. He’d probably sleep outside if we let him—but, again, the danger of disintegration looms. Another of my boys closes himself in the garage, which is a playroom of sorts and has become exponentially messier as he’s spent more time there (he says it isn’t him). Another two with identical faces are usually sent outside to play on the trampoline and talk about how unfair it is that they have to play outside on their trampoline and their swing set all the time.

I haven’t yet found an adequate hiding place. I’ve tried the laundry room, the library, the game closet, my bedroom, my closet, and my bathroom. When I huddled in the shower once, one of my boys came in and announced, “You’re way too big to hide, Mama. We’ll always find you.” I tried not to take offense.

No solace for me in the summer.

Here are some things that have begun to crawl under my skin as we close out our seemingly endless summer:

1. The complaining.

I’m not just talking about me. I try hard to have a good attitude about everything, but when you have six children talking all over each other and trying to tell you a story they made up or, in intricate detail, this dream they had last night while, at the same time, two of them are whining that they’re starving and why can’t you just get breakfast on the table while another is complaining about how he doesn’t even like what you’re cooking, even though he doesn’t know what it is (you’re not even sure), it’s hard not to complain. Complainers beget complainers.

I’ve started a complaint jar, where they can now write their complaints down for Husband and me to read later, but, you know, it takes way more effort to write them down, so the boys will typically just close their mouths instead. Which also works.

2. The heat.

It is ridiculously hot in South Texas this time of year. It’s so hot that my boys will go outside with the full intention of playing outside for the rest of the afternoon, and then they’ll come in half an hour later with blood-red faces, gasping about how it’s too hot to play outside. You know it’s hot when kids actually notice the temperature.

It’s not unusual for me to get weather notifications about how the heat index is off the charts, which means it’s dangerous to play outside for any length of time. No one feels like a good mother when she pushes her children out into a heat that would make her cry if all her tears hadn’t dried up on contact with today’s oxygen (is there oxygen in this summertime fire? I can’t really tell.). So we get a little more family togetherness inside the house. Just what I always wanted.

3. The mess.

My boys don’t put anything away. We recently had almost a whole week without our children, because Husband and I needed to do some organization work that is impossible with kids underfoot. The house was immaculate when they returned home—and ten minutes later, in their excitement at the new organization, they’d made a grand mess of things. Honestly, I’m surprised we even got ten minutes.

The other day, I told my 10-year-old, who was this week responsible for cleaning up the dining room, which includes an art table, “No one gets to use the paints anymore.”

“Why not?” he said.

“Because you used them five days ago, and they’re still out.”

“But Daddy’s the one who got them out,” he said.

And therein lies the problem. My boys operate on “Whoever got it out has to put it away,” instead of  “Whoever was the last one using it has to put it away.” They see no fault in this logic, mostly because it benefits them. It doesn’t benefit them any longer. I’ve been quietly amassing points for every item they leave out, and at the end of the month, when they have their allowance payout, you’ll be able to hear the explosion from thirteen miles away.

4. The noise.

Six boys, as you might imagine, can make a whole lot of noise. Sometimes I can’t even hear myself think because of all the voices competing to be heard. The noise continues to steadily build all summer, because as they get tired of family togetherness, they start fighting more, which raises voices and word count, both.

I’m an introvert living in the middle of a zoo.

5. All the lights burning.

Every time I come into an empty room, all the lights are blazing. The other night the last of four lightbulbs burned out in the boys’ bathroom. Based on the number of times I found that bathroom light left on, it made sense. So I left them in the dark for a while. And then, when I remembered that boys already have enough trouble getting excrement in the toilet, I went with LED lightbulbs.

They’re still blazing every time I pass, because my boys are under the mistaken impression that they live with a light fairy who follows behind them and turns off the lights for them so their little muscles don’t have to expend the extra effort. And she used to, but no more. Now I just put another mark on the tally list. They’ll likely be paying the entire electricity bill this month.

6. The extra pounds.

You’re supposed to lose weight for the summer, but I did the opposite. Why? See all the above.

School starts in another two weeks, and I will be glad to return to the regular routine and the structured way of life. I thrive on routines and predictability.

Of course I will miss my boys when they go back to school. These summers aren’t endless; my sons are fast growing up and will soon look for any opportunity to be away from home.

So, for now, I will bask in the requests—not requests for something to drink or more screen time or a dinner that tastes better. I will bask in the requests to sit on my lap or read another story or spend a little extra time coloring a picture with them. And when those requests come, I will allow myself to get carried away—start thinking that I could do this all year, maybe I should homeschool, I could get used to this chaos. Because it won’t take long for the next slap-fight to break out and shake me out of my sentimentality.

There’s nothing like the summertime blues to drive you crazy and fill your memory bank all at the same time.

All the Shoes that Never Make it to the Shoe Basket

All the Shoes that Never Make it to the Shoe Basket

Several years ago, Husband and I designated a basket beside the front door as the Shoe Basket. So when kids came home from anywhere and wanted to take off their shoes, (because kids still prefer bare feet when it’s 150 degrees out even though the backyard is full of only brambles since all the grass has fried), they would have a place to put them.

Kids will go barefoot anywhere. Once I had to carry my infant son on one arm and my 6-year-old on the other, because he thought he had some shoes in the car—not where they belong! We have a basket for that!—and it turns out those shoes actually were not in the car where he thought he’d left them, and we were already late for the doctor’s appointment by the time we arrived, which is when he bothered to tell me he had no shoes, so we couldn’t very well turn back around and go home. I suspect he just wanted to go to the doctor’s appointment without shoes.

What he received for his troubles was a long lecture on the importance of making sure his shoes got where they go. That lecture, of course, went in one ear and out the other. He retained all of zero words. That’s an educated guess, by the way, compiled using the number of times his shoes actually made it to the Shoe Basket after that, which was and still is zero.

It’s like feast or famine with our trusty old Shoe Basket. Either we have thirty pairs of shoes waiting for the eight people who live in our house, or we have zero. There are shoes, of course, just no matching pairs. There are fifteen size 3 left shoes. Or seven right foot flip flops that the 5-year-old will have to make work on his left foot, because we’re out of time. Or there are one of every size, and the 6-year-old has to wear his older brother’s left tennis shoe that’s a whole size and a half too large, but at least it matches!

We’re a mess when it comes to shoes.

When we actually have time to search for all those mysteriously missing shoes, we’ll find them scattered all over the house, one of a pair sitting in the downstairs bathroom trash can along with the soggy toilet paper roll one of the 3-year-olds stuck in the toilet and tried to make go down the “hole” with the plunger, and the other hiding under the couch, two hundred feet away. We will find shoes in the refrigerator and on the bottom shelf of the pantry and closed up with the coloring books in the art cabinet.

At first I didn’t understand this. How in the world were shoes getting into these random places? And then I caught the 3-year-old twins playing with their Hot Wheels, stuffing them into shoes and making them fly on a shoe airplane. And while that’s really creative play, I also couldn’t help thinking about how most of the people in my house claim they can’t find socks, because they lose them five hours after I buy them, so they’re typically wearing those laced-up kickers without any socks. So there’s some stank involved. Trust me, you do NOT want to sniff while you’re tying my boys’ shoes.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the kids who treat our Shoe Basket like it’s a suggestion box. It’s also Husband. He will take off his shoes while he’s sitting watching a movie with the boys on the couch, and he will leave them there so I will trip over them when I’m doing Burpees the next morning. He will take them off in our bedroom, right beside where I’ll lie on the floor to do my ab exercises, and the whole time I’m huffing and puffing I’m wondering where in the world that awful smell, something akin to rotten corn chips mixed with a busted sewage line, is coming from and then, when I’m finally finished and my stomach is on fire along with my nose, I’ll crawl to my feet and spot the culprit: His old TOMs that have never seen the luxury of socks between skin and shoe.

After which I’ll gently remind him that we not only have a closet where all our shoes can be stored, but we also have a Shoe Basket where he can put them when he’s finished wearing them. He’ll smile sheepishly and return them where they go, and then the next day I’ll trip over another pair on my way to the bathroom.

To tell the truth, I’ve been occasionally known to leave my running shoes right by the end of my bed, which is definitely not where they go, because I think it makes me more prone to getting up at 5 a.m. and heading out for a run while I have the chance and boys are sleeping. It doesn’t. And I shouldn’t. But I’m so busy putting away everyone else’s shoes I don’t have energy left for my own.

So, I surrender. Sorry, Shoe Basket. You deserve to see action, but I suspect it’s going to be a very long time before you do.

This is an excerpt from The Life-Changing Madness of Tidying Up After Children, the second book in the Crash Test Parents series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.

The Tidying Battle: Astounding Stockpiles in Which to Lose Yourself

The Tidying Battle: Astounding Stockpiles in Which to Lose Yourself

We’ve got some astounding stockpiles lying around our house.

There are the clothes, mostly clean except for the way they’ve been trampled by half a dozen feet a billion times every day. This stockpile can hold up to five weeks of clean laundry, and no one will even notice they’re living out of a hallway instead of a closet. You might be wondering, why five weeks? That’s how long it takes any of them to realize that maybe they shouldn’t have their underwear littering the stairs when their friends come over—at which point they finally put them away.

There are also the piles of dirty clothes in the boys’ bathroom, because no one can burden himself with walking the long seven steps to the hamper and putting dirty clothes where they belong. They have much better things to do than make sure their dirty clothes get washed. Like wearing their soccer socks for the seventh day in a row.

There are the books that are way, way too numerous but can’t be cleaned out one more time, because I’ve already done that, and the ones left are the ones that are special and wonderful and beautiful, and what would we do without them? I can’t possibly neglect to read my boys Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie and Rebecca, so I just have to keep them all, and, besides, I’ll probably have a granddaughter someday. It’s up to me to preserve all these books for her.

And then there are the papers. The papers are in a whole league of their own. There is nothing quite so astounding in our house as our paper piles.

They build so quickly. Three days of not checking the papers in a school boy’s folder, and suddenly there’s a teetering stockpile. Two minutes of leaving the twins alone while I take a healthy sit-down and there’s another paper stockpile, waving at me from the dining room table. One week of feeling lazy and burned out and I won’t even be able to locate my kids in all the paper.

Husband and I, for a while, had to rent a storage space for all the papers. This may seem extravagant and really silly, but I kid you not. Our storage facility was mostly full of old tax papers. Neither of us is really sure how many years in back taxes we need to keep for auditing purposes, and we’re afraid to throw anything away, lest the IRS comes knocking. Not that we even keep good records. We just have some credit card statements and a whole bin of receipts and the papers we sent out to our tax guy, but, hey, they never said we had to be organized if they ever come peering over our shoulders.

There are bins full of old newspapers where my stories appeared back when I was a reporter. There are the notes from people who appreciated my articles, and there are notes from Husband when we were first dating (which don’t exist electronically anymore, because Hotmail doesn’t even exist anymore. Just kidding. It does. But it’s, like, so 2001.), and there are papers from old college applications and old college essays and old college poems and short stories, because I have to keep it all. There are scrapbooks full of more, you guessed it, papers.

It’s so hard to get rid of these old papers.

Not too long ago, we cleaned out that storage space, because we’d finally had enough of paying money just to keep a bunch of papers, and the storage owners were telling us we needed to have insurance on the space, so the cost would go up, and we decided that we’d stick all those bins of papers out in our garage, and, piece by piece, clean it out.

It’s been sitting there for nine months now.

Our garage used to be a playroom for our children. Now you can hardly walk in it, and it’s all because of the papers.

Sometimes I daydream about going on a  rampage, sneaking into the garage and dumping everything out without looking at it and bagging it all up to put out front so it’s the trash guy’s problem now. But then I wonder what I might possibly be missing out on, like maybe some old letters I haven’t read in ten years or our old wedding programs back when trendy design wasn’t really a thing and they looked like they’d been put together in Microsoft Word. Or maybe those newspaper articles from twelve years ago, even though I’ve changed my career and will probably never work for a newspaper again, and, anyway, it’s all digital now, and all I’d have to do is google my old journalist name, Rachel L. Toalson, to see all the things I’ve written.

I know all this. I know everything in there is old and that I probably wouldn’t miss it if it were to disappear. But the fear is real. It really is. What if there is SOMETHING, in all that useless stuff, that would unwittingly be thrown away because I didn’t take the time to sort through it, and it was IMPORTANT? What would we do then? How would we possibly survive?

So we keep all those bins that clog up our garage, and children try as best they can to maneuver through the obstacle course to reach the toys that are supposed to remain hidden from them unless a parent is there to help. Unfortunately, we have to send much younger legs in there, because it’s a death hazard for anyone taller than four feet and older than 30. What we need is a weekend away from all the kids so we can sort through it all, but the problem is, all I want to do when the grandparents keep the kids for the weekend is sleep.

One time we sent the kids away to the grandparents, and we did clean up the playroom, an entire weekend devoted to the tidying up, and that playroom looked so good we sat in there to watch a movie because you could actually see ten feet in front of you, and, also, you could breathe. But then the kids came home, and it took them all of twenty-three seconds to undo our work, because they were just so excited about a clean playroom and all.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that our stockpiles don’t stay in the garage, though. They’ve gathered on our kitchen counters and our dining room table (what is a table except a place to put a stack of paper?) and in the corners of our bedroom. I blame it on the billions of school papers our kids bring home every day and the junk mail companies that really, really like us. It’s definitely not because we’ve never mastered the art of filing.

I’m sure we’ll get a handle on these papers one of these days. Probably right after we adopt the Just Throw it All Away method of tidying. Which will probably be…never.

I mean, what if there’s something important in that stack?

This is an excerpt from The Life-Changing Madness of Tidying Up After Children, the second book in the Crash Test Parents series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.

Phrases I’ve Come to Expect From Summer

Phrases I’ve Come to Expect From Summer

Summer is in full swing at the Toalson home. Summer means a lot of things to parents, but what it mostly means to me is that my word count—listened words, that is, not written ones; I can’t seem to write when all the kids are home—increases from four billion to six hundred forty billion. Daily.

When they’re not fighting or bouncing off walls, my boys are talking. They’re telling me about elaborate forty-minute dreams (my dreams aren’t that long, but okay), what they plan to build out of the LEGOs today, and how they managed to live when they tried to do a double somersault off the trampoline onto the treehouse fort. (I’d rather not hear about that one, thanks).

In all this talking, there are some phrases that have become tired refrains in our house—and I’m not talking about the dreams or the plans or the daring feats. I’m talking about my name, “Mama,” connected with anything and especially the following.

“I’m hungry.”

This one made it to the top of the list because it’s the most frequently repeated phrase. It doesn’t matter if they ate a breakfast of a dozen scrambled eggs five minutes ago. They’re still hungry. If they eat four sandwiches and five pounds of carrots for lunch, two minutes later they’ll be hungry. If we fill their bellies with a steaming six bowls of chicken noodle soup, they will be hungry in less than ten minutes.

We’re not a big snacking family. Boys have to wait until 3 in the afternoon to get a snack, and if you were to ask them, this would be the most horrible torture of all. We’re the meanest parents ever. They’re starving all because of us and our silly rules.

“I’m bored.”

There are so many things to do in our house. We have a really cool house. We have a home library with thousands of books they could read. They all have scooters and bikes and a cul-de-sac in which to ride them. We have a trampoline, a treehouse fort, a swing set, a big backyard. We have an art cabinet stocked with art supplies. We have writing journals waiting to be filled. There is no limit to activity and creative possibility in this home.

So my typical response to the “bored” phrase is, “All of life is a playground for the curious,” followed closely by, “How about you do the laundry and I’ll be bored. Deal?”

This never accomplishes what I’d like it to accomplish.

“Can we watch a movie?”

For some reason, my kids think summertime is synonymous with watch-all-the-movies-you-can time. They like to say that they don’t have school tomorrow, they should be able to watch something. Husband and I aren’t big screen people. We like our kids to be bored. The best ideas (and also the most disastrous, but that’s neither here nor there) arise from boredom. We want them to use their creative brains to make something beautiful. And preferably not messy. But we try not to be picky.

They will sulk and complain when we answer this question in the negative. They’ll tell us that all their friends get to watch as many movies as they want over the summer, to which I typically reply exactly what my mother used to: “Well, if all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?”

They love this about as much as I loved it as a kid.

“It’s too hot out there.”

My boys have mandatory outdoor playing time between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., which coincides with cooking-dinner time. Purposefully. I can’t have monkeys swinging from the rafters while I’m trying to brown some turkey meat for tonight’s broccoli extravaganza that they’d all complain about if they could see what I’m cooking. This way they get to be surprised and I get to have peace.

The problem is that here in South Texas, the temperature hits two thousand degrees on a good afternoon (you don’t want to know what the bad afternoons look and feel like). I solve this problem by setting out a pitcher of ice water and an assortment of cups they’ll fight over until they knock the pitcher off the table and lose all the ice water and commence lapping it up from the worn boards of the deck, because it’s fun to act like animals.

“My brother hit me.”

Every other minute they are fighting and tattling. The tattling usually comes from the 5-year-old twins, because the older boys are good at working out their disagreements. By socking each other in the mouth. And laughing about it.

“You’re the worst mom ever.”

I hear this every time I tell them they can’t have a snack; all of life is a playground for the curious; if all their friends were jumping off a cliff, would they; and they have to play outside. I also hear it when I tell them they can’t wear their swim trunks for the twelfth day in a row; no, we’re not going to the pool today; and treats aren’t assured to them every day. That’s okay. I know they still love me and sooner or later (probably later), they’ll realize I’m not actually the worst mom ever.

“How much longer until school starts?”

Okay, that one’s me.

But I suspect that toward the end of the summer they’ll be asking this one, too. Family togetherness is great, but it’s also nice to have time away from each other, to ease into your old routines, to have something to do with the endless hours of your day. And then, a week after school starts, they’ll be wishing it was over.

Honestly, I’m glad we have summertime together. It’s a special time of bonding over boredom (although I haven’t been bored since I was a 8) and snuggling for a few extra seconds and playing together. This year I have five of them going off to school, and I’m sure the quiet house will be fantastic for the first couple of days, and then it will feel unnaturally eerie. I’ll miss them, like I always do.

Well, at least I’ll have some food to eat for once.

On Tidying: There’s a Reason You Should Leave Mementos for Last

On Tidying: There’s a Reason You Should Leave Mementos for Last

There are some things that are much harder to throw away than others, and this is why, tidying experts say, we should save those things for last.

These mementoes are different for every parents. Some parents like to keep their kids’ teeth, for example, while that makes me throw up a little in my mouth. Some parents like to keep their kids’ hair cuttings in a little envelope or sealed container, to remember how soft and fine it was once upon a time. Some parents like to keep old clothes or a stuffed animal that’s been slobbered to death or a pair of “first steps” shoes.

Me, I have trouble throwing away art work or anything that has my kid’s handwriting on it, with a little added personality.

This means I have a bin in my closet where I put all the amazing stuff (which is really anything at all they create, although I’ve gotten better at differentiating between what’s really amazing and what’s just a normal part of my child’s day—mainly because they create six billion pieces of art a day). That bin is bursting at the seams.

In it is the piece of paper on which one boy wrote a little essay so full of personality and voice that my writer’s heart jumped for joy that an 8-year-old could find his voice so early (now if he could just keep it). In it is the drawing the 6-year-old did of the grinning cat with a curling tail that’s simply amazing, if I do say so myself. In it are the spider-like people the 3-year-old twins like to draw and call “Mama and Daddy.” In it is the first piece of paper where the 5-year-old wrote his name in all caps just after he turned 4. In it are all the “graphic novels” my 8-year-old has written in the last year, because I think he’ll be glad I kept them someday (my mom did the same for me, and I am forever grateful.).

These things are incredibly hard to throw out.

So I’ve been leaving the bin alone, letting it continue to grow and expand. It’s quite easy to ignore this bin, because it’s tucked away in my closet, and, also, I don’t have the time or energy or emotional capacity right now to sort through its treasures. So much of it is sentimental, because one thing we can’t do with time is turn it back, and that’s a sobering reality when we’re faced with the choice of “throw this away or keep it forever?” Will I be glad I kept that drawing of the fox he did before he could even write his name? Will I be thankful I kept that word problem that had fractions and used his family as the slicing-up-a-pizza example? Will I know exactly why I kept those drawings that look nothing like portraits?

I like to think I will.

I’ll go through that bin, eventually, but I don’t know that I’ll get rid of much of what’s in it. Because, for me, those papers dig up memories. And when he’s starting his last day of school, the last last day, I think I’ll be glad that I can pull out the sheet he filled out in kindergarten that says he wants to be a movie producer when he graduates high school and compare it to what he actually wants to be now. I think I’ll be glad that I can show him the drawings he used to do up in his bed at night, when we were no longer paying attention because as soon as our heads hit the pillow we were already asleep, so we can talk about how far he’s come in his art development. I think I’ll be glad I kept this bin that takes up arts and crafts space in my closet, because it holds pieces of them.

Every one of those papers brings some kind of joy. They remind me of a crazy-yet-simple time, when my kids were little and they were content with just a piece of paper and a pencil and a day didn’t even contain the word “bored.” It reminds me of a time when they were adding six plus three instead of doing complicated calculus equations on three sheets of paper. It reminds me of a time when they used to leave love notes wherever they wrote them.

They’ll be glad, too. Because in that bin is also something that they will want and need someday: the encouragement and blessing notes the members of our family wrote for them every time they celebrated a birthday or started a new year of school. That’s something valuable, too.

Or maybe they’ll just think it’s cheesy that their mom kept all of this junk. Either way, they’ll still have to go through it, which means they’ll have to see what I saw: that they are amazingly creative, full of potential, and deeply loved.

This is an excerpt from The Life-Changing Madness of Tidying Up After Children, the second book in the Crash Test Parents series.To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.

Two of the Most Surprising Secrets of Tidying

Two of the Most Surprising Secrets of Tidying

There are all kinds of secrets to tidying up when you’re a parent. Secrets like “just don’t have any toys” or “make your kids play outside all day” (which is what we did all day when we were kids, wasn’t it?), or maybe less drastic secrets, like “keep the toys to a minimum so kids can do things like art and writing,” although then you have to contend with all that paper. So maybe just let them sit in front of the television all day until they become we-can’t-even-move zombies.

You know, whatever.

But there are two secrets of tidying that I did not expect even a little bit.

The first surprising secret: What you throw away will mysteriously reappear.

Oh, you threw away that nifty little flashlight some family member thought would be a hit, and of course it was, but it has the most annoying voice in the history of whining and it makes that pattern on the ceiling that will keep your kids awake all hours of the night because they imagine the pattern moving and winking at them? Well, it will come back five days later, and you’ll wonder how in the world it walked from the trash bin to your pillow, where it is staring at you, challenging you to dare say a word about where it’s been and how it got there.

Creepy, creepy toys.

Of course you’ll try to throw it away again. You’ll even tie the bag with a zip tie and take it yourself out to the trash receptacle. You’ll watch the toy sink into a pile of banana peels and holey socks, and you’ll grin a little to yourself, because you’ve won this time.

But it will be back. Because your kids will be out on their scooters, minding their own business, and one of them will accidentally graze the trash bin, and it’s enough for that persistent toy to cry out, and they will recognize that noise, and they will go digging for it. In the trash. Where you just tossed a diaper with fluorescent green poop, because your infant ate half an orange crayon while you were cooking dinner.

They’ll bring it in triumphantly. It will greet you with malice, but their voices will hold nothing but joy. Maybe a little confusion. “Look what I found in the trash!” they’ll say. “I’m so glad I found this.” They’ll look at you and tilt their head a little. “Wait. What was it doing in the trash?”

No idea, baby, you’ll say, because you’ll convince yourself they’re asking the same question you’re asking.

How did that thing bust loose again?!!

And then you’ll wait for them to fall asleep so you can play this game again.

It doesn’t matter how many times you try to get rid of this toy. You can wrap it in a towel and turn it off so it can’t speak another word and stuff it in the bottom of a bag, under all the table scraps and old dirty diapers and snotty toilet paper, and it will still come back, a little worse for wear (that’s a slight understatement. It will resemble The Blob.). You can smash it with a jackhammer, and it will still come back. You can toss it over the fence, way off into the yard of a distant neighbor, because they will surely enjoy it more than you did—it’s a minion, after all—and IT WILL STILL COME BACK.

This is a war you will not win. You will have to do what every parent before you has done: accept that this toy is going to be a part of your family for a while.

The next time your kid asks if he can take this keeps-coming-back toy to the children’s museum so it can see what it’s really like to be a spy, say yes. You might just get lucky and see another kid walking out the doors with it.

Or it might be waiting back at the house when you’re all done rejoicing that you’ll never have to see it again. Either way, at least you have learned what it means to be resilient in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

The second surprising secret: No matter how much you discard in this whole tidying-up thing, there will still not be enough room for everything.

You’re not supposed to look at storage solutions until you’ve sorted through everything you own and decided whether or not you’re keeping it. Don’t even think about putting something away until all the discarded stuff has been carted out to the curb. Wait until you’ve tossed out more than half of what you own, and then try to find space for what’s left in your it’s-the-same-size house, and watch how it still doesn’t fit.

You’ll clean out their art supplies. You’ll throw away fifteen thousand broken crayons and two hundred dried out markers, and you’ll sort all the papers and put them in binders and tuck them all neatly away, and then you’ll look at the supplies you have left and realize it’s still not going to all fit in the art cabinet where things like this are supposed to go. How in the world did it all fit before? You have no idea. You’ll try to throw more away. They don’t really need fourteen pencils. Four will do. Still doesn’t fit. They don’t really need more than one pair of scissors. You don’t like it when they use scissors anyway. Still doesn’t fit. They don’t really need crayons at all. Still doesn’t fit.

You realize this is never going to work. There will never be enough space. Because kids have a mysterious multiplying effect on everything except money (too bad).

But you try harder. And you finally cram it all in. “There,” you say. “Now everything has a place.”

You imagine the whole room clapping, even though you’re alone. You pat yourself on the back, because that was hard work, right on up there with rocket science, you’d argue.

And then your kids come home from their grandparents’ house with three manila folders full of original artwork, and it looks like a paper plant threw up in your living room again, and there is no kidless weekend in sight where you can make all those drawings of, what is it—a whale? A giant fish? You (surely not)?—disappear so the kids won’t notice that not everything they draw is a masterpiece.

Back in the manila folders, you say. Back in the manila folders. And they’ll put all those papers back in the manila folders and then you’ll have to find a place to put them. Right now, it’s the top of your piano, where you have to look at them, out of place, every time you reach down to get a diaper for the baby.

And let’s not talk about birthdays and holidays and all the days in between or the days when kids suddenly have enough money to buy what they’ve always wanted—an oversized Spider-Man toy—even though you just got done paring down the superhero figurines because they’ve grown out of them.

How about we just embrace what feels like the truth: there will never be enough room for all the clutter kids come with. And then, if there magically happens to be enough room once every blue moon, we’ll be pleasantly surprised.

That’s how I like to live my life, anyway.

This is an excerpt from The Life-Changing Madness of Tidying Up After Children, the second book in the Crash Test Parents series.To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.