A Crash Course on Living With a Man

A Crash Course on Living With a Man

I did not live with a man before I married Husband. It’s true that I shared a house with messy roommates all during my college years, and I did my fair share of complaining about living with those messy females. (My mom would just laugh when I complained. I know it’s because she thought I deserved those messy roommates because I hadn’t exactly been a tidy teenager. I know this because when I think about my boys one day complaining about their own messy roommates—if they even notice, that is—I think I’ll probably laugh with glee, too).

But those roommates were nothing compared to living with a man.

When Husband and I moved in together after our honeymoon days at Disney World, I was not prepared for all the ways we would do things differently. I guess it was good practice for raising six boys, but it sure was an awakening experience, to say the least.

He squeezed toothpaste from the bottom.

Maddening. Everyone knows that squeezing a toothpaste container from the top is what you’re supposed to do, so when you’re only left with a little bit in the tube, you can roll it up and feel much more satisfaction for getting something out of it and onto your toothbrush. If you’re constantly squeezing the tube from the bottom and roll as you go, you don’t have that same exquisite pleasure that there’s still some left and you bought yourself another day. There’s no surprise to it at all. Lame.

He didn’t hang up his clothes after laundry day.

Before we had kids, Husband and I lived in tiny little apartments with closets that were about the size of our rooms. We thought we were so lucky to have those walk-in closets—until I realized what Husband was going to use them for. That’s right. He used them for piling his clothes inside. Not hanging them up. Piling.

I couldn’t walk in a walk-in closet for years without stepping on clean clothes. “I’ll put them away tomorrow,” he always said. Tomorrow came and went. I still walked on a clothes carpet.

Over the years this has evolved. It began in our closet, and then we finally had The Talk, because I had to use the closet, too, and I didn’t like stepping over clothes all the time just to find something I could wear. I’m not the most graceful person in the world, and I was a runner. I didn’t want to sprain my ankle on something as silly as a mountain of clothes and not be able to run for six weeks. So the piles moved to a wing chair in our bedroom. And then they moved to his side of the bed, which means that come bedtime, they move to his side of the floor.

He’s the one tasked with helping the boys put away the laundry, since I do all the actual washing and folding, and all they really have to do is make sure they get their clothes in the dirty clothes hampers (which is apparently a really hard thing to do), but I’m starting to think that maybe this wasn’t the wisest plan, since most of the time all that laundry gets stacked and left out on banisters instead.

He walked out of his shoes and left them there.

If I had a dollar for every time I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and tripped over one of his gigantic clodhoppers, we wouldn’t have driven an old Honda Civic for the first five years of our marriage.

He left his plate in the sink without rinsing it off.

This wouldn’t have been a huge deal. The problem was really that he liked to eat ranch dressing with everything. Have you ever smelled ranch dressing when it’s been sitting on a plate for a few hours? Disgusting. I couldn’t stand the smell, which perpetuated the problem, because once something got to where I couldn’t stand the smell, I wouldn’t rinse it off, either, which means the ranch dressing would make itself comfortable, hardening and inviting its moldy friends to come around and play.

Husband, of course, would turn a blind eye to the dishes with ranch dressing piling up on the sink, even though I’d done three loads in the dishwasher since the ranch had solidified. We used paper plates for a while after that, especially when I got pregnant with our first son and projectile vomited every time I came in contact with ranch dressing.

He put the detergent in after he started the washing machine.

Um. No. This little “master technique,” which is what he called it, left all sorts of streaks on our black clothes. He couldn’t figure out why, and then one day I watched him dump in the powder after the washing machine was filled with water. Novice error.

He didn’t close the door even in the middle of the summer if he was going “right back out.”

The problem is that “right back out” is very loosely defined in the world of a man. Husband would come in with the intent of grabbing something and going “right back out,” and then he would get distracted by something I was doing—because he’s a good guy who likes to help—and that door would stay open for ten minutes or more. Our air conditioner would try to cool the entire world, but we live in Texas, and it’s nearly impossible to cool just the house in the middle of summer.

“I’ll do it later” didn’t necessarily mean tonight.

“I’ll do it later” meant a variety of things. It could be later tonight, it could be in a week, it could be next year. Later is on a sliding scale of priority—not defined by me, but defined by Husband.

Tidying up meant stacking things into piles.

Don’t worry about putting it away, just simply stack it. Save yourself a little time and effort. It’s taken him a while to break this habit, but I did a pretty fine job helping him break it when I fell down our stairs carrying laundry while trying to dodge a pile he’d left on the third step from the bottom. I broke my foot in that fall, and he paid the price. We had six kids, and I could no longer run after them. One man down in a house of six boys is like a suicide mission.

No more piles.

All this changed, for the most part, when we had children—and not because he finally got tired of my nagging. I finally shut up. And he realized this house would be a sinking ship without his contribution.

So thanks, babe, for stepping up your game.

This is an excerpt from This Life With Boys, the third 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.

What Stickers Can Teach Us About Persistence

What Stickers Can Teach Us About Persistence

My gosh. I am so tired of stickers I want to put a sign on our door that says, “If you come bearing stickers, do not cross this threshold.”

People who buy my kids coloring books with stickers in them, because this is so much cooler than a regular coloring book? Please stop. People who think my kids will surely love this package of three thousand stickers (of course they will. Who doesn’t like annoying their mom with a sticker on every inch of her bedroom wall?)? Please stop. People who think maybe we could use these leftover motivational stickers for chore charts or potty training? Stop.

There was a time, not so long ago, when we thought that stickers would be a fun idea. I remember loving stickers as a kid. What I don’t remember is sticking them everywhere, but something I’ve learned about my boys is that even if we provide them with a sheet of paper to put their stickers on, that’s not where they will end up. Instead, they will end up on shirts and couches and floors and tables and usually my monstrous behind without my knowledge.

The first time we bought stickers, our first son was 2. We were potty training him, and we wanted to have a progress chart, because he was a bright boy and could figure out the calendar thing, counting how many days he’d stayed dry and clean. He was potty trained within a couple of weeks. So when it came time to potty train boy #2, we thought stickers would be a good idea again. Except we forgot that there was an older boy in the house who still loved stickers and wouldn’t be getting any, because he was not the one potty training.

We found stickers everywhere. I mean, everywhere.

And even though now we have vowed to ban stickers from our house, we still find them everywhere.

The other day we went to the store to get some more coloring books, because our 3-year-olds love coloring, and I love keeping their hands busy, because, otherwise, they’re reaching for knives when I’m not looking or deconstructing the bread machine when I take a potty break or trying to carry their baby brother by his neck when I turn around to make lunch. Most of the coloring books with uncolored pages in our house belong to their older brothers, because the twins have pretty much scribbled on every one of the pages of their own books and called it done.

I looked at so many coloring books. I was hard-pressed to find one that didn’t promise “Fifty brand new stickers.”

What in the world? Are coloring books not enough anymore? We have to entice kids to sit down and color with the promise of stickers? I DON’T WANT STICKERS IN MY HOUSE.

Stickers, you see, get EVERYWHERE.

Have you ever gone all the way to your boys’ school to pick them up after the bell rings and been told, politely, that you have an “awesome job” sticker on your rump, as if someone just wanted to tell you that you did a perfect job on those fifty squats earlier and smacked that sticker on you? I have. Have you ever walked into a grocery store with a Spider-Man sticker attached to the back of your head, because someone, while you weren’t looking, decorated the headrest in the van, and you didn’t realize it until you finally, just before leaving to go back home, looked behind you to see who was pulling your hair? Dang Spider-Man. Have you ever gone to a parent-teacher conference with Diego and his backpack staring at the teacher when you turned around because one of your kids thought it would be funny to stick it on your upper back, where you can’t even reach it, when you weren’t paying attention? I have.

And if I cared about what people thought, it would be terribly embarrassing. Since I don’t care, it’s just annoying.

So is opening the door to guests and turning back around to find a trail of Hulk stickers leading the way to the kitchen. So is hosting a birthday party and being asked if I’m aware that Iron Man is staring at everyone in the bathroom, because he’s stuck on every available surface of the walls. So is pulling up to the pediatrician’s office and opening the van door to take out my 3-year-old and seeing that he’s got puppies plastered all over his face.

Stickers are not my friend. We didn’t learn from the first disaster and stubbornly used stickers to potty train all our boys (because the hope that “this one will be different” is hard to kill), and, inevitably, someone would raid those reward stickers and slap A+ and Superb! all over the floor and we’d have to spend hours peeling them off. It didn’t matter how high we’d put that little book of stickers, little boys would scale walls to get them. I don’t even know how they did it, because I had to stand on tiptoe to reach them, but somehow they did, and every single time those stickers ended up in places they shouldn’t have been. On library books. All over the toilet seat. Up on the ceiling.

One time I went into my twins’ room to get them up from their nap and found stickers on their blinds, their closet door, their mirror, their lamp, their dresser, their chair, their bed frame, their door frame, and every available inch of skin. Everywhere. It’s still a mystery how they smuggled the booklet of stickers in with them. I peeled them all off, cursing in my head, but of course the stickers left souvenirs—the white sticky part you have to scrub with alcohol to get off. Who has time for that? I don’t even have time for showering anymore.

Needless to say, there are still some stickers on things. We haven’t scraped them all off, because there are too many of them. And I’d like to save my efforts for the prevention side of things: Keeping stickers out of the house in the first place.

So. No more stickers allowed. For real this time. Unless you want to be the one to come peel them off everything.

In that case, be my guest.

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.

What To Do With the Question: ‘Don’t You Want a Girl?’

What To Do With the Question: ‘Don’t You Want a Girl?’

I have a lot of kids. That’s true any way you slice it up. I have a lot of kids, and I have a lot of boys.

Invariably, when we are out and about as a family, someone will take a look at all these kids who are all boys and stride over to us for one single purpose: to ask the question that burns in the minds of the most curious people.

“Are these all yours?” they’ll say.

We’ll laugh. Yes, we’ll say. These are all ours.

At this point, the conversation can take a number of turns—some of them more fun and entertaining than others. But one of my least favorites is when people reach for the next words they can think to say and those words happen to be: “You were trying for a girl, weren’t you.”

Sometimes people are only asking as a joke or out of curiosity. Sometimes they’re asking with derision decorating their question. I can always tell the difference. But it doesn’t matter with what intent they ask, this question always raises my defenses a little.

Husband and I will look at our wonderful boys and back at the well meaning person—we know they don’t always know what to say. We get that. It’s hard to know what to say to someone who’s made a different choice than you have, and we are quite the spectacle when we are out on the town. We realize all of this, and we try to be gentle and loving in our responses. But we’ll look them straight in the eye and we’ll say, “We were given six boys, and we’re happy about it.”

And our boys, who are always listening, will smile and go on playing.

Here’s the thing. Well meant questions are not always innocent, even if we intend them to be. I learned this back when my oldest was only five, and he said to me on the way to school one day, “If one of us died, you wouldn’t be that sad, would you?”

I was shocked by this question.

“What do you mean, baby?” I said. “Of course I would be sad. I’d be so very sad if I lost one of my boys.”

“But you said you only wanted four, and now you have five,” he said.

The whole world shifted under my feet. I felt unsteady for a moment. I remembered something that I had said as a joke, when another well meaning person had asked the very question that I’ve referenced above. I had just had my twin boys, and we had gone out for our first shopping trip with all of my children—a 5-year-old, a 2-year-old, a 1-year-old, and newborn twins. Husband was with me, for support purposes. Someone fawned over our twins, which was usual in the beginning, and then she stepped back from us and said, “You were trying for a girl, weren’t you.”

Husband and I, weary from lack of sleep and ready to be home in a place where we could relax a bit, laughed a little, and I said, “Well, you know, we thought four kids would be good, and then we got twins.”

My 5-year-old had interpreted this to mean that his daddy and I only wanted four children, and because we got five, we must not have wanted one of them.

So you can see how the question above might damage a boy who is listening. And boys are always listening. I don’t want them to ever think that one of them was unwanted because I longed for a girl. And of course I longed for a girl. Doesn’t every mother long for a daughter? But every mother also takes what she has been given and loves that child wholeheartedly, regardless of gender.

Now I have six boys. I have been able to tell my oldest son, who is 9, that his daddy and I CHOSE to have six. There is no doubt in his mind that they were all wanted. We did our own family planning, and this is the family we were given. I love this family.

But the comments have not ceased. People get quite creative in the way they ask or declare, “Are you going to try for a girl one more time?” “You were just trying for a girl and you got another boy.” “You really should try again.”

As if I am not perfectly and completely satisfied with my tribe of boys. As if I am lacking something.

I lack nothing.

My boys are amazing little people. They are strong, courageous, kind, and they love their mama in a fiercely beautiful way. I wouldn’t have traded any one of them for a daughter.

I used to discourage my boys from answering when people asked their daddy or me if we were trying for a girl. But I let them answer now. And they tell these well meaning people that they did have a sister. She died. And this is true. I am the mother of a daughter. I never got to hold her, but I am still her mother.

I know full well that most of the comments we get are completely innocent and all in jest. People don’t really mean any harm, and even if they do, I prefer to believe they don’t. The problem is that my boys are always listening, so I have to reframe these curiosities. I have to make sure that my sons always feel valued and know that they were welcome additions to our family, not means to another end—an end we never got to see.

I don’t want my boys to ever apologize for being boys because they think their mama would have been happier with a daughter.

The thing about wanting something—like a daughter—is that we don’t always know what we really need when we’re blinded to what we want. I needed boys so that I could become more comfortable with myself and who I am and what my body looks like. I needed boys so that I could give up my high expectations of a perfectly tidy, perfectly clean house. I needed boys so I could loosen up, have a little fun, be a little rowdy and gross if I wanted.

And let me tell you, I have perfected my childhood dreams of becoming the Best Burper at the Table. Which is perfectly alright with me.

This is an excerpt from This Life With Boys, the third 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.

Kids Doing Chores: Is it Worth It?

Kids Doing Chores: Is it Worth It?

Husband and I like to teach our children autonomy so that they can handle doing chores on their own, and, mostly, so that we can have a break from the array of chores plaguing us: washing the dishes, cleaning the bathrooms, taking out the trash, sweeping the floors, mowing the lawn, wiping the table and counters, dusting. All of these chores will be delegated, eventually, and Husband and I will live like the king and queen we are.

But first we have to pay a price.

The problem with autonomy—which children love, by the way—is that before you can actually achieve real and complete autonomy, you have to go through this time period I like to call “Pleasant Practice.” The adjective there is sarcastic.

Here’s what autonomy looks like during Pleasant Practice:

The 4-year-old, who is tasked with wiping the table, will wipe all the crumbs onto the floor, which the 6-year-old is trying to sweep, so the 6-year-old complains the entire time about how he just swept there and can we please make his brother stop wiping food onto the floor, because he’s already asked and his brother keeps doing it and it’s making it really difficult to finish sweeping the floor.

Another 4-year-old, who is tasked with washing the dishes, will pretend he’s washing them but really is just using this “do the dishes” time as an opportunity to get off the bench where he sits for dinner and swing around sharp knives that, to be clear, Mama already had in their proper place inside the dishwasher but that he just had to take out because they’re “in the wrong place.”

The 9-year-old can be found usually pretending he is sick, especially if he is tasked with sweeping the floors this week. No one likes sweeping the floors, but he likes it the absolute least. In three weeks of being tasked with doing it, he’s evaded it twenty times. And that means that he’s been paying us to do it with his own hard-earned money—because a rule in our house is that if you want to skip your chores, you can pay someone to do it for you. I now have twenty dollars I didn’t have before, which means I might be able to go buy myself a right shoe.

The 7-year-old will complain that he always has to do the trash and why does no one else ever have to do the trash, and can he please have a break because his birthday was five months ago and we forgot to give him a day off his chores (no, we didn’t.). Which means all his other brothers will remind us about their birthdays and how we also didn’t give them a day off, either (we did.).

The 6-year-old will then be found smacking the wiping-the-table 4-year-old with the back of the broom, because every time he runs the broom across a square on the floor, another heap of mashed up carrots comes crashing down onto the floor again, because, apparently, the 4-year-old has not quite grasped the Brush It Into Your Hand technique his daddy went over in excruciating detail before handing the sponge back to him. What he’s really doing is trying to wipe off the table as fast as he can so he can be free to terrorize the bathroom, which he will most definitely do when Mama’s trying to wrestle a butcher knife out of the hands of his twin brother. Perfect opportunity provided in this Pleasant Practice.

The 9-year-old, who is this week assigned to wiping down the counters and cabinets, has, by this time, decided to join the fun. He sprays cleaner all over the counters, and no amount of sopping up and wringing out the sponge will soak up that pool. We have to bring in the help of beach towels.

Here’s what we have at the end of Pleasant Practice:

The trash is accidentally dumped out because the one on trash duty tried to pull the bag out of the can and then set it on the floor to tie it, but before he could actually tie it, gravity took hold of it and toppled it on its side. Now there’s a lot of whining and complaining about picking up all that trash on the floor. I can’t help it. Trash is gross. And when all that’s done, there’s a gaping hole in the bag, because Trash Man drags it, instead of carrying it, out to the curb. At least he can find his way home again.

There are significant places that have been missed in the sweeping of the floor, including under the table. Sweeper Man says his arms aren’t long enough to get under the table, and, besides, he thought he’d leave a little to feed the ants.

Plates and bowls and cups look haphazardly arranged in the dishwasher, in no particular order or place.

The counters are still sopping.

And my hand sticks to the table when I foolishly test its cleanliness.

By the time chores are over, Husband and I will often ask each other, “Why do we do this again?” But the answer is simple. We have this fight and undergo this challenge every day because what chores do for kids is they show them they are part of a team, that they are expected to contribute to the current of our family life, and that they can do hard things with enough practice.

Not to mention these are life skills. They need to know how to wash dishes and wipe tables and sweep the floor. That means we have to take the time to teach them and let them practice in their own way.

And, eventually, our role in Pleasant Practice will no longer be needed, and we will, instead, be watching while they clean the kitchen after dinner.

At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m trying to mop up some old mildewed strawberries from the floor because they took out another trash bag and it ripped in their still-novice hands and now I’m left with an even bigger mess to clean up.

One day I’m sure I’ll be glad.

This is an excerpt from This Life With Boys, the third 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 Humorous Speaking Personalities of Children

The Humorous Speaking Personalities of Children

In a house like mine, there are many, many talkers—especially during the summer. I estimate that before the clock strikes 7 a.m., I’ve already heard an average of five trillion words, which typically run in one ear and out the other.

My boys have quite distinctive personalities when it comes to talk. We have Motor Mouth.

This is the kid who never stops talking. He will plant himself right next to your elbow and follow you around as you’re doing the dirty dishes and putting the clean ones away. You’ll have to reach over his head (if he’s not taller than you yet) to get a cup out for his brother, reach around him to throw something away, and reach under him to tie the shoe of his brother so you can get on the road to school, a walk that will contain a billion more words from Motor Mouth while he finishes what he was saying—which he never actually does.

I will regularly trip over this kid as he follows me around talking about his dreams, his plans for today’s stop motion movies, plus the next week’s stop motion movies, and, also, the stop motion movies he’ll make when he’s all the way grown.

He, unlike me, never misses a beat.

We also have The Sloth Speaker.

This is the kid who takes incredibly long to tell a story. He has so many words and stories inside his head that he will often forget what he’s saying in the middle of saying it and either start something new or just look blankly at the wall for a while until he says, “I forgot what I was saying.” He will also interject “um” quite often and will unabashedly prove that he didn’t really consider what he wanted to say before he opened his mouth.

A sentence like, “We did jump ropes in P.E. today” will take him at least five minutes to get out—not only because he will use all kinds of extraneous words but also because of all the excruciating pauses where he has to gather what he wants to say. There are just too many words flitting about in this boy’s brain.

Then there’s The Broken Record.

You can probably imagine that there are many interruptions in our house. The Broken Record is the kid who will start over completely when he’s interrupted—even if he was almost finished with his original story. We live in fear that someone will interrupt him when he’s 12,000 words in and he’ll start over from scratch.

Next we have Mr. Know-It-All.

This honor belongs to one of my 4-year-olds, because of course he’s been around long enough to know everything about the world, and then some. He will speak matter-of-factly on every subject imaginable, even if it’s to say something like this: “One of these days I’ll be older than you.” That’s not possible, son. But I can’t tell him this. He knows everything, and no one can convince him otherwise, even if they’ve been around longer and have done more research on whatever he’s claiming to know about.

Then there’s the delightful Random Man.

Random Man is the other 4-year-old in my house. He offers all sorts of random information in random places. If one were to say that it’s time to clean up, he would say that did you know his brother went over to Logan’s house yesterday? If you tell him we’re going to read a story, he will tell you that he’s not wearing any underwear today. If you tell him thank you for the flower he just gave you, he will tell you that he threw up last night (it was actually three weeks ago, concerned kindergarten teacher.)

His teacher is going to have so much fun next year with Random Man in her class.

The last boy in my house is affectionally called The Sage.

This is the kid who often seems random but is, instead, profound. Sometimes what he says is so profound that we can’t even understand him. It could be because he’s only 2, but I like to think it’s because he has a lot of wise words to say. Everyone gets quiet when he speaks, too—they all know he has something significant to say.

The other day I was cooking dinner, and Motor Mouth came up to tell me about the stop motion video he’d recorded. Sloth Speaker tapped me on the shoulder, and, while Motor Mouth was still in the middle of his never-ending story, said, “I…uh…I…I uh…I was…uh…running around outside and I…uh…fell down and I uh….scraped…I uh….scraped…” He looked lost for a minute and then said, “I scraped my elbow” and held up a bleeding elbow.

“Oh my gosh,” I said. “Let’s get that taken care of.”

I tripped over Motor Mouth on my way to the bathroom, where Broken Record came in and said, “I saw…I saw the…I saw the whole…I saw the whole thing…I saw the whole thing and…I saw the whole thing and it…I saw the whole thing and it looked…I saw the whole thing and it looked like it hurt.”

Know-It-All came in and said, “He’s going to bleed to death. That’s too much blood.” Sloth Speaker started freaking out, so I took matters into my own hands.

“You’re 4,” I said. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m wearing three pairs of underwear and four socks on each foot,” said Random Man.

“You’re wearing twenty socks?” said Know-It-All.

“Spider!” said The Sage. He pointed. The room stilled and then exploded. We did what we always do when we see spiders—we ran away screaming.

Well, most of us ran away screaming—all except for Motor Mouth, who ran away still talking.

The Whole World’s a Canvas (Especially When It Has Walls)

The Whole World’s a Canvas (Especially When It Has Walls)

Before we welcomed our first son, we took great time and care to write a Bible verse on the wall of his room, a verse about being strong and courageous and favored, and then we meticulously painted half the wall mustard yellow and the other half a rich blue, because our baby was going to be surrounded by bold colors that would awaken the artist within him.

Or some nonsense like that.

And then, the first time he had quiet time in his room with crayons, those walls we’d worked so hard to paint and decorate were covered with primitive cave drawings.

We patiently painted over his drawings and explained to him that walls were not for drawing pictures on, but he could use paper, and he could have all the paper he wanted, and he said he understood, and he never did it again. And then we had more children, and our hands were so busy trying to keep them all out of the trash and the toilet and the garage where all the junk lives, for now, that occasionally our attention would shift and one kid would break free from parent eyes and before we knew it they’d colored an entire wall red.

And of course we couldn’t just forbid them to use crayons, because how would they find their artistic expression if we set them in front of a blank sheet of paper without any drawing supplies and said, “Use your imagination”? But we really didn’t want to see all our walls covered in scribbles that could have been a plant or a tiger or something else entirely, like maybe the wind.

It quickly became an impossible thing to regulate, this art and drawing time, because as soon as you took the crayons away from one 3-year-old twin, the other one was having his heyday on the stairs with a slab of red oil pastel, and before you knew it there were curly lines and flourishes leading all the way to your bedroom door, and it would just take too much effort to clean it up. So instead of cleaning up, we gave up.

Of course they know, still, that walls are not for drawing on. But when a new mural shows up, we hardly notice anymore. Eventually, we plan to turn all the walls into hand-painted murals, assigning each boy a wall when they can draw a whale that actually looks like a whale, and we’ll take great pride in our artistic walls. For now, we’ll just be content with a preview of what’s to come: spiders that are supposed to be humans, scribbled all over the twins’ closet walls with a crayon they keep hidden God knows where. A red door, courtesy of the 6-year-old when he was 3. A bathroom door with blue pen scribbles that, when you turn your head a certain way, might just look like letters, which the 5-year-old drew when he was 3. (If you haven’t noticed, there seems to be a recurring age at which our walls are decorated by budding artists. Seems my kids decide to be wall artists right about the time they turn 3. That’s precisely what makes 3-year-olds so delightful, I suppose.)

It doesn’t matter who did it, no one will fess up, and most of the time I know exactly who it was, because it’s usually the kid who wears the age of 3, as I’ve already mentioned. My guess is that 3-year-olds are right in that maddening time when they understand that drawing on the walls isn’t allowed but are just young enough to still have zero impulse control when they see a blank spot on the wall that most definitely, no questions asked, no consequences considered, needs to be filled with color. They also seem to think a green scribble would look nice on the floor between the red wine stain my aunt left me one Christmas and the oil spot Husband accidentally made one day when he came in looking like the underside of a car. And they clearly, as if all that isn’t enough, think the couch needs some swirly lines, but they’ll need a permanent marker for that, thanks for asking.

I thank my lucky stars every time I see a drawing and it’s either chalk or crayon, because at least these things are washable if we actually have the energy to pick up a rag, but permanent marker, well, the answer to that is in the name. We try hard to keep permanent markers away from the kids, but somehow they always turn up. They contribute to things like turning a yellow shirt into a black-and-yellow-striped shirt. They make whiskers on cheeks and hair on a forehead, so one of them will go to school looking like a lion, and you’ll have to send a note to his teacher. They mark notes on the piano keys, “because it helps me remember which is which,” said the one who should have known better.

Kids will always find permanent markers. And I’m telling you, you’ve never known terror until you notice a permanent marker is missing from the place it was just a few minutes ago. Who has it? What are they doing with it? And worse: What are they planning to do?

We will knock ourselves out trying to find it, and we will not be able to until that next great masterpiece shows up on the bookshelf. How fortunate. There’s the marker. Right next to the self portrait that looks like a caterpillar.

Unexpected drawings on all the surfaces of a home—they are the highlight of a parent life. Who else gets to talk about fine art in all the places you would least expect, like the bathroom, when you’re sitting on the toilet and notice a new masterpiece on the wall in front of you. Who else gets to call the artist right in and ask them what they were thinking and actually get the answer? Who else gets to call said artist Son or Daughter?

We’re surely privileged people.

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.