With so many children in my house (and home for the summer!), it seems like there’s a fight every other minute. Research has proven that children fight 3.5 times every hour—which, I suspect, seems like every other minute to their parents.
While research tells me this is quite normal, it still doesn’t calm my shattered nerves.
Some fights, of course, are more important than others. Sometimes kids take a toy away from another kid, sometimes they’re arguing over a memory, sometimes they are genuinely trying to work out their feelings and arguing is the only way they can do it.
Sometimes they argue just to argue.
Here are some of the most ridiculous things my kids fight about:
1. How many snacks their brothers have had.
Husband and I are not the kind of parents who let our kids have multiple snacks every day. They have to wait until 3 p.m. until it’s snacking time. And when it’s snacking time, older boys get two snacks, younger boys get one.
The problem is that once Husband or I get started on dinner, the attention lags a little. And then boys start raiding the fridge. If one brother gets an extra snack, another brother wants an extra snack. They fight about who had what, how unfair it is, and how terrible this household is because they’re all starving to death.
It’s one of my favorite fights ever.
2. Who’s going to use the dish wand first.
When our boys finish eating, they are expected to wash out whatever bowls or plates they use. It’s a shame there’s only one dish wand. That means when boys finish their snacks at the same time—or, when they’re in school, they all get home at the same time—they will fight to the death about who gets the dish wand first. I should probably save myself the trouble and just get a couple extra dish wands, but what can I say? I like torturing myself.
Chores also see this delightful little argument, usually because we only have one sponge, and one boy is assigned to wipe off the counters and cabinets while another is assigned to wipe off the tables and chairs. Who’s going to do it first? Depends on who’s fastest or strongest. Because boys.
3. What color their shirt is.
Is it red or maroon, or maybe brick red? This fight can sometimes last up to twenty minutes. Every time I think they’ve resolved it, someone else will throw another color out (thank you, Crayola, for your ten thousand shades), and it will start all over again. This fight will evolve into which shade of red is the best, who has the better color judgement, and who knew their colors best at the youngest age.
What does it matter? They don’t care. They just want to fight.
4. Who put the shoes where.
If my boys are exceptional at one thing (they’re exceptional at more, but they’re really exceptional at this), it’s blaming. They will blame until they’re blue in the face (and they’ll blame someone else for turning their face blue). The most frequent place this blaming can be found is when they’re trying to find their shoes.
They put their shoes where they belong, they say. Their brothers must have moved them.
I know, however, that all of them left their shoes out by the trampoline yesterday, because, even though we reminded them to bring all the shoes inside, they were too tired after jumping for so long. When they shockingly find their shoes out by the trampoline like I said, they will point fingers about which brother is responsible for five pairs of shoes sitting outside. It certainly was not them.
5. Whose LEGO piece it is.
All my boys get different LEGO sets for their birthdays, and they will try their hardest to keep them separate. But, alas, LEGOs like each other, and it’s impossible to keep sets separate, at least in my house. And, also, the pieces for individual sets look mostly the same, with a few exceptions. So when one is holding up a plain yellow LEGO piece, and another sees it and says it’s his, they will fight about it for hours, even though both their sets came with a yellow piece exactly like this one.
I don’t know how they know whose is whose, but they believe they do. And they will not rest until they convince their brother it’s true.
6. Who turned the light on.
The rule in our house is if no one is in a room, the light must be turned off. When I mention this about forty times a day, the boys will fight over who was the first one to turn the light on, unaware that this is not necessary information to have. When I remind them that the responsibility for turning off a light lies on the last one who left room, they will fight about that, too. The one who is first in the room is the one who should turn it off, they say—he’s the one who turned it on in the first place, after all.
I’ll remind them of that when they’re in the middle of peeing and their brother, who was first in the bathroom, turns the light off mid-stream.
7. Which vitamins are better—dark or light.
We have the sort of vitamins that come in two different shades: light mauve and dark mauve. Somehow the boys have gotten it in their heads that the dark ones mean they’re bad and the light ones mean they’re good. We don’t even use this language—good and bad—around our house, but their imaginations have conjured all sorts of ridiculous realities.
If, in the random dishing out of vitamins, one boy gets two dark vitamins, he will cry like the world is ending because he doesn’t want to be bad. He will ask a brother to trade, and thus ensues yet another fight.
I think it’s time to change vitamins.
8. Who gets to sit next to the baby.
Every time we sit down to eat, our boys will fight over who gets to sit next to the baby. At home, we have assigned seating, which is much easier, but out at restaurants or when we’re eating dinner at church, this fight happens with such regularity that I can almost time it.
I, of course, need to sit by the baby in case he chokes while he’s eating. But that other place? Everyone wants it every time. They don’t realize that what usually happens during the course of a dinner is that the baby will turn to them with his messy fingers and try to touch them. They’ve even been the victims of this. It doesn’t matter. They’ll still fight over that coveted place. I guess I should be glad they love their baby brother.
9. Who is responsible for that awful smell.
This is not what you’d expect. Rather than blame the awful smell on someone else, my boys will all willingly take the blame for this one. They are incredibly proud of the smells that come out of their feet, their mouths, or their rear ends, and they will fight over who was responsible for that last one, which, if its odor cloud had a color, would be a perfect blend of green and brown.
The best thing about boys and their constant arguing is that the emotional side of arguing is over almost before it begins. Boys don’t hold any grudges or keep their hurt feelings balled up inside. One minute they’re ready to pound each other’s faces, the next minute they’re tripping each other on the floor for a lively game of “Who Can Stand the Longest.”
Which means I have a few minutes to recover before the next fight breaks out. Exactly what I need to pop a few dark chocolate squares without the scavengers noticing.
It’s the little things.
Kids will believe anything once.
I know, because the other day we told the kids we were going to have a really fun, cool, relaxing day tidying the house. There were a few groans from the older ones, because they’re old enough to know that tidying is work and asking an 8-year-old to lift his finger on the weekend (besides the one that’s taking pictures on his camera) is like asking an elephant to lose a little weight. It’s a death sentence. Or so they think.
But Husband and I had already decided we were going to make this a game. What kid doesn’t like a game? We called it the “Reset Game,” because smart parents don’t include “tidy” or “clean up” anywhere in the title of a game, and we’re nothing if not smart parents. We started playing the Reset Game at 8 a.m., because my kids like to wake up at 6 a.m. on the weekends and burst through our door to tell us they’re starving to death. First we explained the rules: Every time they finished “resetting” in one category—say, clearing all the blankets from the floor—they got to ring a bell and draw a reward from a hat.
Rewards were things like ten minutes of jumping on the trampoline or reading for five minutes or choosing a treat from the list of approved ones or an extra story at their story time of choice.
We started out well. The 8-year-old was tasked with carrying all the dining room table chairs from the living room to their proper place, because the boys had used them to build a fort last night and hadn’t put them back, since their “legs were tired” and they couldn’t walk anymore and especially couldn’t drag chairs to their proper place. The 6-year-old took all the blankets they’d brought outside because it was 89 degrees instead of 107 and put them back on their beds. The 5-year-old worked on the 20 billion Battleship pieces spread out on the floor like a whole battalion of white pegs had exploded in our living room. The 3-year-old twins were picking up all the dirty clothes boys had left lying around in their rush to go “jump on the trampoline in their underwear” (which is not allowed, by the way. We’re just not always paying close attention, because trying to tame wild animals is exhausting.).
The 8-year-old was the first one finished. He rang the bell, and Husband congratulated him and held out the top hat, where all the rewards were folded up into tiny squares.
“A treat!” he said, his eyes wide and excited, as if he hadn’t just inhaled a stack of twelve pancakes drowned in honey. We let him have a bag of Annie’s fruit snacks. He crammed them down and was quick to ask what his next task was.
The 5-year-old finished next, which is impressive, considering the piece-count, but he’s a pretty exceptional child who has never, ever given up when it comes to a seemingly impossible task. He rang the bell and drew his prize.
“Five minutes on the trampoline!” he said. We sent him out the door. Then the twins and the 6-year-old finished at the same time, and there was a traffic jam at the bell, because the bell stopped working when one of the twins touched it, confirming our diagnosis of those two as The Destroyers (think the opposite of King Midas. You know how everything turned to gold when King Midas touched it? Everything breaks when the twins touch it. They don’t even have to touch it. They only have to look at it.). They all drew their papers, but the twins can’t read, so even though I was in the middle of doing the dishes, I had to wipe my hands on my pajama pants and read it for them.
“Treats!” I said. “Everybody got treats.” I looked at Husband. He looked at me. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. What if they drew “treat” more than once? How could we take the “treat” squares out if the 5-year-old hadn’t yet drawn it? Could we blame the luck of the draw? Did we have to play fair? I had already manipulated the numbers, putting one paper with “treat” on it and thirty-six papers with something else on it, because treat was the most dangerous of them all.
The 8-year-old finished his next task and drew a paper. I didn’t even have to guess what his paper said because of the look in his eyes.
“Another treat!” he said.
“Maybe just one now,” I said. Tidying the house wasn’t worth walls coming down from the boys bouncing off them. I opened up the package of fruit snacks and handed only one out to every boy who drew the treat card. Which was every single one of them every single time. I have no idea how they beat the odds. There were six of each of the six different rewards, and they kept drawing the ONE treat paper I’d put in there. I think one of them must have put an invisible magnet on the back of it so every time they reached in, it jumped into their hand.
We went through five packages of fruit snacks. I knew we’d pay for it later.
A couple of them got to jump on the trampoline, and then the “extra bedtime story” started coming around, after I took the “treat” paper out and stuck it in the bottom of the trash can, so we had five extra bedtime stories that night.
By dinnertime, the boys were bouncy balls, laughing about some kind of game that looked like human bumper cars, except without the seat belts, and we had to pull out the megaphone just to get our voices heard above the roar of hilarity. “Time for dinner!” we said.
“We’re not hungry!” they said. Of course they weren’t. They ate their weight in fruit snacks.
But our house looked fantastic.
We sat them down anyway, and it was like eating on a rocket ship. The whole table trembled with their shaking legs and arms and faces. Husband and I looked at each other with the same look on our faces.
Never again, we said.
They wouldn’t go to bed. I wished for the thousandth time that there was such thing as a tranquilizer gun that would send my boys to sleep the exact moment we said, “Okay, time for lights out.” The last one didn’t fall asleep until 12:30 a.m. He says he stayed up all night, but I went in to check on them later, and they were all mouth breathing, their bodies twisted like circus freaks, as if they’d just dropped in the middle of an act—which they probably had.
The next time we tried the “Reset Game,” the boys were less impressed. They had, after all, figured out the point of the game and weren’t quite so thrilled to tidy. It was boring. Hard work. Plus, the treats we were offering this time were grapes. Who would work for grapes? I wouldn’t even do that.
At least I’m raising smart kids.
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 other day I contracted a stomach virus that I had been nursing my boys through, and during my morning shift with the littles, I laid down flat on the floor and tried to live. My stomach was all knotted up, and all I really wanted to do was take a nap. But all the boys wanted was lunch. So lunch it was.
Husband and I haven’t had a day away from our children in much too long. Months without even a date night start weighing on a parent. Parenting is relentless. It’s hard on a marriage, hard on an individual, hard on a life. There’s no day off—even when you’re sick, you have to address behavior issues, keep boys out of the refrigerator, and listen to them complain about the dinner you cooked in between your retching.
Every now and then, though, Husband and I are fortunate enough to take a weekend away from the kids, because our parents start noticing our wild-eyed looks and decide maybe it’s time to step in and save us (thanks, parents!). Every parent needs this temporary time away, because it’s a time of blissful rest when you don’t have to buckle kids if you decide to go somewhere and you can talk to each other without a hundred voices tripping over yours.
Here are some of the things Husband and I do outside of our kids’ presence:
Most of the time we’re so exhausted that even though we would like nothing more than to sit up late and talk the way we used to do pre-kids, we settle into our bed for good conversation and are promptly snoring—or at least I am. And the sleep is nice, because there are no children who may potentially burst into our room in the middle of the night and make me think someone’s come to murder us—which is always where my optimistic mind goes.
We actually get to have a normal conversation when we’re not immediately falling asleep. This conversation is so efficient, compared to all the others when a kid will interrupt a train of thought with a polite but annoying, “Excuse me, Mama” or “Excuse me, Daddy,” as soon as we open our mouths to download what’s been circulating in our brains. I have no idea how children know when their parents are about to talk about something important, but they do.
When the kids are gone, I can read one page one time, instead of one page five times. I can immerse myself fully in another entertaining world. I can crack open a book without fear of a boy cracking open my head when he decides my lap looks like a nice landing place for his leap off the couch.
Take a shower.
There are so many things that can happen when a parent steps into a shower—no matter how short it is. Once, when I got tired of my greasy hair, I decided I’d take a two-minute shower (even set a timer), and returned downstairs to find my kids seated around Monopoly, Risk, and Go Fish, all the pieces arranged in a fashionable board game throw rug. After I sliced my toe on a Lord of the Rings Risk goblin figure and discovered that there were also, delightfully, ten pounds of bananas gone and the 6-year-old turned to me with a blue face and told me he had no idea who had eaten the bananas or the blueberries, I decided that even a two-minute shower wasn’t worth it. Next time I’d spray down my hair in the kitchen sink.
When Husband and I don’t have the kids at home, we will eat out nearly every night they’re away. We do this for two practical reasons:
a. Once you’re used to cooking for a household of eight people, you forget how to cook for two.
b. It’s the only time we can do it without slapping down our entire grocery budget for the month, because feeding eight people a restaurant meal is not cheap. We’re cheap, though, so we save the restaurant meals for when kids are gone.
Sit down for more than two seconds.
When I try to sit down while all the kids are home, someone will tell me I forgot to pour them milk this morning, someone needs a diaper change, and someone else wants the hidden LEGOs out. Not to mention, as soon as I sit down I fall asleep. You don’t want to see what kids do when a parent accidentally falls asleep on duty.
Take your time.
With kids, it seems that everywhere we go is hurry, hurry, hurry. This is because kids do everything slowly—especially putting on their shoes (if they can find them in the first place). But when Husband and I are on our own, we can not only leave the house in record time, but we can also linger over the museum display without worrying that one of the 4-year-olds will wander off into the indigenous people display and come back wearing only a loincloth.
Talk about the kids.
Everywhere we go on a kidless weekend, we talk about our boys and how much we miss them, even though as soon as we pick them up we’ll be ready for the next weekend away. But this is part of the treasure of weekends without children—we remember why we love each other so much and we remember how very much we love our boys.
Mostly we remember that we would not want our life any other way.
Sometimes I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job as a parent. Relationships are good, all those consequences we’ve put into our Family Playbook—a list of infractions and their expected consequences—are well understood, the house is in almost perfect order.
And then my children wake up.
It only takes seconds to realize that they are completely different people today. Not only have they forgotten all the new infractions and consequences we brainstormed yesterday, but they also no longer care about getting to school on time or wearing clean clothes or keeping their room even the slightest bit tidy.
Yesterday my two older boys came down for breakfast fifty minutes before we had to leave for school. Today they were still not eating breakfast ten minutes before we had to walk out the door, and I had to shout my last you’re-not-going-to-get-breakfast warning above the volume of an audio book, because I’m too lazy to walk up the stairs for the sixteenth time (I blame my laziness on my broken foot, which happened a week ago when I gracefully fell down our stairs. And Post Traumatic Stress, which I feel every time I approach stairs).
Yesterday they liked the grilled broccoli and cauliflower and carrots we brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and roasted in the oven. Today they gagged just looking at them.
Yesterday they all sat perfectly still in their separate spaces while their daddy read two picture books and I read a Narnia chapter book and again while we engaged in our ten minutes of Sustained Silent Reading time and then again while we did our meditation breathing and prayer time. We didn’t have to remind them once to get back in their spots or stop talking or that, no, an art journal is not a book you read and, no, the pen in your hand is not necessary during reading time (unless you’re taking notes—which he was clearly not). Today they think reading time means chase-your-brother-around-the-library time.
It’s enough to drive a parent insane.
I’ve often joked that parenting is like living in an insane asylum. But the joke is usually true. Insanity, as defined by Albert Einstein, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
THIS IS WHAT KIDS DO, EVERY SINGLE DAY.
They try to write during story time, even though we’ve told them a billion times it’s not allowed. They try to sneak that LEGO toy into the bath tub, thinking this time will surely be different and we won’t object. They seem surprised that 8 p.m. is lights out, even though nothing has changed in their thousands of nights.
The problem is, our kids are the least consistent people on the planet. Every single day they wake up completely different people.
The bigger problem, though, is that they give us that one little taste of expectation realization, and we think they CAN sit still for two stories and a chapter book. And we keep expecting it every other day.
For as long as we’ve had twins, I have fantasized about two boys napping in the same bedroom for more than an hour and a half. We were spoiled, because our older boys took three-hour naps and could be trusted to sleep in their rooms with their doors closed.
The first time we left the twins for three hours with the door closed, they pulled down the forty-four shirts in their closet, painted walls with their poop, and ate the cardboard pages of Goodnight Moon.
So the next time I set a timer for two hours (because surely they’d just woken up early) and I sat outside their door to work on some deadline material. I could hear them shrieking, but we’d baby proofed everything, and there were only two mattresses on their floor (not even beds, because the twins could destroy furniture in 3.4 seconds). Nothing they could get into. Nothing that would hurt them. Nothing to occupy them for two hours.
They got really quiet, but I didn’t worry. We’re all quiet when we’re sleeping.
When the timer went off, I opened their door and found them sitting on clouds, all the stuffing ripped out of the lone Beanie Boo someone had left in their room.
The next day, I opened their door. I sat right outside. I corrected them when they so much as moved.
AND THEY FELL ASLEEP. FOR TWO WHOLE HOURS.
Oh, thank God, I said. It is possible.
So, of course, the next day, I did the exact same thing. Except as soon as they were asleep, I went to my room to do some more involved work. Two hours later, they had knocked their closet doors off the hinges, strung all their ties from the ceiling fan and neatly lined up their shoes under their mattresses, all with silent feet and hands.
Oh my word.
It’s maddening and confusing and impossible to keep up with these every-day-different children. It’s impossible to know that today the 8-year-old only got seven hours of sleep but will wake up the happiest kid in the world, but tomorrow he’ll get twelve hours of sleep and will wake up gnawing on all the heads he bit off before breakfast. It’s impossible to know that today the 6-year-old will follow all the rules and help with everything around the house, and tomorrow he will wake up a defiant little monster. It’s impossible to know that today the 4-year-old will love reading those books out loud to me but tomorrow he will wake up acting like he’d rather eat spinach than finish the last five sentences of that Little Bear story.
What’s a parent to do?
We just keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results from this insane asylum. Because, you know. Consistency and all.
Also because sometimes it does work, and those times it works might just be enough to power us through the times it doesn’t.
And if they’re not, well. At least there’s red wine. And chocolate.
And a lock on our bedroom door they haven’t learned to pick (yet).
This is an excerpt from Parenthood: Has Anyone Seen My Sanity?, the first book in the Crash Test Parents humor 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.
He’s following me around, trying to tell me about what he did in Minecraft today, as if I care.
I want to care. Of course I do. Minecraft is important to him. I want to care about the things that are important to him. It’s just that it’s 4:30, and I’m trying to cook dinner, and he’s following me around like a shadow, talking. Incessantly talking. About Minecraft.
The water is boiling over, because I keep tripping over him on my quest to reach it and turn down the heat. The back door is open, because someone ran out and neglected to remember they weren’t born in a stable (though the house resembles one). The twins have noticed that Mama is otherwise engaged—and, unfortunately, not just with dinner. That’s an easy one. I can still hear what they’re doing when I’m focusing on the preparation of dinner. But when there is an endless drone in my ear, reciting every part of his Minecraft adventure today? A few things slip through the cracks. Right now, they’re cutting their shirts into tiny little pieces while I crack the spaghetti in half, drop it in the boiling water, and try not to poke my drone in the eye.
Welcome to Minecraft motherhood.
This boy has always had a lot to say. He started talking when he was two because he didn’t want to waste any time. Back then he talked about simple things—what he was reading in his science books (which was always interesting to me), expounding on metaphors when he felt angry (“These are my missiles!” as he pointed at his arms), and offering unique and creative observations on the world around him (“This tree bark looks like your belly.” Thanks, kid.).
Now he has entered a stage I’ve heard is pretty typical for boys his age: Minecraft. We don’t allow him to play often, of course, just an allotted time—half an hour—every day if he so chooses. He always chooses. He also always chooses to talk about Minecraft for about five times as long as he gets to play it.
I try to listen. I really do. I tell myself that if I don’t listen to these seemingly small things, he will not trust me to listen to the large things. It’s just that I’ve never been interested at all in video games. When my brother would spend hours in front of the Nintendo back when we were kids, I chose to pull out my mother’s volumes of Emily Dickinson poetry and Shakespeare masterpieces (what can I say? I was the very definition of nerd from a very early age).
So, inevitably, when my son talks nonstop about Minecraft for four hours, my eyes glaze over a bit. I’m way, way out of my league, even though I spent years as a reporter and you’d be surprised at the long tangents people would take when a reporter stood in front of them.
Most of the time I have no idea what he’s talking about, so I play along. He’s so excited. I try to follow suit and act excited, too. I fail just about every time.
I want my son to know that he is heard, that I love him, and that he can talk to me about anything. Ideally, I’d like that “anything” to be something more like friends or school concerns or his anxiety or his budding interest in girls (no, not really—not yet). I would rather not listen to twelve thousand words of uninterrupted Minecraft talk. If I’m not careful, I can begin to think that the only thing he cares about is Minecraft. But that’s not true. He cares about other things—his brothers, his health, me (“I’ll get you a Shel Silverstein poetry book for your birthday Mama,” he said the other day—the first break in Minecraft-speak in three hours).
Even if it’s not ideally what I want to hear about, at least he’s talking. And because I want to make sure that line of communication always stays open, I pretend to listen, ask questions every now and then, and smile when I think he’s finished (he never really is—the smile only encourages him to say more).
Meanwhile, the twins have now taken the scissors to their brother’s homework—and quite deftly, I might add.
Ah, well. At least the house isn’t burning down around us…yet.
It’s a celebratory day when kids are able to buckle their own seat belts and pour their own glasses of milk and bathe themselves and cook their own food (wait, when does this happen again? I’M READY ANYTIME, KIDS).
When they’re little, we spend so much of our days doing every single thing for them that every tiny little mastery feels like a major victory.
But in order for them to learn how to do things for themselves, in order for them to achieve autonomy, there is this frightening limbo between beginning and mastering when we must let them practice.
I say it’s frightening, because I know. Here’s what working toward autonomy looks like in our home:
The 8-year-old: Check the level on the milk. If it’s less than half-filled, overcorrect, because you got this. If it’s too full, try anyway, and spill a whole ocean where you can let your Lego man swim before you try to clean it up, because, well, it’s fun. And by cleaning it up, you mean wiping it toward the floor so it soaks not only the counter but inside the drawers and cabinets, too. Conveniently forget to clean up the spills you can’t see so your mom will find them—not with her eyes, but with her nose—three days later.
The 5-year-old: Only pour from a gallon that is less than half-filled, because you’re careful like that.
The 4-year-old: Pour anytime you feel like it, but do it from the floor. Wipe up the mess you’ve made with a paper towel but no cleaner so the stickiness will steal someone’s socks tomorrow. Laugh hysterically when it does.
The 8-year-old: Tie one, and then get really frustrated when the other one doesn’t tie as easily because everyone is talking. Tell everyone to be quiet so you can concentrate and then try again. Tell them to quit looking at you. Make three good attempts, and then take off your shoe that just won’t tie today and throw it across the room. Say you’ll go to school with only one shoe on. You don’t care. Change your mind five minutes before you’re supposed to leave, after you’ve forgotten where the offending shoe landed when you threw it. Your dad will find it and help you put it on. Unless you call him a git (British term, mildly derogatory, made popular by Harry Potter. Means “a foolish or contemptible person”).
The 5-year-old: Don’t even try. Your mom will do it.
8-year-old: Look in your room for your agenda. Complain that you can’t find it, even though it’s sitting just beside your desk, right by the four thousand Lego pieces you dumped out last night and “forgot” to clean up. Say it’s gone forever. Say someone must have stolen it. Say you’ll never be able to write down your school assignments again. Ever. Say “You must have moved it,” when your mom comes downstairs with it.
5-year-old: Let your mom know you can’t find your red folder, then laugh when she pulls it out from under your lunch box, the same place it always is in the mornings, because it’s waiting for you to pack it up.
Sweeping the floor
8-, 5- and 4-year-olds: Only sweep a square area of four tiles across and four tiles down. Don’t even try to get under the table, where all the food is. It’s too hard, and your knee is hurting. You think you might have broken it.
Wiping the table
8-, 5- and 4-year-olds: Use the sponge to push all the extra food to the floor. Be sure to leave streaks all over the table because you didn’t want to use the cleaner OR leave a lake because you had a little too much fun spraying the cleaner and the sponge is too soaked to absorb any more excess.
8-, 5- and 4-year-olds: All the silverware must fit into as few slots as possible, even though there are six slots and three that are still empty. There is no rhyme or reason to putting dishes in; just throw them randomly in whatever space is available. After all, the dishwasher is like a car wash for plates and bowls. Don’t worry, Mama. It’ll all get clean.
Putting laundry away
8-year-old: Hanging clothes don’t have to be hung up, exactly. They can be stuffed into the underwear drawer, because it’s not full, and all the other random empty drawers in the room.
5-year-old: Don’t pay attention to the labels your mom put up in the closet. Just put your clothes wherever you feel like putting them, even though you share your closet with two other brothers. That way, when you dress for school, you’ll have a legitimate reason for dressing in a shirt two sizes too large. “It was on my side,” you’ll say.
4-year-old: Get mad trying to hang up shirts, and throw your hangers across the floor so some of them break and your parents will help you hang up the rest.
2-year-olds: Rearrange (and by rearrange, you mean empty) the pajama drawer eight times a day because your parents let you put clothes in it once.
Putting on shoes
2-year-olds: It doesn’t matter if shoes don’t match or if they’re different sizes. Just put them on. Shoes are shoes are shoes. Stop trying to match them and put them on the right feet, parents.
Cleaning your room
8-year-old: Make sure all the books that are supposed to go on the bookshelves in your room end up on your bed instead. That way your mom won’t be able to find the library books when they’re due. Push everything else in the closet and shut the door. You don’t need the closet anyway, now that all your clothes are stuffed in drawers.
8-, 5- and 4-year-olds: You really only need to wash your hair, your belly and your feet. Everything else is already magically clean.
8-year-old: Who cares if the sweatpants you’re wearing aren’t yours but belong to your 2-years-younger brother and look more like capris than pants? They were in your room, stuffed in a drawer, so they’re obviously YOURS. Make sure you leave your pajamas on the floor so they won’t make it into the laundry and you can complain two days after laundry day that you don’t have any more pajamas. Also, make sure you forget to put your shoes on before getting in the car, because you just know there’s a pair in the car (there isn’t). And don’t check to be sure until you arrive at your destination.
I know that eventually they will get good at all this, because practice makes perfect.
This is an excerpt from Parenthood: Has Anyone Seen My Sanity?, the first book in the Crash Test Parents humor 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.