The Follow Through
It was not an easy night at the Bailey casa.
Some background: Our sweet Peyton has many gifts, but neatness is not one. She constantly leaves what I call "Pieces of Peyton" in her wake--hair clips, popcorn kernels, socks, a stack of Junie B. Jones books, a random Uno card. Because she is the baby of the family, and I've let go of some of my high-strung-neat-freak tendencies, she's gotten off pretty easy (don't judge me). But in the last year, I've realized that we are raising a borderline slob. So for the sake of her future college roommate, I decided it was time to get serious.
We have been working with Peyton on cleaning up after herself over the past year, and it's become apparent that the girl is fully capable of being neat when she wants to be, but if she's not in the mood then she would rather not bother (it's kind of a theme with her). We've tried everything: sticker charts, jars of coins, taking away TV time...it's two steps forward and three back. But today I had to bring out the big guns--the trash bags.
Peyton had a menagerie of stuffed animals and dolls lined up in the middle of her bedroom floor this afternoon. I think they were her students as she played teacher (precious, I know). I sweetly told her to make sure and clean them up when she was finished playing, "Okay, Mom," she said with a smile.
An hour later I walked into her room and the dolls were still assembled in the classroom while she had moved on to her art projects.
Me: "Peyton, remember to pick this up."
Pey: "I want to sleep with all of them."
There were 30 stuffed animals and an assortment of dolls, so I quickly put an end to that idea (I'm so mean). We negotiated the number down to 8 that she could sleep with. I told her to put the rest up. I came in later and they were in a pile in the middle of her floor--still not put away.
This is when I upped the ante. "Peyton, if you don't put these up, I'm going to put them all in trash bags. I'm tired of telling you to pick up your mess."
While Peyton was taking a bath, I walked into her room and stumbled on the pile right where I found it a few hours before. Since she was not in the room, I had some time to think through the scenarios:
A. I let this go because I really don't want to deal with a meltdown on the last night of Spring Break. Maybe she needs one more chance.
B. I get the trash bags and follow through because that's the only way this child will learn that I mean business.
I admit that A seemed like the easier option, but I chose B because I'm the one who put the threat out there and so it was my job to make good on it. I waited until she was out of the bathtub and then I handed her the empty trash bag and said (rather calmly, I might add), "Do you remember what I said was going to happen to your toys if you didn't pick them up?"
The response was not pretty.
There were lots of tears and hysteria and "Mommy, please don't do this! I don't want you to do this!" as we scooped a slew of Disney princesses (sorry, Anna and Elsa and Rapunzel) and stuffed animals into that trash bag. I frantically scanned the pile for Bunny, Pey's beloved bedtime companion, but found her sitting neatly on the bed. I said a quick prayer of thanks that she was not in that pile because I would have had a meltdown of epic proportions on my hands.
"Are you going to throw them away?" Her face turned panic-stricken. This is where I had to draw the line. I never said anything about throwing them away (thankfully), so I showed some mercy.
"No. They are going to sit in Barbie's room for a week and you are going to earn them back. When you start cleaning up your messes like a big girl, then you can have them back. But until I see some improvement on this, they will stay in trash bags." I wondered if I was going too soft. How could I throw Anna and Elsa and Rapunzel away?
A fresh wave of tears appeared. "But a week is so long without them! This is awful!" Okay, this just might work.
After she calmed down and we talked about how she was going to get her beloved princesses and animals back, it was time for bed. We were both exhausted.
"Mama, will you still read to me tonight?"
"Of course, Pey." She brought me this book, and my heart melted.
"Is there a reason why you picked this one tonight?"
Here's why she picked it: it's our special story that helped us get through her tough toddler years. It's the story of a mischievous little monkey who does not always make good choices. After one too many rounds of mischief, his Mama loses her temper and shouts "You naughty monkey!"
Here's what happens:
And then this happens:
Parenting is HARD. It's one of those things that you hear about and think, "yeah, yeah, yeah," but until you are in the throes of it--on the battlefield, weary and worn--that's when the magnitude of it all hits you. And you have to make so many decisions on the fly, in the heat of a moment when emotions are high and logic is sometimes in short supply.
I'm not writing this to hold myself up as some Super Mom because I followed through on a threat. The fact of the matter is that I fail at this Mom Thing on a daily basis. I lose my patience; I yell; I am not always "present" in the moment; I take my precious girls for granted when I shouldn't. But I'm not going to give up, and I will always apologize to my girls and admit when I'm wrong because I often am.
But not tonight.
So Anna and Elsa are confined to a trash bag for a week. They survived all those years being locked up in the castle, so I'm sure they can survive this. They can write a song about the experience, and it will be the next big hit.