Most of the little bit of picking up that gets done around here gets done by yours truly. I’m well past the ‘It’s not my job’ mentality, but every once in a while I like to use the naturally messy petrie dish we call home as, well, a petrie dish. My contribution to behavioral science this week consisted of observing how long a discarded sock would remain on the floor under a child’s chair before somebody – not me – was motivated to move it to the hamper. By Saturday morning the sock under the chair was in danger of evolving into a life form, so, before we headed out to breakfast at our favorite diner, I notified the troops that we would be cleaning when we got home. Little did I know that out of drudgery could come enlightenment.
There’s nothing like the threat of impending chores to bring out the best restaurant manners in our boys, but not even the carefully folder napkins in their laps or a moratorium on Sound Effects Theatre on the way home from breakfast were going to save them yesterday. Before they settled onto the couch, the Big Guy and I issued marching orders. Ignoring their declarations of exhaustion, we dispatched twelve-year-old Goliath to walk the dog and assigned six-year-old Thing2 the task of removing toys from the living room. Our stipulation that they could not be relocated to his bunk (on it or under it) produced a rebellious frown, but he said nothing and set about his task.
The Big Guy began cleaning up green plastic Easter grass, as I tackled the kitchen. I was loading the last plate into the dishwasher when I realized it had become very quiet. I looked around for the boys and noted that Goliath(Thing1) had filled the wood bin and was dutifully putting away videos. All traces of resentment had disappeared as he finished and asked, “What next?”
As I gave him another task, however, I wondered what had happened to Thing2. Toys had disappeared from the coffee table in the living room. Boots were no longer strewn across the floor. But my ordinarily animated six-year-old was strangely silent. I checked his room, but it was still an empty mess. I searched the other end of the house until a grinning Big Guy came to get me.
“You have to see this,” he whispered. I followed him to the kitchen, camera in hand, thinking the cats were doing something funny. The Big Guy led me around the kitchen island to peer into our pantry where Thing2 stood on a step-stool scrubbing the counter top in a yellow tutu.
“Wow,” I exclaimed as I snapped a quick photo, “you are doing an fantastic job.” The cleaning butterfly in our pantry looked up at both of us, a smile painted on his face.
“I cleaned the whole thing,” he said. “And next I’m going to do the counter out there and on the other side of the room and…” and he hopped off the step-stool and flitted to his next task.
Thing2 has many alter egos. Most of the time he’s some form of wig-wearing superhero I like to call SuperDude. He’ll stuff his sleeves with muscles and fairy wings before leaping over a couch with a single bound as he goes forth on his mission to eliminate boredom and from our lives. Today, however, there was just the outfit he’d worn to impress a waitress at the local diner and the yellow tutu.
Later, I wondered what had prompted such a toned-down costume and asked him who was cleaning the pantry yesterday.
“That was me mommy,” he answered.
“That wasn’t a superhero?” I asked.
“No,” he answered.
“So how did you settle on the tutu for a cleaning outfit?” I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me as I tried to divine my six-year-old’s fertile imagination.
“I was putting away the toys in my clothes drawer and couldn’t fit everything in,” he said. “And I saw the tutu at the back and knew it didn’t belong there so I got it out and decided to wear it so it didn’t have to go on the floor.”
Assured by my stunned silence that his logic was sound, Thing2 turned his attention back to the TV, happily leaving me to hover between the wistful acknowledgment that he might be out-growing his alter egos and the recognition that we’ve just begun to discover our youngest son.