Okay, listen. I know what it looks like over there…
The puzzle pieces snaking ominously under the couch; the two dozen stickers clustered in random patches on the hardwood floor; the throw blankets flung like felled opossums across the rug, smothering entire villages of Legos and tiny plastic things that go with other tiny plastic things but you can’t remember which goes with which and there aren’t containers anymore, if there ever were, so the floor has become the container.
You need to sit down and look away. I understand. You know what? Lie down! Don’t sit. Sitting is for people who might want to stand up later. That’s not you!
You don’t need to stand up again for a good while. You’ve had a day. I don’t know what kind of day, but I know you’ve had one, because your family room has been desecrated by however many beloved children you’ve birthed, and either you were home to witness it, or at work managing other messes.
Either way, you’re, what…12 hours in and your children aren’t asleep yet. You do not need to clean your family room tonight. You do not need to straighten up someone else’s mess right now.
Of course you’ll need to at some point. That’s what parenting is. Probably 40 to 60 percent of parenting on any given day is this – cleaning up after people to whom such work cannot be trusted. That’s parenting, and also adulthood, it turns out, when there are “children” in charge.
But you don’t have to think about that tonight! You can take tonight off precisely because you can’t take tomorrow off, or the next day, or the day after that, or probably any day for the rest of your life. But don’t worry about it right now.
You might not know this, but if you don’t clean up your family room tonight, guess what? Nothing will happen. Nothing bad will happen, and nothing good either. The room will just REMAIN MESSY. That’s all! There is no punishment for not cleaning your family room tonight. You can just go to a different room and avoid it. Or you can wade through it blindly and pretend it isn’t there.
Yes. You. Can. And you should.
While you’re at it, have an ice cream pop, the kind with chocolate and almonds on the outside. Fill up one of your living room bins (the contents of which is strewn across the floor) with hot water and put your feet into it. Sing “Cranes in the Sky” softly and earnestly to no one.
Sweep everything off the coffee table using only your calves. Stare up at your ceiling fan with the kind of wonder you normally reserve for your children being adorable or for the guy at the bagel store when he tells you they have NOT run out of pumpernickel everything bagels and you may have one, or even two, if you want!
Float past the detritus – clearly evidence of how freely and joyfully your progeny plays (or of your inability to rein the monsters in, but don’t think about that…not tonight!) – until you have arrived at your bed. There might be chocolate on your face, perhaps a Colorform on the sole of one foot, possibly the tiny wheel of a tiny broken car has gotten wedged between two toes, but, I ask you:
Don’t you feel lighter? Has shrugging off one small yet not insignificant responsibility eased your load tonight? Has it sent you toward sleep restored, renewed, refreshed by the burden you refused to bear?
Oh, no? You’re just thinking about how you have to pick it all up in the morning? And that’s stressing you out now, so you’re actually going to go back to the family room and just deal with it because, whatever, it’ll take five minutes, 10 tops, right? Maybe you’ll listen to a podcast while you do it?
Okay. That’s actually not a bad idea. Be there in a minute.