Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Twist on Seinfeld's Soup Nazi Episode ("No Soup For You!")

Tired of Matthew's bedroom looking like a category one hurricane had hit it, I implemented a new policy about six weeks ago: no tv until his room was clean. Now, Matthew is only allowed 20-30 minutes of tv per day (with some exceptions for an occasional family movie night), but these few minutes are thoroughly enjoyed by both of us - him for the content, me for a few minutes to get something done. It was a great plan and it has been working brilliantly. Morning after morning I've been enjoying the walk past Matthew's room on the way downstairs: seeing toys put away; books piled neatly; CDs in the organizer; etc. It's made me smile every time, to the point where I'd become quite proud of this new rule and had begun to believe that I was a truly inspired mother in this department (while humbly recognizing that I need greater wisdom in other areas!).

Six days ago, things changed. I did my usual walk-by last week Wednesday morning, ready to open the blinds and smooth the blanket out and, to my surprise, what I saw was toys scattered all over the floor, books strewn across the entire (double) bed, crafts in various stages of completion providing pattern to the carpet alongside the tape and scissors, and a half-built tinkertoy structure balancing precariously against the dresser. My smile, already on my face in anticipation of pleasure, froze, and I asked Matthew what was going on. His response: "Mom I've decided not to watch tv today so I'm not going to clean my room." My response: "uh, hmm, well, ok, I think." Deciding that I needed a moment to think, I abandoned my stammer and fled downstairs. There I mentally sifted through my options and finally concluded that YES, we would stick to the plan (I may have pumped my fist in the air to reinforce my determination) - after all, I reasoned, it would be a good learning experience for him when he wanted to watch his tv allotment later in the day and had to clean his room first. Calmed back into my zen state and relieved that my parenting strategies were still working, I went about my day with Matthew.

As we went up to get ready for bed that evening and entered his messy room, I realized with surprise that Matthew had not once asked to watch tv that day. Oh well, I thought, tomorrow would resolve the issue. But it didn't. Again the walk-by in the morning, somewhat tentative this time, and again the disappointment when I saw what his room looked like. When asked about what was going on with his room, Matthew's response was that he didn't need to watch tv today - he'd just spend that time playing with me. "Wow," I said through deliberately unclenched teeth. "That sounds fun." Hmm. This wasn't just disappointment I was experiencing, I thought as we walked downstairs - looming not far behind was a sense of panic. I suddenly realized how much I valued those few precious moments every day and how much I needed a break from being the playmate. More than that, I was an idiot I was for thinking that I had parented Matthew appropriately so that he (unlike other kids) would regularly have a tidy room. I'd even told my sister and a couple of friends about my new clean-room strategy for Matthew and had boasted about how well it was working...having seen their kids' rooms, perhaps they might want to give this strategy a go, too??

It's now Tuesday of the next week and Matthew's room no longer looks like category one storm...it's been upped to a category three (defined by weather networks as having the potential to cause extensive damage). He has not watched tv during these six days and my parenting skills are notably less clever than they were prior to last Wednesday. On several occasions during the past few days, desperate for a few moments of tv-induced calm, I have resorted to suggesting to Matthew that surely he would enjoy a few minutes of watching tv and that all he had to do was clean his room. Yesterday I even told him that I would consider letting him watch a movie (during the day!) but that he would, of course, have to clean his room first. Calmly, happily, even cheerfully, Matthew has resolutely said that no, he's ok not watching tv - in fact, he says, he's actually enjoying not watching tv anymore. Of course, all I hear in that whole sentence is the word "anymore" and wonder if this actually means that he never intends to watch any more tv (or clean his room, for that matter).

So much for my parenting skills. I am the mother who has always professed that my child(ren) would never watch much tv and have felt good about this decision. Now, though having accomplished this end goal, I am reduced, in order to enforce the rule that I myself established in order to have his room tidy, to begging my child to watch the idiot box...and still he won't. Somewhere there is humour in this situation.

Incidentally, earlier today I was out weeding the flower gardens in the backyard and, as per my usual habit, I simply piled the weeds on the grass as I worked through the beds. When I was done, there was a winding trail of weeds on the grass following the path of the neighbouring soil. The only problem with this pile-up practice is that I tend not (ever?) to clean them up afterwards, preferring that Geoff do this task for me; after all, I reason, I'm doing the actual work, I'm sure Geoff won't mind just tossing them into the garbage. Well, in fact, Geoff does mind, and gets annoyed with me about it from time to time. So today I decided to warn him by emailing him at work (less chance of a blow-up that way) that I'd been weeding and that, as usual, I'd left the pulled weeds on the lawn. His smiling response, in a twist of one of my favourite Seinfeld episodes, was to email back a few minutes ago with his own dictate: "no tv for you!"

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