Tide and Toys

by Scott Warner

My wife said one day when our children were little, “I’m worried about Sam. He doesn’t seem to hear well.” I asked why but didn’t catch her answer. Just then, Sam appeared. I said in a commanding voice, “Clean up your room!” and he patted the cat. I stuck my head between the couch cushions and uttered “cookie” so softly that even I couldn’t hear it. As soon as my head was out, Sam demanded his cookie, slack jawed as a starving sparrow. En route to the pantry, a toy soldier bayoneted my foot and a little car stubbed my toe. I found the cookies on the pantry floor between a stuffed frog and a phalanx of Happy Meal toys.

Clearly, our house was no longer our own. At least, Sam’s hearing was fine.

An infinite number of child psychologists at an infinite number of typewriters might eventually type a phrase that would make the boys pick up their toys. Of simpler means, we called our parents, who between guffaws uttered something about “payback.”

First, we tried organization. The boys didn't pick up their toys, we reasoned, because they didn't know where to put them.

The next day, my wife bought a dozen plastic bins at Wal-Mart. We spent a long Saturday meticulously categorizing the toys using a system I devised on a computer spreadsheet. Hours later, the entire volume of play room toys had been reduced to a small corner of neatly stacked bins. Sam and brother Alex listened raptly as we proudly explained our new system. They swore by all that was animated to follow it and acted thrilled that their lives were finally so well ordered.

My wife and I poured ourselves champagne as we stood on the deck and toasted our brilliance against the setting sun. I talked about writing an article for publication about the idea, because, surely, clueless parents elsewhere needed our help. My wife talked about walking around the house in bare feet.

We went back inside. The living room was overrun by plastic dinosaurs and potato people, the latter holding the high ground on the back of the couch. The sinks were full of Batmen and plastic boats. A river of toy trucks, plastic tools, action figures, toy space ships, and board game pieces flowed from the play room to the upstairs hallway. The new bins had disappeared.

Next, we decided to lead by example. “I always did what my parents did, not what I was told,” I boasted, and my wife didn’t immediately phone my mother to verify my claim. We called the children and announced that all of us would pick up the toys. They cheered. The four of us set to work in high spirits. Six minutes later, something crashed in the kitchen. My wife and I were alone.

“Did your parents ever try leading by example to get you to pick up your room?” my wife suspiciously asked. We finished cleaning up and hoped our refrigerator would still have food in it when we went downstairs for dinner.

Logically, it seemed that our next strategy, denying parental approval, that most valued of childhood possessions, couldn’t fail.“ The children will be devastated when we don’t approve,” my wife theorized. It was unfair to use their emotions against them, but this was War.

I waded into the playroom and accused, “Slobs!”

The boys stopped, their little people suspended between the bed and the jaws of waiting dinosaurs. Sam seriously replied, “We’re not slobs, Dad.”

“Oh, yes, you are,” I corrected him. “Take this room, for example. It’s disgusting. You’re to clean it immediately. Your mother and I are not happy with you.”

Sam flung up his arms and hooted, “Never!”

“Never!” Alex, agreed. “Neva-a-a-h!” they both proclaimed with considerable panache and fair harmony.

I’m not proud of it, but when all else failed I threatened to throw away their toys. They howled and I felt guilty, but not a toy moved. Indeed, they consistently and effectively thwarted all our plans without the slightest hint of moving even one toy.

In the end, we happily gave up. Logic, after all, is silly in a world ruled by handshakes sticky from juice and coded messages scrawled in crayon. Here on the coast of Maine, the Moon’s pull makes the sea drop shells and seaweed on the rocky shore. My boys scamper nimbly among the rocks. Out of the house, it’s hard to believe that they’re responsible for such domestic disharmony. I’ve been watching the toys, however, with my copy of the Farmer’s Almanac handy. I’m pretty sure the sea isn’t the only thing the Moon affects.

About the Author: 
Scott Warner is the father of two young boys and a free-lance writer residing in Lincoln, Maine. He is a frequent contributor to All About Baby & Child Magazine.


Copyright 2002 All About Baby& Child
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