Tide and Toys
by Scott Warner
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.
our house was no longer our own. At least, Sam’s hearing was fine.
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.”
we tried organization. The boys didn't pick up their toys, we reasoned,
because they didn't know where to put them.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
waded into the playroom and accused, “Slobs!”
boys stopped, their little people suspended between the
bed and the jaws of waiting dinosaurs. Sam seriously replied, “We’re not slobs,
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.”
flung up his arms and hooted, “Never!”
Alex, agreed. “Neva-a-a-h!”
they both proclaimed with considerable panache and fair
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
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.