Sunday, July 28, 2013


It was a long time coming, really.

I'd grown tired of the nagging, the empty threats, the vain promises that toys would disappear if they weren't cleaned up. The kids were tired of it, too. I'd made some halfhearted attempts to show them I was serious, but they just weren't getting it.

So in an effort to show them that I meant what I said, and to get them to take my threats seriously, I committed to taking my threats seriously. And I began following through on my promises.

I asked them to clean up the blocks, and they didn't obey the first time. So the blocks went away.

I asked them to clean up the trucks, and they failed to complete the task. So the trucks went away.

I asked them to clean up an assortment of other things that were strewn about the house at various times, and they whined and complained. So the other things went away.

They're learning to obey right away, all the way, with a happy heart. It's a tough lesson to learn, but I'm determined to help them as best I can. (I have a wise mentor to thank for this bit of wisdom.)

In a matter of mere days, we were down to a very limited collection of toys. And it didn't take long before the shelves in the playroom were nearly empty but for our library of children's books and a few baby toys that Levi was not expected to clean up on his own.

They were bored, but they were starting to understand that I meant what I said.

And then, something magical happened. Something I never saw coming. Something that will make me rethink every giving them their toys back.

First, without the distraction of so many things to fight and argue over, they began to play well with one another. Really, really well. It's as if they understood that with only a few things to play with, they would have to work together if they were to have any fun at all. It may have helped that in making myself "Mommy, the Toy Eater," as they called me, my children were also now united against a common enemy.

Next, they got creative. Caleb, in particular, excelled at this stage of toylessness. He set to work drawing trucks and cars and boats and sharks. He enlisted his sister--the only one with permission to use scissors--to cut them out for him. He requested my help in making a "shark pocket" out of a large piece of paper, then used tape and some ribbon to make handles for it. He's built up quite a collection of paper vehicles and paper sharks of all varieties, and keeps them safely stored away in his shark pocket when they're not being played with.

"They're in my shark pocket, Mommy," he'll remind me when I ask if he's cleaned up his mess. "So you can't throw them away."

He now begins most days by sitting down at the table with a big stack of paper and a box of crayons to design the "toys" that he'll play with that day. He has hammerhead sharks, fire trucks, race cars, working cranes, great whites, a number of stick people that represent our family, black tip reef sharks, front end loaders, boats, houses, and he's even pieced together some larger pieces of cardboard on which he's drawn roads and cities and oceans for his cutouts to play on.

If they ask nicely, he'll let his big sister and his little brother play with his creations, but he is adamant that they put them away in the shark pocket in his closet when they're done.

I think this lesson is starting to pay off.

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