Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I'll Clean it for You

I'm looking at the mess on my daughter's bedroom floor, and I can hear my mother's voice in my head: Clean this up now, or I'll go in with a trash bag and clean it for you. I generally kept my room clean, partly because I liked it that way and partly because I wasn't sure whether or not it was an empty threat. My mom, after all, would make a spur-of-the-moment threat reality on occasion, no matter how overboard a punishment it might be, so that we knew she was serious. She never changed her mind, and never apologized. I was grounded for two weeks for 'refusing' to eat stew one night, even though I changed my mind as soon as I saw the look on her face.

I was never entirely sure if the threat to clean our bedrooms with a trash bag was true or not, but I didn't worry about it. I was terribly jealous of my younger sister, however, because when her room got to be too badfor example when the floor pile reached knee height and she needed to jump from the door onto her bedmy mother would clean it. My sister would get home from a slumber party and her floor would be visible. My sister would be wide-eyed for a brief time and then cocky about her special treatment, and I would sulk enviously.

One day my sister was gone and I was passing her bedroom to go somewhere. Our mother was crouched on the bedroom floor with a huge black trash bag and a stretched-to-the-point-of-breaking look on her face. She looked up at me with wide, angry eyes and held up some random toy.

"Does your sister play with this?"

My eyes widened as far as they'd go. My mother was not someone to be trifled with, especially when she was angry, and I didn't want any backlash, no sirree. I looked at the toy, shook my head, pointed out a couple others, and scrammed.

My sister remembers getting home that day. I must have been hiding somewhere, because I don't. Apparently the second she walked into the house she knew something was up. There were both our parents waiting for her with that look on their faces.

"I cleaned your room," our mother said, and my sister's heart skipped. "It will never happen again."

No further explanation was needed. My sister's room was spotless, she didn't know what was missing, and all I'd say was that yes, there was a trash bag involved. I didn't want to get on her bad side for my moment of cooperation, and I didn't want her getting upset about things I hoped she wouldn't miss.

It was months before she went looking for some random thing and couldn't find it. I would neither verify nor negate that it had gone into the trash bag. I'm not even sure how much our mother threw away, because my instincts said hide until they drag you out for dinner.

Back to the present. We've recently moved and my daughter hasn't unpacked anything that I didn't unpack for her. She spent two weeks playing Barbies in her room, and then when the third box of toys arrived from storage, her room got too full to enjoy and she stopped going in except to go to change clothes and sleep. I have two hours before I need to pick her up from school, and a box of black trash bags. Some of the stuff in her boxes has been in storage nearly four years, and chances are she wouldn't miss it.

I guess I'll find out.

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