Getting your kids to clean their rooms is a lot harder than it seems. Impossible, sometimes.
When our younger two were tots, I tidied their rooms myself. It was fun balling up their bitsy socks and lining them in drawers, folding striped stretchy pants with ruffles at the waist, and picking up Matchbox cars.
Fun, that is, until our daughter turned three. Suddenly, Eva’s idea of a good time meant emptying her dresser drawers, every one of them, and flinging everything on the carpet. Everything.
I routinely wiped out on Matchbox cars littering the floor, and woe be unto the person who got up in the middle of the night to navigate the mine field of toys on the way to the bathroom.
Being a good new mom, I turned to parenting articles for answers. One magazine suggested that spending five minutes cleaning up every night would give your child a sense of responsibility. Skip the night light! You could tuck them into bed where they’d fairly glow with accomplishment!
I don’t know whose kids were affected by this. Not mine.
Yelling was too much work, and an allowance didn’t dent their desire. Weeks passed and toys piled high; in a desperate attempt to get the kids to clean, I plucked the last card from my Mom Deck of Tricks:
Make something up.
Enter Mrs. Nesbitt. I envisioned a plump lady with iron-grey hair, wearing sensible oxfords and a healthy dose of polyester. She’d be a take-no-prisoners cleaner, whomping dust from couch cushions, thrusting her vacuum wand into the dark corners I neglected. The house would sparkle when she left, all our problems swept under the Rug of Avoidance I was creating.
Even though she didn’t exist, she could still take the blame for things. It all seemed so tidy.
The next time my daughter asked why she had to clean, I cast a pitying glance her way. “Since Mrs. Nesbitt didn’t show up today, we have to do the cleaning,” I said sadly.
She turned back to her room, eyebrows stuck together in a puzzled frown. So far, so good.
Another few weeks went by with me happily blaming Mrs. Nesbitt for the conundrum she unwittingly created. Gotta sweep the floor, kiddo? Blame No-Show Nesbitt. Fold the laundry? Ha! Looks like Mrs. Nesbitt forgot again.
One day, reality struck.
After making her bed once too often, Eva came out of her room, beginnings of a black cloud swirling over her head.
“If you’re paying Mrs. Nesbitt, she should be doing the cleaning,” she fumed, one little foot stomping the ground for emphasis.
Eva’s little foot stomped my heart, too. I couldn’t do it anymore – Mrs. Nesbitt’s gig was up.
“Honey,” I said, bending down, “there is no Mrs. Nesbitt.”
She stared. I waited for a wail of disbelief, to feel her thorns of accusation, but instead, she smiled.
After that, it became a joke around our house. Bed not made? Blame Mrs. Nesbitt! Dog doo lurking in the yard? Must be Nesbitt’s day off!
Mrs. Nesbitt faded away as the years passed, but recently she made a comeback. It was Mother’s Day, and my husband made supper, vowing to wash the heaps of dishes after he returned from an errand.
He pointed a finger my way. “Stay out of the kitchen,” he threatened.
After he left, I filled the sink with water and started scrubbing.
He returned, and with an exasperated look, asked me why I had washed dishes, on Mother’s Day of all days.
“I didn’t,” I said. “Mrs. Nesbitt stopped by…”