The Clean Up

Alright, so I am way more laid back about the clean room thing that I want to be, especially with my son, Ian.  He is two weeks shy of 6.  You may be familiar with his style of searching for something...  Well, actually the search usually comes after asking me something like, "Mom, have you seen my___ ?" (fill in the blank).  As if I spend all day following him around and watching where he happens to put things down.  So I usually say something to the effect of, "Go check you room," or "Where was the last place you had it?" or, "Why do you think I have any idea where it is???"  Any of those responses are usually met with an exasperated sigh of annoyance that I am no help.  But when he is actually, physically, looking for something, anything else gets tossed aside.  Its a common scene really, he goes deeper into a box of say, dress up clothes, and throws all of it out of the box in search for the thing on the bottom...  Once he finds the missing item off he goes, without a look back at the pile he is leaving behind.  Kills me.

So every once in a while it is time to sort through the mess.  I work on little clean ups before bed and before we leave the house.  It is part of our routine, but I try and be flexible.  I am often saying, "Please clean up what you were playing with before you take out something new."  Nothing new to that demand is there?  It works well enough.  Its funny though, isn't it?  The parents vision of a clean room just isn't the same as a child's.  I have to let go of looking into their closets and drawers.  I let the surface piles go for longer than I want to.  But every once in a while it is really time to clean their rooms, and it isn't always fun.  For anyone.

So today was one of those days.  Rowan rocked the room clean up (yay for Rowan!).  Ian, not so much.  I would head in every few minutes and give him some tips. "Start with putting all the clothes on the floor up on to your bed," and, "Find a place to put all those Star Wars cards" (he is obsessed with these Star Wars playing cards, they end up EVERYWHERE), then I leave the room...  Well, after a few of these nuggets of advice I feel the heat begin to rise.  Another opportunity to decide whether or not I am going to use my parenting skills or freak out on my kid, lovely.

Ian is now in tears.  I say, "You are welcome to ask for help, but if you are going to decide on a meltdown I am going to close the door.  I will be cleaning my room if you want me."  Not bad!  The tone could have been kinder but baby steps.  I calmly pull the door shut and walk to my room.  A few minute later, Ian comes in to ask for help.  He is still crying so I tell him I am happy to help when he is calm.  He takes a breath and calms himself, wiping his sweet little tear stained face with his hand.  Why do I make him get calm?  Because I know that he needs to be past the meltdown to move forward.  I am happy to give him more time if he needs to shed more tears...

So he is calm enough and we head into his room.  I make a deal, "I will fold the clothes on the bed while you get your dress up clothes in to the box."  "Okay," he says, in a little voice.  He is in the closet, wading though ankle deep clothes from the last two weeks and still a bit upset, but he is getting to work.  He gets all the dress up clothes put away and comes out with a sad little face and says, "Can we hug it out, mom?"  Really!  I swear!  This time it isn't for my benefit, I am relatively calm, this is for him to feel better.  He collapses into my lap and gives me a huge hug.  We sit there for a while, not saying anything.  When he is ready he stands up and gets back to work.

It is really quite incredible.  It wasn't so long ago that I was referring to my son's lack of impulse control, and wondering when the day would come that he wouldn't fall on the floor any time something didn't go his way.  Don't get me wrong, he still can get incredibly angry.  But he is starting to tune in with how he is feeling and finding ways of feeling better, of moving on from the emotion.  I am noticing it more when he is upset or sad, than when he is mad.  When we are really mad we tend to be using our brain stems, our fight or flight instincts take over.  We have to be using the front of our brains to regulate our emotions...  This is why I leave him alone when he is overcome by emotion or anger, let him cool off.  This has been our routine for a long time.  Now he comes and finds me when he has cooled down, and usually he wants a hug.  I think the hug has symbolized something for him.  Maybe its closure.  Maybe its permission to move on.  Whatever it is, it works.

So wow, after previewing this post I noticed a missed opportunity.  When Ian came in to ask for help I told him he needed to get calm first.  This would have been a perfect opportunity for ME to ask HIM if he needed a hug...  Damn.  Alright, I am going to work on finding opportunities to suggest those hugs more often.  I will report back.