Thursday, August 1, 2013

Dishes Go in the Sink

When you have several young children, your house constantly looks like either a mini tornado just came through, or wild animals live there. I have found that teaching several young children to clean up after themselves and do chores is extremely challenging.

I think about cleaning up a lot. This is mostly because Lilli and Josh have therapists coming over almost every single day. Today there are five people coming.  Two ABA therapists (the line therapist and the lead therapist) and the ABA therapy coordinator for Lilli, and a service coordinator and an occupational therapist for Josh. Yesterday we had the homebound teacher, the speech therapist, the ABA therapist, and a personal care coordinator. We dearly love all of these people who help our children so much. I love that they come to us and we do not have to spend hours each week in the car or in a waiting room. They step over toys, ignore the mess in my kitchen, and use the messy bathroom without saying a word. I know they are here to help my children, not judge my housekeeping.

But I cringe from time to time.

This is my most common thought every morning as I sip my coffee: Who is coming today. Shoot, I should clean the bathroom.

Then I calmly scan the living room and kitchen disaster areas, and try to decide if I care. Many days, I don't care. I let it go. We live here. I cook a lot. My kids play with toys. We all use the bathroom. This is reality.

But sometimes I can't just let it go. If you are not used to having people come to your house almost every day, try to imagine how it feels. I assume that some of you reading this probably spend time cleaning up your house when you have company coming. Ever have someone drop by unexpectedly and you are just mortified at the messy state of your bathroom? You can only hope that there is toilet paper in there, and that no one left any undergarments in the corner on the floor. Your guest is lucky if there's a hand towel to dry their hands with that's not all wet and bunched up on the counter. Let's not even discuss children remembering to flush. Yep, well, that happens here several times a week. We have two children potty training and learning to wash their hands all day. I would pretty much have to clean the bathroom multiple times every day, to act like no one lives here and it is always clean like that. 

Mostly it's not about what other people think of me and my house cleanliness. It's about me being able to stand living here.  I don't play with Legos, and I do not want to step on them. And we have wicked, pointy Legos that look like grass and fire - those really hurt.

It is very important to me to teach my children how to help clean up. I long for the day in the future when they will clean up everything  - even the bathroom! But the process is so slow, some days I can't stand it.

The Clean Up Song

Cleaning up starts small. At first you are patiently showing a toddler how to put a few blocks into a container. You clap and cheer wildly to show them how "great" and "fun" cleaning up can truly be. Then you teach them some silly "clean up" song, and force yourself to chant it in a chipper way while crawling around cleaning up almost all the toys yourself. Your toddler puts a total of two toys back, commenting and playing with each one for a few more minutes.

Somewhere during the sing-songy-"cleaning up is FUN!" phase, the urge to thrust all the toys into huge black garbage bags and throw them out in the garage might cross my mind.

Right now this is what "cleaning up" looks like at our house:

Josh chants the clean up song: "Mean up, mean up, eb-by bady mean up!" While continuing to play with the toys. 

Chloe makes a mad dash off to her room, roots through her dress up stash (meanwhile making yet another mess throwing the dress up clothes all over her floor) and puts on a Cinderella outfit and apron - the "before the ball" Cinderella outfit. Then she has to have her hair a certain way... the right shoes...Mommy please button the back of my dress...and she grabs a broom, because a broom is essential to play the part, even if we are picking up Legos. Dancing with the broomstick in a Cinderella type way begins, with lots of dress swirling and a touch of The Little Mermaid song "Ah ah ahhh..." or some other Disney princess song. And oh, cleaning up? Thought we were putting on a play. What was I supposed to do again Mommy?

This is really consistently true.

This is her idea of the "before the ball" Cinderella outfit. And I did not take this picture specifically for this post. I took it on a random day a few months ago. We must have been cleaning up something in the garage.

And then, there is Lilli. She stands in the middle of it all, and does not begin to move in any clean-up-kind-of-way.

She hears my frustrated cries of "Clean up these toys right now or I am going to suck them up with the vacuum cleaner! SQUINKIES AND ALL!" (anyone who knows what a "Squinky" is can surely relate.) She puts her hand on her neck and smiles. I really love that Lilli gets my sense of humor. She might ignore me in other ways, but whenever I crack a joke for her benefit, I am blessed with a smile, or a giggle from the next room. (The Squinkies belong to Chloe, so I guess Lilli thinks this is funny.)

Lilli is completely aware of the clean-up chaos swirling around her. But she does not run around and help me clean up the toys. We discuss this issue often, and I even went so far as to actually explain to Lilli that we are working on initiation and follow-through with her. As I've said before, I choose to give her the benefit of the doubt. Call me crazy, but if she is smart enough to do math problems and take social studies tests, she can learn the meaning of the word "initiate." And maybe it will get her thinking about what to do with her body when I ask her to clean up.

Lilli is still in the beginning stage of learning to put the Legos back in the bin, and we have to sit next to her and help her complete the job. She gets off task easily. She has trouble initiating and following through. We can't tell her what to do and then leave the room. We have to take her hand and help her put one Lego at a time in the container. That's not really helpful to me most of the time when the place is a wreck and I need everyone to pitch in and help in a big way, fast.

So I am so pleased and proud to brag that Lilli has learned to pick her dish up after a meal, and put it in the sink. Thanks to her patient, fabulous, persistent ABA therapist. She is also learning to throw away her napkin in the trash. Now, it's not perfect. But I don't care. She does hold the dish high over the sink and "drop" it in there with a loud crash. (Here is my plug for awesome Correll dishes that do not break very easily. And rubber mats to line the bottom of the sink) She got mixed up last week and tried to put her napkin in the sink and the plate in the trash. Usually she gets so eager to complete this chore, she picks the plate up halfway through the meal and tries to get up to go put it in the sink while there's still a lot of food on it. Recently, she has wandered into the kitchen and scooped up any dishes at all that are on the counter - including clean ones - and thrown them into the sink.  But the habit has been formed, and that's the important part. She's getting it.


I have realized that the emotion that welled up in me on the day of Chloe's kindergarten graduation, is the same emotion I have when Lilli learns to do something. What kind of crazy mom gets choked up when their kid puts a dish in the sink?


It happened to me the other day. I realized she did it without me even saying anything to her. She finished her breakfast, slid out of her chair, and took her plate to the sink and dropped it in there with a loud crash. I ran around the corner expecting to see a mess, and realized she had just simply put her dish in the sink on her own. I was so proud!

It's such a huge accomplishment for Lilli, It's hard to explain. Every time she learns to do something after months of practicing with a therapist, it's like a mini graduation. She did it. She learned it. She did it on her own without me telling her. I know I never got teary when Chloe put her dish in the sink for the first time. In fact, I don't even remember it. And I probably was just relieved that Chloe finally listened to me and just did it, but certainly I was not choked up.

With Lilli, it is different.

I never got to see Lilli walk across a stage and "graduate" from kindergarten, and that does make me sad. Why didn't we? I don't remember. School has not always been a good experience for her. But Lilli has many memorable "graduation" moments that we usually take for granted with typically developing children.

Maybe we make too big of a deal around here for little things. But the little things are huge when you have small children. Life is all about the little things with a child. When Josh uses the potty and I clap and say, "Yay!" in a normal voice, he will correct me and say, "No, YAAAYYY!!" like, come on mom, you're supposed to YELL and cheer!

This is what we are supposed to do, moms: yell and cheer for the little things our kids learn to do on their own. And cleaning up is an every hour, ongoing battle in every house with young children. If anyone is going to help me clean up in any way at all, I'm ecstatic.

I will continue to fight the Lego, Squinkie battle and sing the stupid clean up song for as long as it takes. But I can celebrate the fact that one of my children has learned to put her dishes in the sink without being asked. And that's quite an accomplishment.

Now please excuse me while I go tidy up the bathroom.