I envision making CAP like a fun game, so he’ll participate willingly.
“Tall, guess what!” I say with the same tone I might announce we had front row seats to Penguins on Ice: the Disney Adventure Live. “You and I are going to do some mandatory house cleaning right now!”
He takes the remote and pauses his show. “No, thank you, Mom,” he says politely, not yet comprehending the scope of mandatory. “I think I’ll finish watching this ‘Penguins of Madagascar’ marathon instead.”
Before I have a chance to beg, bribe, or psychologically torture him by throwing away his uneaten Halloween candy, my four-year-old son Short appears out of nowhere and declares, “I’ll help you, Mommy!” If this were a cartoon, he’d be wearing a super-hero cape with a giant letter “C” for cleaning. Since this is not a cartoon, his cape had an “S” for Superman (or sucker, depending on your perspective).
Short tugs at the Velcro holding his shiny polyester dress-up cape shut, and deftly removes it with a flourish. “I do it! I help you, Mom! I know how to clean!” He carelessly deposits the cape and a wrinkled granola bar wrapper in a small heap on the floor.
His enthusiasm echoes through the air like radio waves. I am instantly affected as well; we are both excited to get started.
“Okay, then, Short,” I say with fervor, as reach for his discarded yellow super-hero cape and granola bar wrapper.
So what if Tall wants to be a couch potato? I can grant him a brief reprieve this time, I think; I know Short and I will get a lot done working in tandem.
“What’s first, Mommy?” grins Short, like a new-hire employee who does not yet realize he’s beginning a dead-end job.
I look around, trying to assess the messiest area. This is like deciding which ocean is wetter, the Pacific or Atlantic. “Well, let’s start with the living room.”
Short walks in, taps his brother on the shoulder indicating he should move over, then picks up the pillow Tall had been leaning on. Short proceeds to expertly fluff the pillow with his little fists and put it back.
I could not be more impressed if Short had just rattled off the names of all our previous Presidents in chronological order.
All those many times (okay, five) that I cleaned the house are paying off in this Osmosis Moment. Short has obviously picked up on my superior cleaning techniques by witnessing me in action.
He stacks three books neatly together. He meticulously rearranges decorative seashells in their large wooden bowl. Next, he grabs a stray shoe and leaves the room.
Mistakenly thinking he has clocked-out for an unauthorized break, I call down the hall after him, “Where are you going?”
“To put my shoe away in my room where it belongs,” he answers confidently.
Wow. Internally I chastise myself for not thinking of this CAP idea sooner. “Brilliant!” I say to no one in particular.
Short soon reappears and I tell him I’m going to get the vacuum. I go downstairs to the basement where I vaguely remember seeing The Husband put it once a few months ago. If you were a vacuum, where would you be? Think like a vacuum. Storage closet? No. Furnace room? No. Laundry room?
The shoulder-height pile of dirty laundry temporarily distracts me. Multi-tasker extraordinaire that I am, I seize this opportunity to start a load of towels.
In the five minutes that I am forgetting what I went down to the basement for in the first place, Short’s true Gifted Cleaning Abilities emerge: the entire living room has been picked up.
“Ohmygosh!” I blurt out upon seeing the room again, struggling to contain my disbelief. Then, with a regrettable absence of self-editing, “Tall, did you help him?”
“No, Mommy, Tall did not help me!” Short clarifies, momentarily miffed. “I did all by myself,” he nods proudly, Washington-Adams-Jefferson-Madison-Monroe.
I look around the room, my eyes searching for vestiges of the multitude of Lego’s, shoes, books, Halloween candy, stuffed animals, magazines, sweaters, papers, and other assorted junk that only moments ago littered the living room landscape. The room now resembles not so much a real family’s living room as a Designer Showcase House that has just been staged for its photo shoot. How long was I in that laundry room?
My natural cynicism creeping in, I ask cautiously, “Sweetheart, how did you clean everything up so quickly?”
Short misinterprets my skepticism as approval and runs over to hug me. “I show you, Mom,” he says helpfully, as he pulls at my sleeve, leading me to the front entry closet. I nervously open the door.
As I feared, all the items that had previously cluttered our now-pristine living room have been hastily shoved inside this already overcrowded closet. Old tennis rackets are married to broken umbrellas and sharing space with torn magazines and borrowed sweaters and their illegitimate brightly-colored Lego children. Stuffed animals look on in disapproval. Library books and dirty baseball bats hover above us precariously, threatening to fall at any moment. With Herculean effort, I shut the creaky door.
Every Parenting book I have ever read is flashing warning lights in my brain: You can’t be mad at him: he’s only four; he was trying to “help”.
I bite my lip. Then I say calmly, “Short, I don’t understand. Why did you cram everything in here?”
He's eager to share his cleaning knowledge. His smile is now so wide I can see every baby tooth in his mouth, each gleaming white Chiclet, when he says cheerfully, “I watch exactly the way you clean the house, Mommy, and now I know the right way to do it, too.”
(“Mom Observes Vestiges”)