Toe-kissing and Clean-up on a Summer Morning

“Sam, I have kissed so many of your fucking toes!”


And yes, I really did say “fucking.” But I was in the bathroom and Nate and Sam were in the dining room, so I don’t think they heard me.


I was just so sick of kissing his toes. But it didn’t matter—he wandered in red-faced and crying, “You kiss my toes, please, Mom?”


I groaned and leaned down, my face to his feet. The image is very biblical.


“This toe?”


“No, this one!” It didn’t matter which toe I had selected, he would have indicated that a different one hurt and needed a healing kiss. I’d already kissed at least three of them.


I kissed the toe he was pointing to without emotion. I was no longer impressed with my magical curing powers. “There. All better!”


“No, this one!” Now he was pointing to his opposite foot. He’s got to be kidding me.


“Mom, can you please put tape on the floor so we can bowl?”


Nate. He emphasized the word “please” because he’d made this request several times already this morning.


I kissed all five of the toes in one drawn out, sweeping motion.


“There, all better, Sam. Let’s go help Nate.”


I grabbed the tape from one of our many junk drawers and knelt down with them in the middle of the hardwood floor in the foyer.


“Look, it goes four, three, two, one.” I placed a small square of tape on the floor indicating where each dollar-store bowling pin should go. But really, we’ve been over this so many times. How hard can it be? The rows go four, three, two, one. Count backwards. Make a triangle.


I was fed up. It was late in the morning and it was hot. We had errands to run and I wanted to go to the pool. I didn’t even care what we did as long as we were either productive or got to cool down and be social. Nate and Sam, on the other hand, were still in their pajamas, and there were toys covering every inch of floor space on the first floor. And now they were adding bowling pins to the mix. Wally was having trouble finding a good place to lie down. 


My goal this summer is to get them to clean up. And maybe not to even take out all the toys to begin with. We’d already purged a trash bag full of toys the day before. And we set aside Nate’s sacred toys—mostly Ninja Turtles—in a small yellow trundle case.  My hope was that instead of “needing” to find a specific toy and dumping out all our toy bins and baskets, like a junkie urgently seeking a fix, he could go straight to the caboodle kit and find the precious toy.


I was wrong. He still dumps out everything. Everything: Lego’s, wooden train tracks, Duplo’s, puzzle pieces, Even some of Wally’s old chew toys somehow find their way into Nate’s disarray.


So, because I’m goal-oriented and stubborn, I was determined not to leave the house until they had cleaned up their mess that morning.


And yes, I’ve tried games and tricks, anything just shy of an actual bribe. I’ve even tried—and I’m semi-embarrassed to admit this—putting the cleaning-the-nursery scene from Mary Poppins while we cleaned up. It resulted in a down-the-rabbit-hole stream of Disney YouTube videos. By the end, all three of us were laying on the couch shoveling handfuls of popcorn into our mouths.


Anyway Sam usually falls for those coercive maneuvers I read about in parenting magazines, but Nate is the Master of Manipulation himself —an actual certification—so there is no chance of me winning that one.


With Nate, I just need to be a slave driver.


“All you do is put this stuff in there! And that stuff in there!” I pointed to the many baskets and buckets where they store their toys. “It should take three minutes!”


“Why three minutes?” Nate inquired.


“I don’t know,” I began questioning myself. As I usually do in a conversation with Nate. Why did I pick three? Usually, I favor even numbers. I could have said four or two. Or even ten, they don’t even know how long a minute is. Well Sam might. Because it’s how long he usually spends in time-out. When I can get him to stay put. He never stays put! Time-out is not effective if they don’t stay put!


Ugh—another rabbit hole of insecure inner-dialoging! Must. Stop.


“And tomorrow night, you’re having a babysitter!” I declared. Kind of a random statement, but it helped me feel in control. Triumphant.


“Which one?” Nate said coldly.


“Kat. She’s never babysat you before, but you’ll like her.”


“Like an actual cat? You mean Garfield?”


Garfield is one of his heroes at the moment. So much so that I recently served lasagna for dinner on a 95+ degree day because Nate convinced me he’d love it.


He didn’t. Obviously.


Anyway—back to the clean-up.


“Whoever puts the most toys in the baskets…”


I was getting desperate, my mind was racing as fast as it could. Which is about the speed of…um…hmm…I don’t know. As fast as something really fast.


“…gets a…treat in his lunch!”


Great, a bribe. I’m so pathetic.


“Mom, what treat are you going to put in our lunches?”


Crap. I was hoping he hadn’t heard me. I don’t even think I have any treats. Nate and I have had so many debates about what constitutes a “treat.” And it has to be something that won’t melt in the sun at the pool.


And then, of course, could I really only give it to one of them? How was I supposed to know which child put the most toys in the basket? I was holed up in the kitchen, my fortress of solitude.


I walked into the room to check progress and found Sam, sprawled on the couch with a bowl of blueberries watching the US Open. He looked like Al Bundy.  At least blueberries are brain food. Whatever that means.






As usual, just when I start seriously considering putting them up for adoption, they get it together and redeem themselves. Clean-up happened and I even had an extra moment to Windex some syrup streaks off the TV. But why do they have to drive me to that point every day? We did make it to the pool that day. I packed their lunches and handed them each a treat—two gummy worms—as we headed out the door. Easier than lasagna.