The Night the House Didn't Burn Down...

...But They Panicked Anyway


We have a very lightly enforced rule in our house: Any toy or otherwise unspecified belonging of Nate and/or Sam that is not properly put away at bedtime or other arbitrary deadline will be placed in the giant blue trash bag to be taken, eventually, to a landfill.


So, after dinner is over, the blue trash bag is brought out from the laundry room and the panicked scurrying begins. Like Hogan and his heroes hurrying to cover the tracks of their tunnels from Colonel Klink, Nate’s and Sam’s hearts race as they scour the floor for every…last…toy.


The first night we tried it, Tighe set the tabata timer on his phone as a gauge for them to know how much time was left until bedtime. It was programmed to “ding” every twenty seconds for four solid minutes. In retrospect, the constant dinging may have been overkill. Though perfect for squats, burpees, or sprints, for Nate, it elicited pure horror.


He became hysterical at the thought of losing his toys, sobbing and screeching orders at Sam while Tighe and I laughed at him, unable to believe his agitated state. I almost felt evil, except that it was so absurd.


Sam, on the other hand, wasn’t the slightest bit distressed. He was busy finishing the last of his ice cream, and since it was down to the melted chocolaty soup at the bottom of his bowl, it took all of his concentration to spoon every last drop onto his expectant tongue. It was like watching a sloth trying to eat with a spoon for the very first time.


Meanwhile, in the foreground, Nate was in a full sweat—or maybe those were just his tears. He had exactly 7,273 Lego pieces on the coffee table in the family room. By the final tabata ding, they needed to make their way to their plastic bins in the adjoining room. Had I been given the same task, I would have taken the bin into the family room and used my forearm to sweep them all into the bin. There, done! It would have taken me one single trip and thirty seconds—tops.


But Nate doesn’t boast the same efficiency skills I do. Plus, his frenzied state left him unable to think, and any planning that would have saved him three and a half minutes was impossible.


Instead, he sprinted back and forth between the table and the office, carrying only small handfuls of Legos at a time. And since he was literally shaking with horror, he dropped them again and again, leaving and Hanzel-and-Gretel trail of toys behind him. Realizing that he now had even more to pick up made him stop dead in his tracks, throw his head back in dismay and shriek.


“Please! Dad! Sam! Somebody has to help me!”


This was about the point that I paused my dinner clean-up routine to see what was going on in the other room.


Tighe, lord and overseer, was resting his bum on the arm of a chair and cooing to Tess. “Sorry, man, I’m holding a baby.”


Sam, starting to realize what was at stake and also that there was no more ice cream soup left in his bowl, dropped his spoon and began to hustle as fast as he could—which really isn’t very fast—in the direction of Nate’s pleas.




“Ahhh! Sam, please!”


I was laughing, but I was also getting worried about Nate’s lack of judgment and attachment to material possessions. Also that Sam might be a diabetic.


“Tighe, is this really happening?”


“I think so. In fairness, the tabata app is kind of annoying. Next time, we should try a different type of timer.”




“NO!! Please help us! Somebody help us!”


“Nate, calm down,” I said. I had stopped laughing at this point and had become slightly troubled by his torment. “Don’t waste time asking for help, just do what you can do.”


By the time the final ding went off, there were still many Lego’s on the table and Nate’s body was sprawled on the floor, practically unconscious with physical and emotional exhaustion.


They had failed, but because we’re not complete sadists, we paused to help them problem-solve. I told them my idea about bringing the bin to the table and scooping the remaining toys into it.


“Oh,” Nate said, brushing away his tears and cracking a relieved smile. “That was easy.”


I know.


The next night at bedtime, when it was my turn to tell a “story from when I was a kid,” I recounted a made-up story about a family I had known who all perished in a fire because they had panicked as their house was burning around them.


“If they had only calmed themselves enough to think clearly, they could have found a way out of the house and be alive today,” I finished up. “So the lesson is, don’t panic. Stay calm and make a plan.”


Extreme, I know, but maybe the lesson will be memorable? I don’t know, I make all kinds of parenting mistakes. You try raising Nate and Sam.