The Dad Cleaning Experience
Be thankful that you are not the Jawa today. If you were, you would presently be recovering from a Dad Cleaning Experience, which, as my sisters and I can attest to, is no way to spend a Saturday morning.
A Dad Cleaning Experience is as blinding as it is unexpected. It comes without warning, and can result in a child finding all of his personal items laid out in the atrium tile. Sometimes, when the dad behind the Dad Cleaning Experience is feeling cheeky, the child may find his breakfast dishes sitting in the sink, each with a small label bearing the child's name.
Fortunately, the Jawa's own dad spent his own childhood on the receiving end of these ingenious methods, so his suffering is limited to a few hours of comprehensive cleaning, with accompanying stream-of-consciousness Dad harangue.
Today's Dad Cleaning Experience was no surprise. We had been charged with the orders, "Start cleaning the bedroom," in the morning, so we were in the correct mindset before beginning. However, for all the Jawa knew, "cleaning the bedroom" could have involved moving a few Legos around, tossing stuff into the closet, and then dancing around to whatever music we had playing.
Not this time.
Unlike a Mom Cleaning Experience, which in my own memories comes almost daily and somewhat haphazardly, and often might result in a real nice clearing of the air, the Dad Cleaning Experience is regimented, almost military in its thudding efficiency though erratic in its frequency. "We'll start with the Legos," I boomed to my child today, who wanted only to watch more Pokemon on Cartoon Network, "and move on from there."
And unlike my own Dad Cleaning Experiences, perhaps because of my long history with the genre, I made at least a perfunctory attempt to be positive and supportive during the cleaning process. Which, at first, seemed to pay off. We slammed his Gorillaz CD into the player and started to work.
The Jawa threw himself into cleaning, disassembling Legos, even contorting his body to vacuum under his bed. It's satisfying vacuuming under the bed, as it is vacuumed once a quarter and so offers up several giant economy-sized dustballs for the vacuumer. I was a little sad to be on the sidelines, but quickly remembered how much less flexible my body is now that I have passed 40 and am carrying the equivalent of a small child strapped to my stomach with packing tape in extra weight.
We started with Legos, moved onto the desk, then to his bookshelf. I was, as my own father would have said, "ruthless." With Sandra Bullock out of the house, we spent an hour or so throwing toys past their "best if played with by" date into "donation" and "trash" bags, tossing any toy current but homeless onto the bed.
Sadly, the cleanup also involved removing Sparky's old stuff and placing it in the corner in anticipation of the next hamster. I noticed at one point that Sparky's waste had outlived her, which struck me as profoundly sad, but also impressive, as it put her on a level where she had something in common with a nuclear powerplant.
Eventually, with three trash bags and two "donation" bags full, we tackled our biggest potential foe: the closet.
Here's what the Jawa keeps in his closet: two Halloween costumes, Star Wars toys, a poster about Ostriches that he made in first grade, a carboard Godzilla that he made whose head looks like Pac Man, each and every page of schoolwork completed since Kindergarten, some Mt. St. Helens ash, a piece of Boron, painting supplies, several hundred cheap plastic items that came with Happy Meals, weird little figures that could be bugs, but are actually Geonnosians (sp?) from the second "Star Wars" movie, some fossils that his grandfather brought back from Montana, sixteen super balls of various sizes, plastic motorcycles and cars, long-forgotten Game Boy games, seven cubic feet of dust and a plastic sword. And some clothes.
By now I had slipped into the Dad Cleaning Experience equivalent of a runner's high. If Sandra Bullock had not returned in time to establish some boundaries, I would have thrown the entire lot of stuff out. The Jawa, sensing this, began referring to every scrap of paper as "special." "I spent so much time on that!" he'd cry, as I tried to furtively stuff a watercolor fish into the trash bag.
Bullock, sensing that I had gone over the edge and was a Sharpie short of labelling each item then throwing them in the sink or in the middle of the atrium, stepped in. She'd see me slinking by with some enormous plastic toy and say, "You'd better ask him first."
It took us the better part of the morning and a couple of hours past lunch to finish the job. By then, the Jawa had lost all interest in anything other than blaming us for damage incurred by his Legos. "Of course," I pointed out at one point, "it probably would be better to not put the Lego hospital directly under your desk chair."
"ONLY I CAN PULL OUT THE CHAIR," he bellowed. Since we had a run-in last night involving bed time and Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 (a cd-rom game) that ended in tears (his), I gave him some slack. After all, I do remember what a few hours of the Dad Cleaning Experience can do to a young psyche. It's not pretty. I'm sure 4 out of 5 child psychologists do not recommend it as a parenting method. But it sure leaves rooms clean.
Now the child is content, battling foes as Mario on his Game Cube. He survived this round of cleaning, and his room is the better for it.
We even made room for the new fish tank, which I've heard will go next to his CDs, a few feet from the new hamster cage.