I always kind of knew that, as a mother, I was going to have to be able to wear many different hats. Chauffeur. Public health worker. Triage nurse. Fashion consultant. (Although I’m not sure if telling someone to wear socks with their cowboy boots in ninety degree weather qualifies me more as a fashion consultant or a public health worker—either way: you’re welcome.) There is one job, however, that I did not think I would ever have to take on, at least not for my role as a parent, and that is the role of urban planner.
And yet, I realized that was exactly what I had become just the other day when I found myself in the position of having to explain to my daughter, Clementine, why it was that she needed to clean up the entire living room, and not just pick her own dirty socks and sandwich crusts from the bottom of the pile. I started my explanation by asking her if she knew why people put landscaping and sculptures along freeways. (After interpreting her eye rolls and sighs as a “no,” I went on anyway.)
“They do it,” I said, “because it makes people litter less. People don’t want to be the first one to throw a piece of trash on a clean highway.” Just then she unearthed what must have been “Patient Zero”—one of last year’s unfinished homework assignments—from the very bottom of the pile. “Well. Most people don’t want to be first,” I amended. “But once that first piece of trash is down, then other people don’t feel so bad about putting their trash on top. Case in point,” I said, holding up a teacup with something fuzzy and green inside of it that could have either been a really old tea bag or a suicidal mouse on its way to a rave.
“That’s not mine,” was her immediate response.
Now it was my turn to sigh. “I know, “ I said. (Although, actually, I knew nothing of the sort—the scary truth is that there is nothing about Clementine that leads me to believe that she is not exactly the sort of person who would choose to accumulate dead green mice in tea cups. But that’s a whole other issue.) “What I’m saying is that the reason this is here is because your trash was here first. Your trash made it okay for this trash to be here. That’s why you have to clean up the whole thing.”
At that she turned cagey. “How do you know mine was here first? Maybe I put my homework under the tea cup (and the pizza box, and the crusty sock, and the tissue full of what I hope and pray is snot) in the first place.”
I held up the homework assignment again. “It’s not the Shroud of Turin,” I said. “You wrote the date on it—next to your name.”
“So? That doesn’t mean I put it there. Maybe someone is trying to frame me.”
I resisted the urge to point out that if she just used half this much tenacity to clean up the mess as she did to get out of cleaning she would be done by now, and instead just said, “If they are, it worked.” And then I launched into a lecture about Mayor Giuliano, Times Square and broken windows, and suddenly cleaning became the less painful option, the same way that, no matter how bored or sick you may be in the afternoon, silence is the better option when compared to watching the “Dr. Phil” show.
Which, I suppose, gives me one more job title for my parenting resume.