Like all kids, Mack hated household chores: but like most good kids she would begrudging do many of those we required of her. However, there was one chore that she unabashedly refused to do and no amount of weekly allowance, begging, yelling, grounding, or bribes motivated her to oblige me. Mack’s bedroom was in a perpetual state of nuclear disaster, and it was a serious topic of contention in our mother/daughter relationship. While I did not expect her to possess my obsessive level of organization, it bothered me a great deal that she seemed not to care that glasses with an inch of iced-tea were growing mold, that her basketball uniforms were wadded up in a pile of dirty clothes, that her history text books were under the bed, or that there were more jeans and shoes in the middle of the room than here were in the drawers or in the closet. I would yell, and she would just look at me, shake her head, and say things like, “What’s the big deal, woman? It’s MY room, mother, and you don’t have to come in here.” Exasperated, she would lead me out and close the door.
Since our family was a busy one, days and weeks at a time would pass when I would just clench my teeth, shut my eyes and pretend I did not know the extent of the disorder on the other side of her bedroom door. Therefore, Mack’s room was most always a Super Fund site, her close friends grew accustomed to the mess, and even occasional visitors were witness to the disorder. One time, Mack was babysitting the three young daughters of some close friends of mine at our house. There was no time for a fight with her to clean her room, so I begged Mack to keep the kids downstairs and out of her bedroom. These little girls looked up to Mack, and I did not wish her to set a bad example. She rolled her eyes at me as if I was being unreasonable, but she agreed and I trusted she understood my point. After several hours, the adults returned from dinner, and our friends all went home. Apparently, as soon as the three children piled into their minivan upon leaving our house, they all started chattering about how much fun they had hanging out with Mack, how good she was at making boxed macaroni and cheese, and how freaking cool she was because her room was so messy!
Over the years, I learned to accept some level of messy. But on rare occasions when we needed her room for overnight guests or I had reached my limit, I would do battle. Sometimes, I could coax Mack into a good cleaning if I helped her and gave her money for iTunes or promised her a trip to Taste of Thai when we were done with the work. Mostly, she ignored both my shrill and my subtle efforts to make her more organized. At some point during high school, Mack shoved her twin bed into what had previously been a little study nook in her room. This rearrangement opened up some floor space in the middle of the main part of her bedroom perfect for bouncing or spinning her basketball or sitting around with her buddies. It also tended to be a larger space for much larger messes.
One summer morning before leaving for work, I stepped into Mack’s bedroom to say goodbye, and there were clothes all over her floor. I threw one of my best fits about the mess and told her how terrible she was because she couldn’t possibly know which heaps were clean and which were dirty. I angrily told her that she had damn well better have all the clothes sorted, folded and put away by the time I got home or she wasn’t going to be seeing her friends that night. She smiled that crooked grin through sleepy eyes and said, “yeah, yeah, mom, I know.” When I peeked into her room after work that day, I was astounded. The clothes were gone. There wasn’t a trace of dirty dishes, her desk was clear, and it even looked like she may have run a dust mop over the floor. I was so proud of her and I told her so. This was great progress she was making, and I even got her to admit that it did feel pretty good to exist in such a clean environment. And then, I let her go out with her friends that night.
The next morning when I called to her before leaving for work, she didn’t answer. I figured she was sleeping, so I slipped into her room and walked around the corner to her bed in the study nook to give her a soft kiss on the check. And this is what I found…
So I will admit before all witnesses that this was a battle that I never won. Mack did not think keeping her room clean and organized was important, necessary, or worth her effort. I know now that on this point she was right and had been right all along. It did not really matter that her basketball uniform was wrinkled and stinky, that her favorite skinny jeans hadn’t been folded since the day she selected them from the shelf at American Eagle, or that one of our glass tumblers may have been sitting on her headboard for six months (even if it did have moldy tea inside of it). Looking back on it, I am glad she didn’t waste a lot of her precious time folding her clothes, dusting her bookshelves, or worrying about what people might think about the mess. She had far more important things to do in her life, like hosting Glee parties with her best friends, wrestling with one of our dogs, practicing her British accent, or just lounging on her bed in the study nook staring at the ceiling and enjoying that fact that she could so easily outsmart her Ph.D. mom.