Friday, April 16, 2010

Lessons from Ms. Poppins

There’s nothing like expecting some major house guests to make you dust off the dust rag, drag Murphy and his oil soap out of the depths of your cabinet, and collect every available bucket in your possession. I have even been known to tear up perfectly good dish towels, just because I needed an extra cleaning rag.
This occasion was no different, and I spent a solid day in my pajamas, scrubbing every surface I could reach, and then some. Why in my pajamas? Because I knew that if I took the time to actually clean and dress myself, that I would procrastinate with such vigor that it would be at least 2:45 PM before my hands hit the water. Instead, with pajamas and an excellent case of bed head, I set to work straight after breakfast.
But then, in a stroke of pure genius, I asked a simple question. “Who wants to win a prize?” And like flocks of seagulls attacking a single crumb of bread, I was instantly crawling with children.
“OK. We’re going to have a contest. Let’s see who can get their rag the dirtiest! I’ll give each of you your own special rag. And look! They are all different colors! This is going to be fun! Who wants to play?”
The eldest child, my shadow, my clone, my protégé, looks at me with the widest brown puppy dog eyes you’ve ever seen. “Me! I want to play!”
The middle child, the fiery red head, the freckled thinker, looks at me with the same brown eyes in more of a squint. “Um, what’s the prize?”
The baby just grabs a rag, soaks it with soapy water, and flings it around the room.
“Oh the prize is soooo exciting, I can’t even tell you!” And I realize that I’m now talking in constant exclamation marks without even noticing! I’m even getting myself excited for the prize! And guess what?! The only prize is a hug and chocolate milk!
(But they don’t know that.)
Being a mom isn’t rocket science. We are faced daily with challenges, most of which have to deal with dust, crusted up breakfast cereal, and missing puzzle pieces. I know my entire life seems to be a juggling act, one where I’m not even thrown into the mix of balls—I’m just there to keep them all running smoothly.
And when it comes to asking for a little help, it should be a given that children should drop everything they are doing and help their loving mother, because that’s how it happens in the cartoons they watch and the comics they read.
But they don’t, and it’s not because they don’t love me. It’s because playing games and riding bikes and making messes are way more fun than getting pruny fingers and soft nails from having a hand in a bucket all day. And that is why we mothers who are worth our salt need to pull out the tricks.
“Now who’s ready for the contest!? Ready, set, go!” And away they went.
Here’s an ultra valuable bit of parenting advice to newbies. Drop what you’re doing and watch Mary Poppins and study her with all you’ve got. Sure, she could fly around on an umbrella and has some awesome chimney sweep dancing friends, but besides that, she could really get those kids to clean. “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun, and snap! The job’s a game!”
I’m could be wrong, but I think the second verse of the song says that besides a spoonful of sugar, you might also need a few dozen exclamation marks, chocolate milk, and a hug or two. But it’s all worth it.

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