Wednesday, April 09, 2008

chip off the ol' block

In an effort to maintain some level of sanity, I am very particular about keeping order in my house (my father is laughing his head off right now). See, as a teenager, the piles and piles of crap that continuously littered my bedroom floor caused my very neat dad no amount of discontent. After years of living with the likes of my mother (whose natural proclivity for messiness rivals my own), he has been beaten down, resigned to live with stacks of books, unfiled paperwork, gift wrap, mail, newspapers, and a general array of misplaced things to trip over.

When Thom and I moved in together (into a space that was all of 450 square feet), I decided very quickly that two people with a similarly messy disposition could not survive the small confines of a minuscule New York city walk-up. He agreed, and ever since he has been on board with my endeavors to create organized spaces for all of our crap. (That means I do the work and he provides emotional support.)

The thing I've found that works best is creating systems for organization. We never lose keys or the remote because they go back to the same space every time we use them. There's a looser system for other things, like electronics, books, files, coats, and shoes. Everything has a home, and as long was we know their landing place, it's okay to leave them out, use them, enjoy them--but eventually get them back to their home. We allow for spontaneity, laziness, and special occasions--I'm not a Nazi!--but we don't let chaos reign.

The general rule is that we try to put things away before we go to bed--dishes, laundry (sometimes), toothbrushes, toys. This system gives us the freedom to live our lives but also the ability to fight the ever-creeping clutter that threatens two (now three) naturally messy people.

Which brings us to River. I made it a huge priority when we had River that we would not be engulfed by spit rags, sippy cups, blocks, board books, and diapers. The temptation is great--especially with a toddler who flits from legos to blocks to stuffed animals to legos...--to play, frolic, leave the mess, and worry about it when I have an extra five minutes or grow a third hand.

However the rule is the same: his toys are picked up by the end of the day. Generally, Thom lets the toys build up into a massive pile until it's time to go to bed, and then there's a mad dash to get everything back in place. Thinking of the work I'll avoid later, I like to clean as I go. Done with the blocks? Let's pick them up, then you can go pick out a book. No more books? Okay we'll go get your critters when these are back on the shelf.

He has taken to this system amazingly quick. He doesn't fuss when I pause from his desired activity to pick up the previous one. In fact, early on he started modeling my behavior, and ever since he consistently helps put his toys back in their designated boxes. At first I had to show him where they went, and then he figured it out all by himself. Often he would play the game of putting things away and taking them out and putting them away over and over.

I was excited about his budding understanding of organization. Then he started showing an interest in categorizing. First, he exhibited this by picking two yellow toys to hold, then three blue blocks, then he piled all of the bugs together away from the rattles.

Though I haven't actively encouraged his categorization obsession, I am his main model for behavior. Which means the following is probably my fault and the source of countless therapy hours in his future.

River seems to have become a bit obsessive-compulsive. He becomes visibly frustrated when a stuffed animal is put in the car box. He crawls across the room to retrieve a single lego that has been left near the books. He's even started showing me he's done with an activity by initiating the clean-up.

Granted, my boy is not a robot. He still craves destruction, making messes, and chaos. I'm glad to see those urges firmly implanted; otherwise I would worry that we're raising a little automaton.

I know some of this is developmental--he's learning the skill of putting things in (something he physically couldn't do until a few months ago), he's learning that some things are different from other things (books are not trains), he's learning patience and delayed gratification (we'll play with something new after the old thing is put away). Like any developmental leap, there is likely to be a high level of obsession as he first learns the new skill which will taper off as he masters it.

I hope so.

The last thing I want is for River to feel restricted, constrained, and fearful of messes. He's a kid! He needs chaos in his life!

(But my hope is that a little bit of order won't kill him either.)

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