The Black Garbage Bag

I truly try to follow through when I say I'm going to do something. If I tell someone I'll call them, or let them borrow something, or promise something, I try to do it. But one thing I often fail to do is follow through with the terribly threatening punishments I announce to my children.

Like, "If you don't _________, I'm going to _______." Fill in the blanks yourself.

Sometimes I forget. I will send someone to their bed for a talking-to and forget they're there until much later. Usually I remember what I'm supposed to talk to them about but the moment has definitely passed.

But usually I don't follow through because, I admit it, the children are winning much of the time. I know if I really do take away such and such because they didn't do this or that, then the crying and wailing that will ensue requires of me a whole new set of procedures to deal with the new problem. Thus, I am giving them extra chances just to preserve my sanity and my ear drums.

I want to be one of those moms who is not affected by their pleas, yet also I do not want to be remembered as a big breasted Scandinavian nanny who is expressionless and six feet tall with a big ugly mole on her face. I'm going more for the Mary Poppins singing all the time and making cleaning a game persona. And love. I want to love them.

But a few days ago I had hit my limit and decided to see what would happen if I actually followed through with one of my empty threats. It was clean up time. And of course, no one was cleaning up. They sit on their bed, fiddle with a dirty sock, get distracted, leave the room for way longer than necessary to "go potty" while I work circles around them and try all the Barney tactics. "Clean up, clean up..." and "Who can make a basket with these toys?" and "Wow! Good job!" You know, all the things you try to muster up when really you are just wondering how they got so darn lazy. Anyway, I told them that if they didn't get busy I was going to get a black garbage bag and put everything on the floor in it.


The immediate response was "No! Don't do that!" but no actual cleaning to show me why I shouldn't do this. I gave them five minutes. They cleaned up for about 30 seconds. (This was mostly directed at my 3.5 and 5.5 year old.) I decided it was time. I got the bag, while saying loudly, "I'm getting the bag!" (I was actually enjoying myself and on a small power trip at this point.) I dramatically opened it up with a big swoosh through the air and loud plastic noise. I walked into the room, and put about 2 items in the bag and the crying and wailing began.

It was not the kind of crying I expected though. It was as if these children had been separated from an appendage. I expected anger and frustration when instead I got huge tears, hurt feelings, pain and suffering. These are the same toys, mind you, that they throw on the floor, step on, take outside and leave in the elements, draw on, you name it. Yet when they went into the black garbage bag it was as if my children were losing a piece of their soul.

It was hard for me not to laugh. But I kept it up. "I'm sorry, now that they're in the bag, you can't have them back for a week." They cleaned everything else up very quickly, while sniffling and whimpering. Lesson learned: Following through on your threats can actually be entertaining. And they really began to pick up their things after that. Even Jackson, who was just hanging out in his room, sat crying on his bed because I was putting his sister's toys in a big black garbage bag. Oh, the emotions. It was totally worth it.

I will sing songs. I'll get out a spoonful of sugar. I'll ride a carousel in the park with my children and dance with penguins. But when necessary, I will not be afraid to get out the big black garbage bag and make good on my threats. Because every once in a while the mean terrible nanny must rear her ugly head and remind these children who wears the ugly mole in this family.

1 comment:

Meagan N. said...

Way to go, Mama! I hope I have the strength to do that once my kid(s) is old enough to understand those sorts of consequences. I like that you just said "put away for a week" instead of "throw away." I think at their age, a week is such a long time, you might as well throw them away! Question is, in a week, will you remember to give them back? Will they remember they're gone??