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Monday, March 7, 2011

Tough Love

We've been telling him. We've told him time and time again. We meant business, and apparently he thought we were just playin'.

"Evan, if you do not clean that room, we are going to throw away anything that isn't put away."

Of course I realize that as Evan gets older, his room becomes less and less our territory and more and more his personal space. And if you talk to some parents, they will tell you to pick your battles, meaning to pick another one and just shut the damned bedroom door.

Yeah, okay.

The child of the person who said that doesn't have a room like Ev's. I call Evan's Tornado Chic. But really, it was worse than that. I imagine it may have looked comparable if a tornado, earthquake, and meteor strike all occurred simultaneously with Armageddon. It was seriously that bad.

Broken crayons, naked of their paper wrappings, which were also all over the floor. Teensy tiny Legos. Hot Wheels sans wheels. All. Over. The Floor. Books with pages ripped out mingling with empty fruit snack wrappers in cahoots with the Diet Dew cans he apparently sneaks to his room once we go to bed at night ( I'm having flashbacks of the "NO SOFT DRINKS, EVAN!" rule).... About half of my plastic drinking tumblers and cereal bowls. And his dresser drawers and closet were completely empty because the clean clothes were...All. Over. The floor. Sheets stripped off of bed.

But the clincher? The nasty dysfunction had incubated and managed to creep and crawl out of his room and all over the basement floor. And boxes of stuff from the basement--old papers, old books, old clothes that have been packed in boxes with the word "DONATE" on the side--torn open and scattered all over the basement floor. Because the kid couldn't possibly have enough stuff. Heaven forbid I donate some of his outgrown clothes to charity so they can go to a kid who has nothing.

And so he thought I was playin'.

I wasn't.

I put on my Mean Mom face and armed with a fat roll of black heavy-duty garbage bags, I headed down the stairs to his room. I put Zach in his Pack'n'Play down there and spent the entire day sitting on my butt, using a broom to pull piles of crap to me, sorting through piles of crap, and throwing crap away. Of course John was with me in all of this. And Evan casually wandered from the living room and the Disney Channel to the basement where we were doing all of this, and back again. He never protested. He never said a word about what we were doing, as a matter of fact.

All in all, we filled 20 garbage bags with junk. Enough that we have to call the trash people in the morning and arrange for a special pick up. And some of the stuff was our stuff. CD's that had been dug up and left on the concrete floor, grating against it until they were useless. Books torn up. You get the picture.

We worked until our bodies ached. Then until it was too dark out to see into every nook and cranny of the basement, and then we stopped. We headed upstairs. We all bathed and ate dinner. Watched a little tv. And then? Then it was quiet time-the time when you don't necessarily have to be in bed, but you do have to be in your room and doing something quiet because we are trying to get Zach to sleep and unwind from our day. It's the time Evan usually plays with his Legos or train tracks or Hot Wheels.

And that is when it sank in. He came upstairs with his beautiful face streaked with tears and thrust his hands at me. His hands that held 5 Hot Wheels.

"This is all I have left!" he cried.

And we had to say, "We told you so, Evan." And I stayed firm, though this is normally when I would crumple and admit that I didn't really throw his toys away and that he can get them all back if he just keeps his room reasonably clean for a week or so. I couldn't say that this time. This time was no bluff. (Mind you, that is not all he has left in total, but all of the Hot Wheels where there used to be a huge storage bin full of them. He has other toys still, though. If it was put away, it stayed.)

And he went downstairs to play quietly with the remaining five.

And then I cried.

Because it gets to me, too.

It gets to me that he is hurt. I wish he would have taken us seriously. I hate to see him cry. I wish it wouldn't have come to this.

The waste gets to me. If I would have had ample amounts of time to do this, I could have at least given those toys to charity. If you don't have boys Evan's age, then you probably have no idea, but those Lego sets alone that he plays with are about $100 a piece. We probably threw out about $2-3K in toys today. Somewhere there is a little boy who doesn't even have 5 Hot Wheels and would have given anything to have what Evan treated as garbage. But alas, I didn't have the time. And so they are in the trash.

The sentimentality gets to me. Among the things he destroyed? A children's Bible my mother had given me and I subsequently passed down to Evan. Books. Oh, the books. For each gift-giving occasion--birthdays, Easter, Christmas...--I have given Evan a hardback keepsake version of a story that has special meaning, and have written pertinent inscriptions in the covers under the dust jackets. Guess How Much I Love You for his first birthday. The Polar Express when he really started to believe in Santa. On and on for 9 years of his life.The plan was that he would have them for years. That he would have them if there ever came a day when he no longer had me.Nope. But the one that rips my guts out? I tried to start the same tradition with Ben. And for Ben's first birthday, and incidentally the only birthday of his where he was with me, there was The Giving Tree. And some simple words inside: "Happy First Birthday, Benjamin. May you always find shade under my branches. Love Mommy." I trusted Evan with it, and now it is garbage. And then the bear. The stuffed bear we made when Evan was 2 at Build-A-Bear Workshop. I had jut graduated and made my first paychck with a number in the "net pay" column that required a comma. For the first time in my life. And we went out to celebrate. And we made that bear together. It's 7 years old. And he tore it to smithereens.

So there is that, and then there is the horrid, ugly hurt. I've told the stories on here, so I don't need to go into a lot of detail, but I didn't always make the money I make now. And even now, the money I make, though decent, isn't so much when you count it is the only income for a family of 4. But the thing is that even when we were dirt poor, when we didn't have money for medicines one of us needed or new glasses when mine broke, Evan never knew it because I have always made sure he gets not only what he needs, but the majority of what he wants as well. I don't keep a running tab of all of the times I have really, truly needed something and have done without in order to get Evan the latest toy he wanted. Even in the leanest of times where an extra trip in the car would mean not enough gas to get to class, or a trip through the drive-thru would mean not enough grocery money for the week. Evan never ever ever knew it. He never felt it. Because I thought it was my job as his mother to ensure that he never did. And then, as he got older and his toys more expensive and our way of life more expensive, I would work so many hours of overtime that I would run myslef into the ground. Just so Evan got what he wanted. Those toys I threw away were not just toys. They were my sacrifices. My good intentions. My overtime hours and lack of sleep. And he didn't appreciate any of it enough.

I hope, now that we've stuck to our guns, that he will know from now on that we are serious. I hope we never have to do this again.

Of course, before you think I am completely cruel, I should explain that this is all coming on the heels of a pretty rough patch for Evan: misbehavior at home and at school, rude to John and I, throwing tantrums. I have devised a plan for Evan to get more toys. For each day he brings home no behavior notices from school, does his homework without a fuss, and keeps the remaining toys he has picked up and his room clean, I have agreed to give him $10 toward his "new toy fund". We plan on doing this for one month, giving him the opportumity to earn up to $300 to use on nothing but toys. It isn't a lot, but he needs to be appreciative and earn the replacements for what I have just handed him before. I am not including in this gifts I would normally buy him or things I deem a requirement. Example: a bike is not a luxury in this house. It is a means to get him outside and more active and is thus good for him. Books are not luxuries, but rather the more time he spends reading, the sharper his reading skills. Art supplies spark creativity. Those things don't come from the $300, but rather from me.

Let's all hope this works...


  1. You did the right thing. You SO did the right thing.

    I would be very surprised if Evan doesn't take this to heart form now on. You worked too hard for all that stuff to get thrown away. And you are working too hard to raise a decent young man to let "things" - even sentimental things -- get in the way of his character.

    I am in awe. GOOD FOR YOU for doing what is best for Evan even though it was so hard for you.

  2. I agree w/ Mary! Good for you & this will be Good for Evan. *hugs* I know it's hard, but oh my goodness, I about cried reading about the books. So you are totally on the right track!

  3. I'm glad you guys agree with what I did. I feel terrible about it still, and this makes me feel a little better!