My Aunt Phyllis was legendary in child-rearing circles. A tough, smart, no-nonsense kind of woman with a voice like Marlene Dietrich and a will as unshakeable as an iron rod.
But I seriously feared for my safety and the security of my belongings whenever my mother spent time with her.
You see her most famous story was the one where she smiled beatifically and offered her cursory goodbye wave as her three children boarded the bus to school one day. Then, as soon as the bus pulled out of eye range, she went back inside and without an ounce of emotion, collected every single piece of clothing, school work, and various personal items that had failed to be put away by her children. She methodically went room to room. If it was on the ground, it went into the heap. It was as simple as that. There were treasured stuffed animals from bygone years, irreplaceable journals, records (back then that’s what we listened to), favorite hats, scarves, shoes. There was no selection process. If it didn’t belong on the floor, she took it.
Then, she carted all the items out of the house and dumped them smack dab in the middle of the street. Some blew into a neighboring park. Others were squashed by oncoming traffic. And some of the nicer items were happily adopted by local city workers, gardeners, and random passerbys.
Upon returning from school, Phyllis’ three children were mortified to find a plethora of personal belongings littering the lane in front of their home. Legend has it there were tears, tantrums and no lacking of hysterics at the scene of the incident. But Phyllis said nothing. In her mind she had already said too much. Too many frustrated reminders to throw dirty clothes into the laundry basket and not just leave them lying prostrate on the floor next to the hamper. Too many threats that something would happen if school work was carelessly left scattered across the carpet instead of neatly lining a safe social studies folder or securely tucked into a nearby back-pack. She was just done.
I get this. It’s taken me years and two children to finally realize what an amazing woman my Aunt was. The story goes that her kids didn’t leave their crap lying around after this jarring episode. Still not sure I entirely believe that. But I’m proud to say that I too have joined the ranks of merciless maternal maidservant.
Last night, while my eldest was at rehearsal for his Christmas show, I grabbed a green garbage bag and went to town. I threw out every random piece of paper, article of clothing, book, towel, foot wear, etc… The list is endless. I will admit that there were a few cords that looked really important that I hid in a cabinet in my husband’s office. But everything else landed in the Hefty. I took it straight out to the curb and left it for the morning garbage pick-up. As much as i wanted to throw it into the street for dramatic effect, the HOA is really up our butts about everything and I just figured it wouldn’t be worth the angst.
When my son came home, he went to his room to dump his stuff. Then he came joyously bounding into my bathroom where I was brushing my teeth. He thanked me profusely and offered warm hugs and kisses. “For what?” I had to finally inquire.
“For cleaning my room. You’re the best!” He smiled broadly.
“Well, you’re welcome honey,” I said, matching his buoyant tone, “But I didn’t really clean up for you. I just got tired of the chaos. So I threw out everything that wasn’t where it belonged. I love you.” Then I walked into my bedroom, climbed into the bed, turned out the light and did not utter a single word more.
Oh, he tried to get me to engage. But I stood my ground. I kept breathing and reminding myself that good old Aunt Phyllis only had to do this once. He finally gave up and went to bed about a half hour later.
I’m not sure if my actions will have any kind of lasting effect. One can only hope. But even if they don’t, at least it’s a jump start on spring clutter cleaning.