Sunday, December 04, 2011

Do not open

As any parent of a teenager can tell you, they’re not exactly known for being neat and clean. OK, let’s be honest. Teens are downright messy.
Take their bedrooms, for instance. A teen’s room often resembles the aftermath of a dirty bomb attack — a dirty clothes bomb attack, that is.
There may be a conveniently located clothes hamper in the teen’s room, but it remains nearly empty. It’s as if some kind of anti-clothing repellent force field has been activated around it. Even when clothes are flung in its general direction, they never quite make it into the hamper. They automatically shoot to the other side of the room, ending up under beds, in closets or behind dressers.
Teens are messy with food too. It seems like I’m always catching our teens eating in their rooms. They’re like squirrels, nibbling away at a nest full of food, burrowed under their covers. It’s as if they think they’ll never get a chance to eat again. Either that or they don’t want their sister to get her hands on their secret stash of candy from Halloween 2010.
Teens also don’t seem to have any idea about what to keep and what to throw away. I suppose they consider their rooms one big, albeit messy, filing cabinet. In their mind, they know exactly where that missing paper or letter is.
“It’s in my room,” the teen thinks. “If I dig around long enough, I’ll find it. There may be a half-eaten Blow-Pop attached to it, but it’s here somewhere.”
Unlike this mom, teenagers don’t sort their paperwork every day into neat piles of “keep, toss, recycle.” For teens, it’s all “keep.”
Whatever a teen brings into his or her room stays in the room. Crumpled paper towels, piles of old homework assignments, random notes, notebooks containing last year’s history tests, half-empty sack lunches, empty bags from that candy store at the mall, permission slips and college catalogs. It can all be found in your teen’s room, and usually on the floor.
And don’t try to ask a teen about throwing away some of those wayward papers. A mom knows a piece of trash when she sees it. But to a teen that same item is a Smithsonian Institute–worthy memento that MUST be preserved. “No!” the teen will say. “I’m keeping that.”
Left long enough without some kind of cleanup effort, a teen’s room can turn into Hazmat conditions requiring yellow “caution” tape and all kinds of protective gear. Ancient sodas slowly evaporate. Bags of chips go stale. Boxes of crackers get ground into dust. Local ant colonies start reconnaissance missions, plotting their attacks.
The only thing that stays clean in a teen’s room is the carpet itself. That’s because it’s usually not visible underneath a layer of clothing, backpacks and bags covering it.
The mess migrates with the teen. If you could look inside a teen’s locker at school, I’d bet you’d find a layer of detritus dating from the beginning of the school year to yesterday, like layers of rock and sediment that archaeologists use to measure geological events.
“Aha,” an archaeologist would say. “Here we find evidence of the Crustaceous period, and by that we mean the crusty leftovers of September’s lunch.”
Last week, one of our teens was gone at a school event for four days. She was barely out the door when I hit her room with garbage bags and a vacuum. A few hours later, the job was done. There is nothing that gives a mom more satisfaction than a newly cleaned teenager’s room.
For the next three days, every time I walked by her room I’d stick my head inside to admire my work. I knew I had to enjoy it while it lasted.
No matter how messy teens are, it never ceases to amaze me how they manage to pull themselves together each morning. They always find something to wear. It may not match, but they usually have pants, a shirt and two shoes on. I guess they figure it doesn’t matter what their room looks like when they leave, just as long as they get out the door.
Over the years, instead of threatening, begging and downright pleading for our teen to clean up her room, I’ve developed a coping technique instead.
It’s simple, effective and quick.
Shut her door. And do not open it unless it’s an emergency.

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