Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Karen and I are off for the week enjoying another money saving Staycation holiday. Rather than just laze about (which, let’s face it, is what any normal person would do) we’ve elected to give the house something of a cleaning blitz.

Shampoo the carpets. De-web and de-mould the windowsills. That kind of thing.

It’s a big job and trying to do it with 2 very active children makes it harder still. After all a 2 year old does not appreciate the dictat of not walking on a freshly shampood carpet for a couple of hours until it is dry. And the 8 year old doesn’t give a damn; making a rendezvous with his PlayStation is of a much higher priority.

It is stressful, all this “deep pore” cleaning. And I can now appreciate why my mother used to get so irrate with me and my two sisters on “hoover days” during the summer holidays.

My mother would, without fail, hoover the house twice a week. Mondays would be a “light” day – sitting room and hall only. But Fridays would be the big “all over” day. Upstairs and downstairs. The whole Shebang.

There is something about adults performing cleaning chores that, I swear, just makes kids behaviourally uncooperative. We’d inevitably play up and earn the short, quick arm of my mother’s temper. If we were particularly bad a phone call to my Nan would be in order and she’d speak to us on the phone. Never to tell us off. I don’t think I ever saw or heard my Nan angry but the shame of knowing my Nan felt the slightest disappointment in us was usually enough to bring us all back into line.

God, but I wish she was still alive and on the other end of the phone today.

With the carpets shampood yesterday we all elected to go outside for the afternoon. For the little one this is actually a bonus. He loves being outside in the garden. Rain or snow he loves it. The 8 year old, however, has more of an ambivalent attitude. The garden is great in theory but he’d much rather be inside plugged into his PlayStation or his Nintendo DS.

Except he managed to break the latter in a horrendous fit of temper on Sunday evening.

Every Sunday he has but one chore to perform:

Clean his room.

And, my God, is it a performance. A 2 hour job (at the most) usually ends up taking over the whole day and the whole house. Karen and I have to put more energy into getting him to do it than the job itself would actually take if we were to do it ourselves. But there is a principal at stake here so we persist.

There will be tantrums. There will be wailing. There will be gnashing of teeth. There will be shouting. There will be playing with his toys rather than just tidying them away. There will be miniscule attempts at cleaning and then a million “tea breaks” to recover. And then there will be naggings to get on with the job and get it finished and then the whole cycle will start all over again.

Usually the threat of “no gaming” until the room is tidy ensures the job is eventually completed. With the absence of my Nan on the end of the phone it is the only and best alternative.

This Sunday, however, was different. This Sunday he was told he’d be banned from the DS unless he tidied his room. He said he’d done it and promptly started playing. When we checked we found that the sneaky little so-and-so had merely covered the mess up with his duvet. So gaming was duly banned.

This was when the temper kicked in. And I mean Temper. We’re talking Zeus hurling flaming thunderbolts. We’re talking The Incredible Hulk throwing Chieftain tanks into massive military fuel dumps. Two large tubs of Lego got overturned – 1000+ pieces all over the floor. And then the DS got thrown across the room. £120 quid’s worth of kit broken in a fit of pique.

Karen and I were not impressed. My Nan would have been speechless.

We cannot afford to replace such equipment willy-nilly. So the boy is now Nintendo-less.

The boy of course was distraught. And showed it by having an even bigger tantrum. And then realizing he’d be spending the next 24 hours picking up ALL the Lego from his room before he’d be allowed the ameliorative powers of the PlayStation had another even bigger tantrum.

This was Sunday. And Monday. And part of Tuesday.

The Lego wasn’t completely tidied away until yesterday afternoon after 2 days of sheer hell. Tantrums, complaints, shouts and more attempts at merely concealing the mess rather than actually cleaning it properly.

Karen and I are both exhausted.

Apparently the 8 year old is only possibly on the “borderline of the Aspergers spectrum” according to our local GP.

Christ. I pity those parents with kids who have the full blown version.

The carpet of my mind now needs a deep clean. My mind needs a shampoo.

A good scrub all over please someone.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you in spirit.
My lovely little lad, was up at 4a.m. with jetlag. Hasn't done his home work, got started on it and by 1p.m had completed 3 whole sums.
Jeez, the procratination, the evasion tactics, I was just about ready to do them myself!!
Sucks about the DS though!

Steve said...

MissBehaving: I do sometime wonder if that isn't part of the ploy... delay and prevaricate enough that the grown ups lose it and just do the required task themselves...! However, kids rarely reckon with the stubbornness of adults! ;-)

Clippy Mat said...

you both did well to stay calm and not give in to his tantrums and it will be a good lesson (an expensive one too) for him to learn from.
stay strong. :-))

Steve said...

Clippy Mat: I'm not entirely sure that Karen and I stayed what could be described as "calm"... however, the boy is still alive which is a testament to our powers of forebearance at the very least...!

Selina Kingston said...

I'm so in awe that you stuck with it.
Children need boundaries and they do their darndest to break them but as difficult as it is for us, it actually reassures them that they didn't get their way and next time round it will be just a touch easier.
The DS will be a loss though and he will understand that happened because he lost control and amend his behaviour accordingly - though not necessarily in a way you notice !!

Steve said...

Selina: I was tempted to throw the ruddy PlayStation after it in all honesty! ;-)

Boundaries are very important but the constant pushing sometimes gets very wearing.

Tim Atkinson said...

You're not taking the curtains down and washing them as well, are you?

French Fancy... said...

Oh dear Steve and you didn't even have work to escape to. You did well not to give in though - I can't remember what age I had to begin cleaning my room; I don't recall it being at 8 so good on you for both trying to instill this discipline into him.

How was the little one at witnessing his older bro's screams and cries. It must have been quite frightening for him - and bloody annoying for you and Karen.

Just think - I sometimes grumble about two relatively obedient little white dogs - they're not a patch on your boys

Steve said...

Dotterel: no - and my mother would be disgusted.

FF: not sure what Tom makes of it. He's such an even tempered little soul most of the time I sometimes wonder if he even registers the temper tantrums of his older brother. However, he's battling a summer cold at the moment so has had enough to deal with - a cuddle and CBeebies (plus the odd chocolate) has kept him reasonably happy.

Suburbia said...

That all sounds a very stressful way to spend your week off.

I hope you manage to spend some time together doing something other than cleaning.

My Nan said, practically from her death bed, that she'd spent far to many hours of her life cleaning. I try to remember that when the urge comes upon me to spring clean!

Take care of yourselves

S x

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Sneaky so and so - bribing the doctor with his pocket money in return for a diagnosis which excuses him hurling his PlayStation about!

Mind you if he really has it, he should welcome routines such as having to clean his room as Aspberger's children apparently *need* strict routines in their lives.

I am sure you & Mrs Bloggertropolis GTi could save some money by making him wait for his next birthday for a new one anyway. I only ever used to have presents for birthdays and Christmas, except for the odd Ladybird 'How it Works' book or 'Look and Learn' magazine.

Owen said...

Indeed, sounds like your brain could use some washing too... there's a term for that... oh yes : brainwashing. Once wrote a poem of that title in which the protagonist sawed open a good sized hole in the skull and went to work with industrial strength cleaners and drain-opener, wire brushes, etc... sometimes it really does feel like it would be nice to be able to wipe the slate clean, as it were, and start from scratch. Hopefully your 8 year old is learning, however slowly, from these experiences. Stay strong, I've seen at close hand the results of a lack of parental discipline... it is not pretty. Going back to work may feel like vacation soon ? Best wishes ...

Steve said...

Suburbia: your Nan was very wise. I guess the trick is the get the balance right - not to be too OCD about it and not to end up on How Clean Is Your House looking like a bag-lady...!

Laura: he's not getting a new one unless he saves up for it himself (which could take some time) and then will have to get a cheap second hand one from Ebay... this is one of life's more important lessons.

Owen: going back to work is never a vacation and never an option I would ever consider except that the requirements of modern living demand a steady influx of money. T'otherwise I would be quite glad to stay at home all day every day - even with tantrumming children!

The Joined up Cook said...

Oh dear, I do not envy you.

Does writing it down help release it? I hope so.

And 'borderline?'; sounds like he's invaded the territory and marching on the capital to me.

Our children were generally OK at the pre-hormone ages.

My daughter though, became another person at about 15 and stayed in Miss Hyde's clothing for 5 or 6 years. The original wild teenager. The stories I could tell (and have one or two too)

So, when I look at my sweet 7 year-old granddaughter I await the next few years with some caution.

Being a parent is sometimes like being on a boat without a sail, rudder or any engine in the middle of a wild storm.

Steve said...

AWB: or even without the boat in the first place! He's been properly assessed and though his temper is spectacular (or to be nicer about it: his inability to control or own his emotions) he thankfully does not have some of the other more problematic aspergers symptoms... so, despite his anger mismanagement, we're also quite thankful. It could really be a lot worse. But his behaviour is a worry. Thankfully his school is a good one and have been very much on the ball with this so we're getting some support there too. It's just a shame that "family time" is a little exhausting at the moment... and yes, writing it down did help!

Glenda Young said...

I have horrible memories of being woken up by my mother hoovering outside of my bedroom door during the school holidays if I decided to have a lie in till say, ooh, I dunno, 2 or 3pm.

Steve said...

Nora: how awful for you! You mean she didn't actually come in and hoover your room for you?

Valerie said...

Whoever said parenting was easy probably never had kids. Been there, done that, so I can empathise wholeheartedly with you.Hope at some point you got some alone time with Karen.

Löst Jimmy said...

I could almost feel the stress as I read through your description of the wee man's fit of tantrum.
Seriously though with kids and tidying, it is just another day at the bedroom. I can recall such parental requests stifling my play plans.

Deep breaths now!

Steve said...

Valerie: 8pm is the golden hour - both boys safely tucked away in bed... alas we are usually both asleep by 9.30...!

Löst Jimmy: funnily enough we have used that analogy on the boy... that everybody has to do things they don't like doing, like going out to work... I can almost sympathise with his protests when I view it like that...

English Rider said...

Oh God that post brought back the days of spending so much time and emotional energy trying to guide a recalcitrant child to human-being-hood. Tremble.
For us the final recourse was "anything on the floor after X'o'clock goes in a big plastic garbage bag, never to be seen again. No half measures. No giving it back the next day. Irrevocably Gone. My greatest shame one day was having my child ask " what are the cleaning ladies for?"

The Sagittarian said...

Wow, you see this is why red wine was invented! Take 2 bottles and call me in the morning! Mind you, the Scowly Teen has the temper of a meat-deprived lion some days and it's almost always over something she has been asked to do. I read somewhere that when you ask a child to do something you should move close to them, like stand beside them I guess, and tell them what you want done. Apparently the idea is that they can ignore you if you're not right there and they don't see any urgency (their brains are wired weird). I have actually tried this and found that it works! Who knew!! Good on you for sticking to your guns, Steve & Mrs Steve. You gotta do this every week, don't you dare let him off this weekend now, once he realises that tidying one's bedroom is a "gotta do" he'll make more of an effort to keep it tidy during the week so its not such a biggie at wkd. Good luck, and drink up!

skatey katie said...

oh how i hate Deep Cleans.
cos they nearly always degenerates into a mixture of bribery and corruption sprinkled with accusation and a screaming match.
i have found one thing that works though: i sit at the door and say helpful things like:
pick up all the books.
now bring me each drawer and i'll help you refold. you know if you put things in the right drawer then we wouldn't have this huge mess.
red bits of lego.
blue bits of lego.
bulldoze all that lego.
blah blah blahdy blah.
cos i know i feel so overwhelmed when i am in charge of tidying up stuff. and as my kids've grown up, they happily help me sort my sh*t.
love that.
only ten years to go..... X

Steve said...

English Rider: we've done that too - it worked when Ben was younger but not so much anymore. We also tried the "we'll justhoover up your Lego" trick. That did work. The hoover has some strange, dark mystical powers that kids are afraid of.

Amanda: he has to tidy his room once a week without fail - this is something we started about a year ago... and the tantrums became a weekly event from about the same time. It feels like a real war of attrition... both sides trying to wear down the other until someone gives in. Well, it ain't gonna be us! That bottle of whiskey says "backbone" all over it.

Katie: much as I love Lego, picking it out of carpet isn't much fun... but then neither is standing on it in the middle of the night when you are trying to wade to the young one's cot to relieve him from teething pain... so that room has got to be tidied and the mess kept on top of. Death and taxes... death and taxes. When you're a kid you don't have to worry about being taxed financially but cleaning your room is a reasonable enough "tax" in my book. Like you say, ten years to go. Then if he hasn't learned to tidy by then he can at least be making a mess of his own place...

Wendabubble said...

Hi Steve!


Well firstly aspergers or not doesn't give anyone the 'right' to behave badly.

Secondly this little chap needs a lot of love.

It sounds like trauma rules his life at the moment. I respect your stance on the cleaning the room thingy but this goes further than this doesn't it? Is cleaning the room more important than your kid feeling loved?? Or him allowing love in.

I hope that you are prepared to say that this method of getting your child to clean his room isn't working.

My only solution is to suggest to you that you do it with him in future. I know that when I was a child I hated cleaning my room too. When my Mum and I did it together it was a whole different experience. A bonding one if you like. She made the experience an enjoyable one because we made it a fun activity. We had the music playing for starters and snacks on hand ready for a reward once we had vacuumed the carpet or made the bed.

Team work is very important in today's world and teaching your kid to work in a team to get a task done is just as important as him taking responsibility for the cleanliness of his room.

Good luck!

MommyHeadache said...

I don't want to come all holier than thou because some of my parenting er skills would make your hair curl but isn't it obvious that the DS has to go? it has just become a big battle ground hasn't it and probably doesn't add much towards giving him something constructive to do. It is like me, my husband turns off the internet for most of the day because i have a cough, problem.

Also I ripped up my carpets - floorboards are easier to deal with but you have to have nice ones underneath to start with (ooh that does sound rude!)

Steve said...

Wend: thank you for your input. We have indeed tried the joint approach when tidying the room but the battle is essentially the same and takes even longer or the lion's share of the task gets put onto someone else's shoulders. At the end of the day the borderline aspergers diagnosis has yet to be concretely confirmed - it all seems to be educated guess work at the moment - and as you so wisely point out, even with a diagnosis, it doesn't give anyone the right to behave badly. And at the end of the day, tidying his room is the only chore we make a big thing about and it is merely once a week. Part of our love for Ben is helping him to be prepared to deal with the big old world when he;s old enough to be let loose on his own... and that means he's got to get used to doing some things that he probably won't want to do but has to do.

Emma: I'd happily chuck the DS off the nearest high-rise and then roll over it in the car just to make sure... but it seems the damned thing has 9 lives. It still works unbelievably and I feel very ambivalent about this as I suspect it means an important lesson will be missed or at the very least deferred... I'm puzzled by the reference to your ripped up carpets. Are you getting into rugs now? ;-)

Wendabubble said...

I still believe that one simple chore is causing a lot of trauma when it can be made to be fun instead. He is only 8 after all and it could take him years to learn to work happily in a team.

Steve said...

Wend: I respect where you're coming from but I think you need to "walk a mile in our shoes". And also quite possibly in Ben's.

Rol said...

I used to love tidying my room when I was a kid. Although it was more like rearranging / remodelling most of the time.

I've lost interest in such things (well, cleaning) since becoming an adult. (Note how I didn't say 'grown up'.)

Steve said...

Rol: me too - it was a way of rediscovering what I had and finding hidden treasures. Have to say I haven't grown out of it.

Wendabubble said...

I am really beginning to feel for Ben now even more if he is bordering on Aspergers. The trauma he finds in cleaning his room every week will be losing confidence in himself not to mention his trust having made the mistake of breaking his Nintendo. As a parent it is your job to nurture a child rather than ensure he cleans his room regardless of how he is having a problem with the responsibility and it will continue with anything thrown at him.

Children need a lot of patience and understanding I know I was one, once. Please don't blame the kid for all of this.

Steve said...

Wend: I'm having to break my response to you up into parts as Blogger won't let me post such a big comment in one go.

I must say that I think you are being just a little arrogant. I have had to think long and hard about how to reply to you as your comments have been deeply offensive. I'm amazed that you cannot see this for yourself but I suspect you are perhaps blinded by your own super-sensitivity. However, it is not my intention to start a slanging match so I am going to do my best to keep calm and give a considered reply.

First off, you have read one blog post that makes passing reference to one single miniscule event in the overall life of my family. A family that I love very dearly and that I put an immense amount of energy into caring for - as any parent does. From that one blog post you have made some - quite frankly - horrendous assumptions and, worse still, judgements. You seem to have decided that our insistence on Ben cleaning his room once a week is evidence that he is not being loved or cared for or nurtured. And yet you were very sure to mention in your first comment that you did not wish to disrespect our parenting methods. Sorry Wend, but I feel you have been very disrespectful. Not to mention inaccurate and just a little ignorant.

My last comment to you was a reference to the saying "do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes". My intention there was to suggest that maybe you need a helluva lot more informtaion (information that you are not actually entitled to) before you can make such sweeping judgements and condemnations. How can you dare insinuate yourself into my family life as judge and jury when you know so little about us?

Secondly your argument seems to centre around not putting Ben through the trauma of tidying his room, that it is damaging him in some way and that we should avoid such confrontations. You then seem to suggest that the possible aspergers diagnosis actually makes such avoidance more imperative.

I'm afraid, I think this is rubbish.

I am blessed with some blog readers who have children who suffer from varying degrees of aspergers and who have been kind enough to send me private emails offering advice, useful information and sharing experiences. They have all been warm, gracious and good humoured. No one has been judgemental in the way that you have and, rather tellingly, not one of them has ever suggested that there be a change of house rules for their children, that their own children's aspergers means they should not follow the house rules or contribute toward the life of the household like a normal child. Because with aspergers or not they are all normal children.

Steve said...

Wend: continued...

As for the room cleaning... Karen and I make very few demands on our kids. If they want to grow up to be bums, dustmen or academics that is entirely their perogative. We just want them to be happy with the choices they have made. The only real stipulation we make and encourage is that they take responsibility for their own actions. We believe that this is the single most important lesson you can learn in life. If you can do that it gives you the power to cope with most of what life can throw at you. Ben cleaning his own room is part of that. He is never asked to clean anybody else's mess - only his own. Of course he doesn't like doing it. Few kids do. It is normal. Ben's dislike of it has little to do with aspergers and more to do with the fact he is a normal, healthy boy and I would like to point out at this point that Karen and I do see Ben as a normal boy and not as someone carrying the label of aspergers around with him all day. However, the aspergers - if indeed it is aspergers - shows itself in how he expresses that dislike, in how he shows his emotions. Part of the work we are doing is to try and get Ben to recognise when he is "losing it", to own his own feelings and deal with them appropriately. This is done because we love him dearly and do not want him to suffer later in life because he has not learnt how to control how he expresses himself. In short we would rather he gets the tantrums out of his system now rather than to still be experiencing them when he is an adult when people will make fewer allowances and the damage he could do to himself and others could be far greater.

As you point out it could take Ben years to learn such behaviour. Absolutely. That is why he needs to start now, when he is a child. It is too late when he is a teenager - if he hasn't learnt it by then it could take him a decade as an adult to unlearn the bad behaviour before he even gets to grips with acquiring the good. Your method is to avoid the problem scenario altogether.

Your argument is offensively reductive: Is Ben's happiness less important that tidying his room? Of course not. But Ben is also unhappy at wearing his shoes, eating most kinds of food, not being allowed to play the Playstation all day and a whole host of other things - he is after all a normal boy. At what point do we stop putting Ben's happiness in the moment before other equally important things? Of course your reductive argument - love vs room tidying - makes any "yes but..." reply seem as if it is coming from an ufeeling Dickensian villain who sends kids out to work cleaning chimneys. You over simplify things way too much which, coupled with your incredible ability to read between the lines and get anything but the right answer makes you a dangerous person to be offering opinions and advice. Sorry, but that's how I feel.

Steve said...

Wend: continued...

Ben's school and the parents of Ben's friends all follow the same tack as us - encouraging our children to take responsibility for their own actions. Such a consistent approach is really helping Ben. All kids, after all, respond well to clear, consistent boundaries and the knowledge that they have to follow the rules and that the rules are the same everywhere they go. If Ben makes a mess at school he has to tidy it. If he goes to a friend's house and makes a mess - he has to tidy it.

The same rule exists at home.

Ben of course, being a normal boy, does not like having to do it and (being very intelligent) will do all he can to get out of it. Including having a tantrum. He is, however, starting to learn that the tantrums not only do not get him what he wants, they sometimes cost him dear on a personal level - the broken DS for example. This was an important lesson for Ben. An odd kind of breakthrough. For once he could see straight away the effect of his behaviour and he has made real efforts this week to modify his temper. The rules however have not changed. Nor will they. The room will be tidied once a week. Some weeks he will do it fine. Some weeks he will not. It is a long, full time job. But it is our duty as parents (and you are very keen to point out my duty as a parent, Wend) to stick with it and see it through. To be consistent.

Do not mistake adherence to some very simple house rules as evidence of lack of love. I cannot tell you how angry your comments have made me.

What I am going to do though is throw this debate open to my usual readers as I feel too upset to respond as fully as I would like. Maybe I am too close to the subject. Maybe you are right and I am wrong. Who knows? Let's see what other people have to say...

Anonymous said...

Bloody brilliant response Steve, don't think you've left much for the rest of us to say.
Being as I am in a similar (rudderless, sail-less, engine-less) boat as you, I too was offended by Wend's comments.
It was ridiculous to suggest that you think a tidy room is more important than Ben feeling loved.
As you put so well,it's all about teaching them early on the skills they'll need as adults, and taking responsibility is a big one, and looking at the state of our communities, something a lot of people could have done with being taught from an early age.
I found the part ' children need a lot of patience and understanding, I know, I was one once.' particularly offensive, like we didn't know, oh thanks for the heads up on that, I'll change my game plan immediately.
Your gut tells you you are doing the right thing Steve, stick with it!

Steve said...

MissBehaving: thank you. From the heart.

Valerie said...

Admirable response, Steve. Shame you had to go to all that trouble.

Steve said...

Valerie: it actually made me feel better to write it down. It got my head "sorted" rather than let things fester internally. ;-)

English Rider said...

Your response has a core theme throughout of wanting what is best for your son and being willing to work at parenting, rather than opting out. Parenting is hard work, but very worthwhile.

Steve said...

English Rider: yes, yes, yes. To the point and on the button. Thank you.

Sky Clearbrook said...

Steve: This is an excellent post made all the more special by your thoughtful response(s) above.

Thoroughly well said.

Steve said...

Sky: praise indeed. Thank you very much, sir.