Monday, January 25, 2016

Sing with me, “Clean up, pick up, put away!”

     One afternoon decades ago I sat with my Grandma Ruby on her green sofa and listened to her stories of childhood.  She laughed as she recalled how when it was time to wash up the dinner dishes her sister Pearl always seemed to disappear into the bathroom, and stay there long enough that the dishes were almost done when she came back.  I laughed.  I had similar experiences with sisters.

     Some things don’t change. Even at preschool there are a few children who suddenly remember they need to go the bathroom when toy clean-up time is announced. Kids have been ditching out on clean up time for a long, long time.

      Whether kids like it or not, cleaning up is perpetual because life is messy. Eating, playing, working, creating, and even making mistakes makes messes.  Most of us at some point have wished there were elves or magic or mothers or someone to make them go away, but they just don’t. 

      We’ve all somewhere seen the sign I spotted on the wall in the photocopy store:
Clean Up After Yourself.
Your mother doesn’t work here.

       The catch is that in the world of small children their mother or father does “work” in the place where they make lots of messes, and most children have real expectations that if they choose to not clean up their parents will take care of it. 

      Babies start out needing absolutely everything, and parents love them and care for them.  Ironically the next step is to begin working yourself out of a job.  The best care you can your child is to teach him or her all the skills they need to handle life when mom or dad isn’t there, including how to clean up all kinds of messes.  Constantly cleaning up, literally and figuratively, for your child and taking care of his every problem is like pushing him forever in a stroller and never letting them learn to walk.  Growing up means cleaning up our own messes.

         The typical response of a child who knocks over a cup of milk at the preschool shack table is the quick exclamation, “I didn’t mean to!”  Hidden in that exclamation is the message, “This was an accident so I shouldn’t have to clean this up.” Many adults and children all hope that if we didn’t try to make something happen there shouldn’t be any unhappy consequences. But there are just two choices with messes, someone cleans it up or everyone lives with it. Learning to pick up, sweep up and wipe up with a good attitude whether the mess was intended or not is a big deal.
     Daniel Tiger, the children’s television show teaches the little song, “Clean up, pick up, put away. Clean up every day.” And I think the best part is that it teaches cleaning up should expect to clean up every day. What an advantage a child has if he or she goes into adult hood with the habit of always cleaning up messes.

     Cleaning up is more than just tidiness.  Genuine maturity has come when a person can also clean up social and spiritual messes with an apology, kind words or better choices.  Really great people are the ones who choose to work on the messes in our society that they didn’t make, but need fixing anyway.

     I think children like the feeling that comes with being able to take care of things.  It’s empowering to feel capable. Cleaning up after ourselves is a negative only if we have been conditioned to think that someone else should do it for us. The world will be a better place someday because we have taught our children to clean up, do their share, and then just a little bit more.

© Diane L. Mangum