My daughter, Clara, is 8 years old. My son, Charlie, is 5. They are happy, curious, kind children despite the many mistakes I have made in my years as a parent. Here are four of the most egregious mistakes thus far:
Bins of dolls and vehicles and Lego bricks and Magna-Tiles in the back room. Elaborate Matchbox tracks and plastic parking garages in the living room. A play kitchen in our actual kitchen. Puzzles and board games in the dining room. Even a box of toys in our bedroom for those moments when my wife is trying to get ready for the day. I honestly have no idea what I was thinking. I have so many friends who have wisely segregated their children’s toys to a single room and have homes that are well-appointed and suited for adults. Vases of fresh flowers. Stacks of The New Yorker and award-winning novels on glass coffee tables. Wicker things that have no purpose other than to look lovely. All the things I cannot have because every room in my home is a playroom.
And yes, it’s true, I know about every single imaginary game that my children play with great intimacy. The invented names of plastic people and plush dolls. The way they transform empty laundry hampers and sofa cushions into faraway planets. I know how remarkably agreeable my daughter’s Playmobile parents are, and I know the exact frequency of helicopter crashes at my son’s firehouse, and there are moments of such sweetness when my kids are playing together in harmony that I am brought to tears.
Still, toys are everywhere. Huge mistake.
It occurred to me—just recently—that I tell the kids to clean their bedrooms, clean off the art table, and clean the living room, but when I go to inspect these rooms, they are never cleaned to the standards of any reasonable human being. But that’s because I’ve never shown them what a clean art table or a clean bedroom looks like. I’ve never modeled the act of cleaning and organizing. And I’m an elementary-school teacher with 19 years of experience. I should’ve known better.
Yes, it’s true that this failure to fully clean a space has resulted in enormous worlds of interconnected dollhouses and airports and train tracks that grow in size and complexity by the day, and yes, it allows for never-ending art projects that are sometimes so magnificent that they are framed and hung on the wall.
Still, my kids don’t ever fully clean a space. Not good.
Now it’s the only way she’ll eat apples. I dream of the day when she can simply grab an apple on her own and start eating like every other human being on the planet.
And yes, it’s true that every time I cut her an apple, I cut the pieces into interesting shapes and sizes, which she finds amusing. And yes, it’s true that every time I hand her a bowl of apples, she responds with a heartfelt “Thank you, Daddy” that warms my heart.
Still, she can’t eat an apple in the way nature intended. It’s a disaster.
Biggest mistake of all.