Today, I was sitting in the waiting room at the dentist's office, reading my new book "Walking in Circles before Lying Down." I am engaged thoroughly by author Merril Markoe's wit, and yet something begins to happen that interrupts my concentration. it is something so strange and beautiful, that I put down the book and watch in complete motherly fascination.
My seven year old daughter is down on the floor sorting through the magazines that have been messily strewn on the small cheap wicker coffee table in the waiting room. And she is putting them back in neat short stacks. She is straightening up their office. At home, we have a very long coffee table on which and under which is all her library books, Highlights and American Girl magazines, coloring books, and notebooks. It's a mess most of the time. She's never made a move to organize it unless I've bribed her or asked her repeatedly in a voice that gets louder as each request passes.
Sam moves on, and starts fluffing the pillows on the wicker settee she has been sitting on. She moves to another chair and gives the seat cushion a refreshing lift. And so she moves along, chair by chair, pillow by pillow. She is going about her business, and has a very cute smirk on her face, and she is pretending that I am not watching.
But I am entranced by this phenomenon of unsolicited organization. I recall once when she got down on her knees and aligned the candy bars at the check out at Wal-Mart. I remember wondering "why doesn't she ever feel like doing it at home." I think she was pretending to be a store clerk and that was her job.
Clearly my daughter has a passion for role play, and when she is in another character, the notion of cleaning and straightening turn her on. She likes to impersonate a pre-school teacher. In this role, she puts on latex gloves and goes about changing diapers on dolls, reading to the class, and disciplining the make believe kids. I may participate by saying, "Miss Sam, I think the boys and girls made that table over there very sticky. Could you please get some wipes and clean it up." And she will do it because she is a good teacher.
I have used her dramatic flair to my advantage; I use it to bait her. It is the coolest thing because she has fun and I get help. Mutual benefits. The other day, for example, I look around the apartment and get completely overwhelmed. It is a mess. I call to her. "Hey Sammi, would you please be the custodian and clean the school." She happily agrees and asks for a broom, a dustpan and rubber gloves which of course are too big and look ridiculously adorable on her little hands. She proceeds to sweep the floor and then take care of the garbage. I went to the store to buy a Swiffer the next day. I know she'll like using that even better.
So back to the present...
Tonight as i am tickling her back making her sleepy for bed, I ask her what the difference is between straightening up in the dentist office and at home. She answers, "Responsibility. You don't think I am responsible, so I don't do it." Interesting. I get that.
I look around her bedroom and see piles of clothes on her dresser and devise our next game. Tomorrow we will play 'Gap Girl, and she will be the manager, and her boss (me) is coming to see just how neat she keeps the store. Yes that should work.
I am eager to hear more of her philosophy on this subject, and so I start to delve deeper. She yawns, and cuts me off, "Mom, we'll talk about it in the morning."