I remember the festive season when I was small; my family confined together in cozy home with condensation on the window panes. My mother’s expression was one of displeasure with large blotches of annoyance – a message without any other clues. Being clueless, she added words – “why don’t you play in your room!” “O.k.” Lots more toys up there. “What do you think your bedroom is for?” Sleep? “Do you think you might do something to help?” Helping seemed like a good idea; I considered myself to be a helpful sort of a child. Given the choice between unhelpful and helpful, I’d definitely opt for helpful; who’d choose the negative? I thought, quite wrongly, that my beaming smile was an indication of willingness and readiness. I should have probably added words to match my demeanor, something like, ‘yes, here I am, awaiting orders.’ “Open your eyes!” They were already, so I blinked, just to make sure. “Look at this place! Look at the mess!”
There were my toys, quite a lot of them. My little brother’s toys were scattered without any noticeable order – very messy. There was my teenage sister’s paraphernalia; boring stuff with very little entertainment value. My Dad’s papers, books, stamps, albums and equipment were neatly arranged on a small collapsible table, poised in front of his winged backed chair. Next to it was my mother’s winged backed chair, because they were a pair. On and around her chair were masses of bags and boxes, with a side table at arm’s reach. Every surface was piled high with knitting, embroidery, darning, mending, many books on a wide variety of topics, all open, not even stacked – a veritable mountain of mess. “Shall I tidy it?” “Yes you will!” I stood alone in the room for a moment, pondering my mother’s lair. What, if anything, could be squished into something else? It was just as I was jamming the knitting into the basket that my mother returned and squeaked, “mind!” but I was ahead of her, I had no intention of impaling myself on the needles. “What do you think you are doing?” “Tidying.” She shooed me away as you would a chicken, flighty creatures renowned for their small brains. “For the last time!” Last time? “Will you pick up your toys?” My toys? Well why didn’t you just say so in the first place and I might have acquiesced to your unreasonable demand, I’m nothing if not helpful.
It’s my turn now because I’m the mum. I often misjudge - forget. Sometimes it takes me a couple of attempts. It’s usually just when I’m about to blow my stack with exasperation that I remember.
There’s a lot to be said for specificity and logic.