Picture the scene. You’ve been away from home for a few days, possibly longer. You are tired. The journey back has been longer than expected and you are a bit jet-lagged as you have been abroad – and it’s not as if you can sleep well in a hotel bed at the best of times. You open the front door and your children rush up, shouting your name as they throw themselves into your arms. It’s a great feeling, up there with the best moments of being a parent. You walk into the lounge, ready to sit down for five minutes and hear about what the kids have to say. Instead you just stand there open-mouthed.
The lounge looks like an explosion at Toys R Us. It takes all your dexterity to get to a seat without twisting your ankle and when you arrive, you find even more toys taking up the sofa space. Your blood pressure rises and before you know it you’re telling your kids to have a clear up. They stare at you, disappointment in their eyes as they remember how grumpy Daddy can be.
Now you might say I’m being unreasonable; children like to play with toys and what sort of monster would stop them from doing so? And you would be right, if the lounge was the only place they could play. But one of the reasons for buying our house was that on the ground floor it had a kitchen, lounge, dining room and conservatory, enabling us to eat in the conservatory and convert the dining room into a kids play room.
Can you imagine that, a whole room full of toys and books, with the space to play and make as much noise as you want? I would have loved to have had a play room when I was a kid. As we decorated the room I could see the scene in my head; our two boys playing nicely together in the play room while my wife and I relaxed in the lounge, the adult room. I’m so naïve.
For the majority of the day, the children’s play room is like a big storage unit. It’s where the children go to collect whichever of their (many, many) toys they want to play with and bring them into our lounge to play. When this first started happening I would shoo the kids back into the playroom, which would bring on the inevitable bout of tears; “how dare you force me to go into a room full of my toys to play, it’s so unfair. ” But my wife said I was being mean so we compromised ,and we now have the basket.
The basket is small – around 2 feet by 2 feet wide and 6 inches high – made of wicker and sits at one end of our lounge. When we started with the basket, the rule was that the only toys allowed in the lounge were those in the basket. For every new toy in, one went out. This seemed like a fair compromise. The kids could play in the lounge with those toys, but if they wanted to play with any other toys they had to either play in the play room or tidy away toys already in the lounge, ensuring the lounge wouldn’t get overrun. As I said, I’m so naïve.
Over time, the basket started to resemble a salad bowl you see at a serve your self salad buffet. You know the ones I mean, where the bowl is very small and the people with a “bit more storage capacity than others” build up salad walls using carrots and cucumbers, increasing the bowls capacity so they can fill the middle with potato salad, coleslaw and croutons; all to be smothered by honey and mustard dressing. You know, the healthy option.
Now our lounge is just an annex of the play room. Despite my heroics in trying to get the kids to tidy their toys away each evening, they always miss something, usually something small and hard, which gets trodden on as you come downstairs to get a bottle of milk for the little one at 4:00am.
And, of course, in order to allow our children this privilege, we end up eating our meals in a furnace during the summer and a freezer during the winter.
That was until everything changed. The basket still remains in the lounge and it is still overflowing with toys. There are always toys scattered across the lounge and sofas. The difference, though, is that I am the one at home with the children and my wife is the one that travels. Yes, there are times when I would love for the boys to play in the play room for a while to give me a break, but most of the time I enjoy playing with them in the lounge. I’ve also developed partial blindness to the fact that toys remain scattered around the place. I’ve even developed a sixth sense to identify which areas to avoid on the early hours milk collections.
My wife, on the other hand, had a sort out of both the toy room and the toy basket the other day. I didn’t say a word.
Previous petty domestic dispute blogs in this series: