Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Room of His Own

My son and I are having a difference of opinion. He believes there is no reason why I should be concerned that his clothes are strewn all over his bedroom, on every surface, including the floor, and have been mostly that way ever since he got home from college.

He has done laundry twice since he got home, both times dropping the pile of washed clothes on top of his bed. And there they have stayed. Over time, items fall to the floor, tossed aside in the search for a desired piece of clothing to be worn that day. His bed cannot be used in the intended way, which he does not see as an inconvenience since his preferred place to sleep is on the living room couch.

But I find it inconvenient to pass by his room and see the hurricane of clothing in there. He says there is a simple solution to that, he will keep his door closed. I still see the chaos in my mind, I tell him. He argues that there is no reason to fold and put away his clothes only to take them back out to pack them this Friday (he leaves for his camp counselor job on Saturday). He refuses to accept my comment that the state of his room shows a disregard for the entire household. It's my room, he insists. The mess is not in anyone's way.

Why does it bother you so much, he asks me sincerely, as we debate the condition of his room yet again. I want to give him an honest answer, which requires me to pause and search around in my conscious and unconscious mind. It makes me feel that I have failed as a mother, I tell him. He calls me on the overstatement. He reminds me that he has kept his dorm room in relatively good order all year, even making his bed each day, a statement borne out by every Facebook photo I have seen of him cavorting or studying or otherwise occupied in his dorm room.

I try again. It looks like Pearl's room, I say. He understands my shorthand, my unspoken fear. Pearl (not her real name) is my cousin who is a decades-long active drug addict and alcoholic who lives with her now 92-year-old mother. In truth, my son's room does not begin to approach Pearl's room, which has half eaten slices of pizza and old moldy sandwich crusts and liquor bottles and cigarette ashes mixed in with the clothes, which are certainly not laundry-clean and fresh-smelling as my son's are.

So now, because my room is a mess I'm going to be a drug addict? my son challenges. No, I say. I back down immediately, unwilling to push that argument further. My son then assures me that when he leaves for camp this weekend, his bedroom will be clean and orderly, with all clothing that he does not take with him folded and put away. He won't leave the mess for anyone else to clean up, he promises. This is his olive branch.

Thinking it over later, I finally understand the real reason the mess in his room bothers me: His refusal to fold and put away his clothes for three weeks and counting now, is evidence that I can no longer just direct him to do a thing, I no longer have that control. I can merely solicit his cooperation, which he is not unwilling to give, but it has to seem reasonable to him. I can tell him to clean up the kitchen, I can demand that he put the living room back in order when he wakes up each morning, I can ask him to go to the store, I can even engage him to dust and mop his grandmother's apartment when company is coming to stay there. In all these instances, he is likely to oblige.

But he sees his bedroom as his domain, and unless I want to pick a fight about that, insisting it is part of my house, then I am powerless to make him do my bidding in there. And if I did choose to play that card, I know just how he would push my buttons in return. He would say, "Fine. It's your house. I'll clean the room. I realize I don't live here anymore. I get it."

So this is where I have landed: Who cares about a few strewn-about clothes? If that's the only real issue I have with my son these days, maybe I should just let it go?

Update: My daughter, who finished final exams today and has no school tomorrow, asked if two friends could sleep over, one girl, one boy, both of whom we know well. My son, hearing that a male friend of his sister would be spending the night, decided to pick up his scattered clothes, stuffing them all into an empty suitcase, so that my daughter's friend can sleep in his room, because no way was he allowing this young man to bunk in his sister's room. (He was actually shocked we said yes to a co-ed sleepover.) So now his room is clean! And just when I'd surrendered. There is a lesson in this somewhere. 


  1. I think you've already answered your own question... given all the stuff he COULD be into, maybe this battle could slide!

    My office looks like his room sounds, just substitute piles of papers for clothes... ;}

  2. And now his room is clean! for the moment anyway.