Living with My Son’s Chest of Drawers

By Camilla M. Northrup

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    There I was, standing in the doorway to my number one deacon’s room, unsuccessfully trying to keep my frustration under control. His room was such a total disaster it should have been condemned months ago. And I blamed it all on that Sunday School teacher.

    We had been discussing children’s bedrooms. Who should clean them? How much privacy should children have? Should you or should you not intrude in what they consider their domain? The teacher had commented that he hadn’t liked it when his mother had come in to “straighten up” his important experiments. After due consideration, I had decided that he had a point and that I should allow my children their privacy and expect them to clean up their own rooms.

    Months passed. I did very well at keeping my cool when I had to step over boxes of “good stuff” and piles of unrecognizable odds and ends to kiss him goodnight; but I couldn’t understand why his clean clothes were always stacked in the laundry room.

    “How come you don’t put your clean clothes in your dresser?” I finally asked him one day.

    “It’s too full.”

    Now, I knew full well that he didn’t have that many clothes, so I proceeded to his room to check the chest of drawers. That’s when my frustration became too great to bear. Standing in that doorway, I could see clearly that I would never get to the dresser. He had the path to it mined too well.

    My son and I had an immediate conference on the issue. I (not so patiently) told him I would help him clean his room, and he (reluctantly but wisely) left his friends in the backyard building a clubhouse, muttering something about them not being able to do anything without him there to tell them what to do.

    Without invading the desk, the area under the bed, or other easily accessible areas, he removed seventeen large boxes of important things, including forty pounds of horse chestnuts he had gathered two years previously. Some were sprouting.

    A few hours later I was finally able to introduce myself to the chest of drawers. And it introduced me to my son.

    I started through the drawers, making a list of the contents to share with him later in his life: Forty-three Superman comics. A bag of cat’s eye marbles. A broken mirror. String. Handkerchiefs still in their plastic wrappings. A rusty pen knife. A rabbit’s foot. A small rock collection, including two chunks of pavement. …

    By the time I finished my inventory, my righteous irritation had subsided and left me tired, amused, but still not knowing how to motivate my son to keep his room clean. I eventually concluded that since I was not very well organized myself, I could not expect my children to be organized. And so I quit worrying so much about them, and concentrated instead on me.

    In time, I became better organized, and somehow my children picked up on my example and became better organized themselves. There’s still room for improvement, but a funny thing happened to me the other day when I went up to my number one priest’s room. He was out putting in fence posts for me, so I thought I’d do him a favor and sweep his floor.

    It had been three years since I last addressed his room. The treasures had changed somewhat, but his dresser was still pretty much unused. The space under his bed was filled with dirty dishes, Hot Rod magazines, and the New Era. His desk was now covered with chemistry apparatus, and he had added to his room a record player, a stack of records, secondhand ski equipment, and a large, overstuffed, discarded chair to hang his clothes on. In the chair sat a twenty-five-pound purple frog made for Christmas and stuffed with plastic bags of wheat, rice, rock salt, lentils, and pearl barley—part of our year’s supply. On the floor was a manifold, a bell housing, and a clutch plate for a future car.

    It didn’t seem like I’d come very far in three years. But then I noticed his bedside table. Along with a package of chewing gum, sun glasses, and some correspondence from a young lady in another city was his Bible and his Book of Mormon.

    Suddenly, I felt at ease. Three years ago I had been concerned with the cleanliness of his room. Since then we had both learned something: now we look more to cleanliness of soul.

    Photography by Jon T. Lockwood

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    • Camilla M. Northrup, mother of seven, teaches Relief Society Cultural Refinement lessons in her Priest River, Idaho, ward.