816 North

Susan Vollenweider - Hope from the black bag

“Mom! It’s clean!” The child said as he flew toward the door that led to freedom.

“Wait.” I responded in that voice parents develop sometime after the first diaper change but before the second upended box of Cheerios.

He stopped in the doorway, air-conditioned air pouring out, steamy air flowing in. “What?”

I love this child dearly. He has many fine qualities but his ability to put on a sassy face is not one of them. I, fortunately, am immune.

“Are you sure it’s clean?” I asked one last time as I reached for the item on the steps and shook it before him. The plastic crinkled as it unfurled.

He stared at it.

I stared at him.

“Yes, Mom.”

And he was gone with a slam.

I opened the large, black garbage bag with a snap and headed upstairs in an adrenaline-fueled march to continue a long held, but little discussed tradition: I went to black bag the kid’s room.

I know it’s a widely used parental move because I held a not-so-scientific poll among my Facebook friends:

“If I say I black-bagged my kid’s room, do you know what I mean?”

They knew. Oh ho-ho-ho did they know.

The techniques appear to be a little different for each parent or particular situation, but the overall premise is the same: when a kid pushes the limits of parental cleanliness tolerance, mom or dad goes in with a black bag.

Sometimes it’s done to the playroom or any place where toys are left where they don’t belong, even outside.

Sometimes it’s done after a week of brushed off, “clean your room” reminders; sometimes the items are sold back to the child (brilliant!).

Mostly it’s done when the child is otherwise occupied so there will be no wailing and gnashing of teeth about the valuable items that are now destined for a new home, items that were so prized they hadn’t been touched in two years.

But other parents do exactly what I did that day in my son’s room: I bagged up things and repurposed them to either the trash or the donation box.

My haul included paper with mysterious one-word messages like “Yo,” hollowed-out coloring books and notebooks, wheel-less cars, and many things that I can only call “debris.”

I found two empty shoe boxes with holes poked in them and worried that there may have been a former living inhabitant. I sniffed for decay and only smelled the sandals that should never have held sweaty kid feet. (Really, leather sandals? I should have known better.)

I studied one contraption before adding it to the bag. Held together by a rubber band, two paperclips and Lego pieces were twisted together to form a … a … I have no idea and never will because it wasn’t important enough to be put away. Into the black bag it went.

Overall he did a fairly decent job of cleaning his room and my bag was only partly full.

On my way to relocate the bagged items I passed by the freshly cleaned rooms of my older children. “Clean” is subjective, of course, but everything was put away and organized. Sorta. But most importantly, my black bag and I weren’t needed in either room.

Then it occurred to me that they hadn’t needed the bag in a very long time.

I offer this as hope for all the frustrated parents who are bagging up misplaced, broken and seemingly unloved toys, clothes and kid paraphernalia — it works. At some point they realize how to take care of a valued item.

Hide it from Mom.