Mom throws in the towel, sort of

There's her wet towel on the floor again! How many years have I been trying to get her to pick up her towel after she showers?

It isn't as if I make it a practice to check my daughter's room each morning after she's left for school. The "enlightened parent" realizes that a teenage girl needs a little space (preferably one on which the door can be shut) where she can be free to live her life and think her thoughts in comfortable freedom, away from the critical eye. I've read at least two "how-to" books on living successfully with teenagers, and they both said the same thing: A parent should back off sometimes and let a child find his or her own way. (Though they didn't explain that the way could be across a floor littered with clothes, magazines, and various items from the Bath and Body Shop.)

That made sense when I was rationally sitting in a chair reading, but flew out the window when I accidentally glanced ahead while walking down the hall to the bathroom and saw wet towels on the floor. Pushed past the point of reason, I was no longer unflappable! I gritted my teeth. I must make her shape up, I thought.

I smiled at myself as I had an inspiration: a clever and sure-fire way to cure her for good. I took all the towels from the linen closet and tossed them helter-skelter across her floor, chuckling to myself as I imagined her reaction. I couldn't wait to have her ask what all the towels were doing on her floor.

And oh, fortuitous day! She came home with a friend. That should multiply the impact, I gloated as they walked back to her room.

"Mo-o-m! What are all these towels doing on my floor?" Her voice rang with exasperation.

"Why, your wet towel must have called out to all his friends to come for a visit!" I responded with barely hidden glee. I heard huffing, growling, and stomping as they tried to wade into her room, and finally a slamming of the door.

"What am I supposed to do with all these towels?" she whined when the friend had left.

"Well, fold them and put them away, I suppose."

She said nothing. It took a couple days before the towels were all put away, but meanwhile she hung up the wet ones. I congratulated myself on the way I'd handled the teaching opportunity. How artful. And funny. That should take care of it, I thought.

FOR a few days, the towel was hung up. Then, there it was again! I caught myself fretting: What if she grows up to be lazy? Or careless and inconsiderate? All because I wasn't able to teach her the things that need teaching - to mold her, shape her, polish her? At that moment I felt the responsibility of the job weigh heavily on my shoulders. Could I ever be adequate for such a task?

Being a gardener of sorts, I was reminded of some thoughts I've had while planting and weeding: Will the seeds grow? Will I ever get rid of the weeds? The job is daunting, but trust and vision keeps me going.

Sometimes I even decide to leave in some of the weeds.

To tear madly at them can at times do a lot of damage. In spring, a coneflower can look like a plantain, and creeping buttercup like a round-leafed weed known here as "creeping Charlie." I can't always remember what I planted in that spot and have to wait a bit to see what develops.

Is it my responsibility to see that she grows up to be neat? I had a friend years ago who I admired so much, but not because she was neat. She certainly wasn't. But while raising a daughter with a handicap she read a book a week, painted landscapes, and always managed a sparkling smile. Now that's an accomplishment! I, on the other hand was usually neat, but not always smiling. I couldn't focus my attention until everything was tidy. A college roommate moved out on me when I insisted she clean her half of the room so I could concentrate on studying for my semester tests.

It has been a couple years since the day I thought I had taught my daughter a thing or two about neatness. Today I had a surprise. I walked past her room and paused a moment to survey the disaster. This time I shook my head, smiled, and walked away without bothering to shut the door. There's hope for me yet.

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