When you have three kids in a span of 42 months, a lot of chaos crams into the space of everyday living. My boy, boy, and girl munchkins in that order were eight, six, and four when I lost my mind on an otherwise normal day in March of 2002. In a span of seconds, I fell from the end of my rope into the deep end of the motherhood pool.

My cherubs decided this day to have a group whine session, much different from wine sessions adults partake in. Whining isn’t fun for anyone involved but serves the purpose of black-out inebriation in other ways.

“I’m bored,” bemoaned son one. Followed by, “So am I,” from son two and “Me too, Mommy,” from girl.

The classic, throwback kid complaint.

A mature choice for responding was to ignore the drama and send my kids on their way with a suggestion to use their imagination and find new uses for their toys. But on this day my measured mothering etiquette lay dormant. I’m guessing PMS was in full force or I was in the middle of a week flying solo while hubby worked out of town.

Instead of paying attention to the warning signals my body sent out, muscle twitches and eye ticks, I chose to engage with my kids complaining.

“Why are you bored, guys?”

Son one, always quick on his feet, says, “Because we have nothing to do.”

Nothing to do.

Those three words hung in the air like fallout from an atom bomb. Within seconds I formulated an obnoxious plan for something to do before losing my grip on the rope and cascading into 30-foot waters.

“I’m so sorry kids. You’re right, you have nothing to do. And because my number one goal in life is to ensure you’re never bored, I’ve come up with a fun mission for all of us. The basement and your rooms are a mess. Spring is around the corner and we need to clean and declutter anyway. So, today we are going to not only pick up your toys, games, books, etc., but we are going to organize them by category. And to make our playtime extra fun, we will count every item and keep a running total, which won’t take long because, like you said, you have nothing to do. Sound good?”

Keep in mind my soaked in sarcasm announcement came through a crazed expression. All three stared at me pale faced. Either in shock and awe over the transfiguration of my normal loving demeanor into a psychopath or in utter disbelief of the task before them.

“No, Mommy. We don’t want to clean and count toys. That’s boring too,” boy one continued to whine. Boy two and girl just stared.

I grabbed a pen, paper, and calculator before marching all three darlings into the basement knowing full well the enormity of the clean and count project. My kids were clueless, but enlightenment was around the corner.

A sample of our nothing to do collection included the following: puzzles, games, Legos, Lincoln Logs, costumes, toy cars, action figures to name a few. The gluttony accumulated from hand-me-downs, garage sale pick-ups, gifts, and over-the-top Christmas extravaganzas.

The rules of the game were the real kicker in our counting escapade. The kids had to tally every item, not by group. For example, the Hot Wheels collection didn’t count as one toy, but each car added to the total; 50 cars in our case. Before you judge, all 50 were my husband’s from childhood. I blame my mother-in-law for the excessiveness.

The only exceptions to the non-grouping rule were Legos and other piece-meal sets. Otherwise, we counted books, sports items, stuffed animals, and a plethora of other items one-by-one.

Any guesses on our final inventory numbers?

Try 490 things to play with compiled from 105 line items, and I still have the list fifteen years later.

The truth is, I threw up in my mouth a little when I saw the number. Then I made my kids look at the list for an hour and memorize the totals. Okay, I didn’t do that. But what I did to was hang the list on the kitchen door as an everyday reminder of how they had nothing to do.

Looking back, I’m awed at the underlying lessons of my manic induced plan. Although I didn’t realize at the time, our project ran the full gamut of elementary education and basic life skills.

First, they absorbed the math principles of counting, sorting, and grouping like items. Reading skills improved every time they looked at the inventory list. History took care of itself as they learned right away never to whine again about boredom. The science lesson centered around cause and effect and they learned how to write big numbers. Even better was the social skill of learning how to get along with a Mommy tyrant.

As for me, I got the house clean and organized which did wonders for my spirit. And the experience created fertile ground in my kid’s brains for imagination to sprout about how crazy mommy would act next time.

Even meltdowns have a bright side.

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