How to Clean House with Toddlers

Courage in danger is half the battle.

I use Plautus’ quote to comfort myself these days as I wage the age old battle for a clean house. But I don’t know if Plautus took into account I’d have a double agent in my midst.

He is in the form of an adorable toddler, my youngest, aka Little Sir. Sure he gives me kisses and newly toothy smiles, but he must have been “turned” for the other side as he empties the potted plants, shreds the unopened mail and turns over the pet food bowls. The other day he even managed to open the vacuum and empty it over the just done rug.

But Churchill said, “Never surrender.” So, I’ve studied the elements of war and come up with a few key strategies.

Use their naturally learned behaviors to your benefit. I learned this at Marine World. The trainers tell you the whales jump for that red ball because they’re natural behavior has been rewarded. I have modified this technique and no sardines required. Babies naturally crawl and climb. It is essential to their physical development. So, just wrap them in a thick towel as they roam. Presto! Your dusting and dry mopping done.

Create a distraction. For example, if I’m trying to unload the dishwasher, I just leave the drawer holding the Tupperware (aka baby crack) slightly ajar. Damp mopping? Leave the brand new magazine I’m looking forward to reading just in tiny fingers reach. Yes, it’s shredded to bits, but you can buy a new magazine. A basket of folded laundry buys you enough time to clean the average sized bathroom.

Seek Reinforcements. In the wonderful tradition of brotherhood in arms, this next strategy promotes the bonding that occurs as soldiers from differing backgrounds unite on the battlefield. The troops I could not possibly win my battle for a clean house without? My dogs.  They don’t care if their food is spilled all over the floor. They’ll still eat it. They also eat almost everything the baby drops.  I just need a dog that eats vegetables. I have drawn the line at letting them clean the baby, but their willingness is duly noted.

And then there’s the Hail Mary. When there’s just nothing to be done. When exhaustion, dirt and my personal Mata Hari leave me in a heap, I take off my glasses. The scattered toys, laundry piles and stacked dishes fade into a sort of blissful nearsighted blur.

After all, it was the Art of War strategist Sun Tzu himself who said, “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.”