‘The smell of putrid decay invaded my nostrils. I covered my nose, searching for the source of that smell. There, in the corner of the closet, sat a dark blue trash can.’: Mom recounts funny way she teaches her kids a lesson

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“We don’t have a television in our home, not one. This is, to date, one of the most powerful parenting decisions I have made. I became a single mom at 27 to three siblings from foster care – they were 7, 5, and 3 at the time our lives collided. At first they had no idea what to do without a television, and I am not against television, but I do believe they distract, numb, clutter and consume us. We are not completely deprived. We have Friday night movie night with a projector and sheet and Saturday morning cartoons via a laptop and Netflix. When we do indulge, it is a big production, a special activity.

Currently my home has 6 littles in it, I am so thankful it is filled with the chatter of little imaginations. Stories unfolding while everything becomes a character, we are transported to other magical worlds, filled with mermaids, fairies and families. A friend asked me one day, ‘if you don’t have a TV, what does your furniture look at?’ My response, ‘they face each other for optimal socialization.’ In my home, we talk, mostly about hearts.

I had been a mom about two years when we were visiting my parents. My crew at that time was used to no television which meant their imagination was prime. The kids were upstairs playing in the toy room. We were there several hours and said our goodbyes, heading home. Days later we stopped by my parents again. I ran upstairs into the playroom to grab something, and upon opening the sliding closet door, the smell of putrid decay invaded my nostrils. I immediately coughed and covered my nose, searching for the source of that smell. There in the corner of the closet sat a small, dark blue trash can. Inside appeared to be wads of wet toilet paper, I have learned that 90% of parenting is asking, ‘why are things wet?’

My parents have hedgehogs, so I assumed it was a misplaced can of hedgehog waste. I quickly grabbed it and took it outside, briefly mentioning what I found to my mom as I passed by.  The puzzled look on her face clued me in that she had no idea what I was talking about. I told her of my discovery and both of us directed our attention to my three children. I briefly and calmly asked some leading questions, tactically trying to prevent the lies. Open question about what games they had been playing a few days before. Slightly more direct questions about what they did in the garbage can. Followed by a full on discussion about the effects of human waste on the body, with an emphasis on waste.

So now ever so curious how this played out, I began to ask what kind of adventure they were on. The answers, explanations and questions came flooding in. Here are the filtered answer for you: ‘We were camping, we all needed to use the bathroom and it was the only place to go.’ My ever calm response, ‘No, the bathroom, the toilet is your ONLY place to go.’

I discovered after much detail that lying beneath the damp toilet paper was a ecosystem of disgust, things I would not want to see or touch. So as any sensible parent would, I suggested, since they so nicely took turns filling the trashcan with waste, they can now take turns cleaning it out. It took lots of soap and gagging, with declarations of ‘we are never doing that again.’ The result is a semi clean trash can and a newfound appreciation for indoor plumbing.

This story, I consider to be one of the moments where I earned a parenting badge, trial by fire, a badge of survival. It also reveals to me, one of my greatest needs as a parent, is to laugh more at the things my kids do. I am not a serious person, I actually love jokes, pranks and laughing out loud. Somewhere in the chaos of parenting, I got serious and things got heavy. So much of my joy in parenting is missed in taking things so seriously. These kids have incredible imaginations and honestly them using the trash can as a toilet is genius – when we go camping we often have to find a tree and dig a hole, so really, the story could have ended much worse.”

Three children standing in parking lot with red clown noses on their nose
Courtesy of Julianna Klepfer

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julianna Klepfer, a 30 something, single, foster/adoptive mama. She lives with her crew of seven, ages 11, 9, 7, 4, 3, 18 months and 6 months, their two dogs and 6 chickens in the hills of Iowa. You can follow along with her ever changing family at My Joyful Broken Heart.

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