By Kristin van Ogtrop
James Baigrie

Last week I came home one night to a very warm hello from 10-year-old Middle, who has not greeted me at the door since he was, oh, four. So I immediately knew something was up. After about five minutes of hemming and hawing he did that classic kid warmup–“I need to tell you something but don’t be mad”–which led inevitably to “I’m not going to tell you what it is, let me just show you.” When I asked him if something had broken, he said, “Yes, but not something you care about.” Smart, smart kid.

As it turns out, one of his friends had been over in the afternoon and, on a dare, ran into the wall of Middle’s bedroom as hard as he could. Even I was surprised to see that the friend had actually made a big hole in the wall. Who knew that a fifth grader could break through sheetrock with his chest? Nobody was injured or punished except the wall, which now has a hole in it the size of a toddler.

Now, I was not particularly upset about this, but not because I am laid back or accepting of the destruction that comes with having 3 boys in the house. No, at this point I have just given up on that bedroom. Didn’t we all learn in high school that, no matter what, entropy will prevail? My sons’ bedroom is all the proof I need. I just added the hole in the wall to the general state of insanity that is the room shared by my two older sons. Because—and here is the dirty secret—I don’t really make them pick up after themselves where their own room is concerned. I am fairly strict about communal areas of the house, but as far as their own personal space goes, I let them have it their way. And their way just happens to be very, very messy. Maybe this is good parenting (I am not controlling every little facet of their existence), or maybe I am just lazy.

Every once in a while I get possessed by some sort of demon,and make them do a wholesale cleaning up of their room. My kids are always a bit shocked when this happens; they never see it coming (in fact, I never see it coming either), because 98% of the time I seem not to give a damn about how their room looks. I really can’t tell you why these moments occur. Maybe it’s hormonal. But then I have this long back and forth with myself about whether or not I should make my kids keep their room neater. My sister makes her kids keep their rooms very tidy, with the result that their bedrooms look like something straight out of the Land of Nod catalog and when I go over to her house, I never want to leave.

And so, my question: should kids have to keep their rooms neat? And, if yes–why? (Clearly I need to be convinced.) It’s so much easier to decide that you don’t care. Can’t I just leave it at that?