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I don’t know about you, but my child is gifted. I mean, his diapers look like a Jackson Pollock. He’s already taught himself that language that’s spoken through clicks, and he knows where his nose is half of the time I ask him.
So brilliant is the young prodigy — and I swear I am not making this up — at 16 months, Lev has taken to picking up his dirty diaper after we change him, walking over to the garbage, and placing it neatly in the trash.
Pretty darn handy, I thought to myself, the first time I observed it
Soon I can fire the cleaning lady and have this little neat-freak handle the tidying up.
Again this is not fiction: Lev literally spends time every day with a sponge, wearing a maid’s uniform, wiping down the coffee table. I’m not sure if this is something to brag about or be ashamed of, but he also has a thing for the broom and the dust bin tray … He walks around the house with them for long stretches of time, snorting imperiously at puffy balls of dust when he sees one a corner of the apartment.
I figure, ok, everyone has their quirks. So my son has an OCD-level obsession with brooms and sponges. Also, he loves using the Dyson vacuum cleaner, though he doesn’t yet understand you are supposed to push it around on the carpet so he just stands there, grinning, with the machine running. Or maybe he’s just moving slowly and getting that one spot of carpet really clean.
We had so far avoided childproofing the house, because who wants to stop the roommate who wants to clean?
Anyway, the kid is scary smart. If for example, he’s eating some cheese and a speck falls on the ground, he’ll pick it up between his thumb and forefinger and examine it like a scientist who has just discovered evidence that whales have toes. Then he’ll saunter over to the garbage, throw it away, and shoot me a quick, holier than thou look. He does it in a mean girl, bitchy office-mate way, as if reminding a co-worker, “Yes, we do have a recycling bin here.”
Anyway, Michelle and I quickly grew to appreciate the fact that at under 18 months, the boy was showing signs of wanting to clean up after himself. Before long, we weren’t just proud, we were literally peeling bananas and tossing the peels on the floor. Then I would snap my finger and Lev would look up from whatever toy he was playing with and like Pavlov’s dog, be unable to stop himself from throwing the banana peel in the garbage.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a trained monkey that cleans up after you, but it’s like heroin or absolute power. It quickly corrupts even the best among us.
So it should come as no surprise that our hubris soon led to a painful downfall, and I was forced to install a childproof lock on the garbage. We had so far avoided childproofing the house, because who wants to stop the roommate who wants to clean?
The problem began the other night when Michelle was rushing out of the apartment for a meeting and couldn’t find her phone. It wasn’t until the next day, after looking under all the couch cushions that it hit me: that little bastard had thrown away Michelle’s iPhone.
Unfortunately, I had thrown the trash into the compactor by then. Fortunately, Michelle had activated the iPhone’s “track your phone” feature so we were able to follow the slow upsetting journey of that brand new $1,600 slender glass-enclosed portable supercomputer as it moved in a garbage truck to West 69th street. We watched helplessly on her laptop as a small dot showed us the pier where her perfectly good phone was loaded into a barge and sailed down the Hudson River to become landfill in Staten Island.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a trained monkey that cleans up after you, but it’s like heroin or absolute power.
Since then, Lev has been standing in front of the garbage, unable to open it, whimpering softly. The new childproof lock has made us painfully aware of how many times a day you only have one free hand to pull open the trash (for example, the other hand has messy cracked eggshells in it) and how this new childproof lock now requires you to put everything down and wash your damn hands, many times a day.
And then you see the small gifted child, staring forlornly at the locked garbage can, deprived not only of his fun but of a part of his identity, his career as a garbageman.
And then you think, “It was only a phone.”
Tomorrow I’m taking the lock off.
Dimitri Ehrlich is a multi-platinum selling songwriter and the author of 2 books. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and Interview Magazine, where he served as music editor for many years.