In a parking lot after shopping the other day, I opened the car door for The Dormouse to get into her car seat. She took the opportunity to squirt past my reach and climb up into the front seat and play with the steering wheel. And. Would. Not. Come. Back. I'm standing there holding the door and the groceries and I couldn't reach her, so I yelled into the car, "You get in your car seat by the time I count to three... One... Two..."

Behind me, a man in a trench coat was walking by. He looked over my shoulder and said dryly, "Does that ever work?"

Actually it does. As much as I hate to hear those words come out of my mouth and the inevitable feeling like my grandmother every time I hear myself say them, I now know why our parents did things like that: they work.

I can ask, beg and plead until I'm blue in the face, but when I give The Dormouse a count, it seems to mark time in very small increments for her. She knows that there's a finite amount of time in which she needs to obey and exactly how much longer she has to complete the expected action. And since it works, I've begun to abuse it. Sometimes I don't even need to really follow through - I just say, "Do I have to count?" and she starts to move.

The other thing that works is what's come to be known in our house as The Great Toy Embargo of 2006. It started mostly because she was in the habit of just dumping all her toys out in a pile over and over. I explained that she had to take care of them, but she wasn't really interested in playing, just dumping them out and then stomping over them on the way out the door. We had discussions about how she needed to be responsible for her toys and take care of them, but she had so many it didn't seem to matter. After a particularly bad couple of weeks of behavior (Who coined the phrase Terrible Twos? It's the Threes that really get you.), finally out of sheer frustration, I sat her down and explained that every time she disobeyed, she would have a toy taken away. She could earn that toy back later if she did some of the things she was supposed to without arguing with mom and dad, but if she wanted to keep her toys, she'd need to start listening and doing what she was asked.

I wondered if I was asking too much of a three year old, because within days more than half of her toys were stored in my bedroom in plastic bins stacked as high as a person. But then, something wonderful happened. She started to actually see consequences of her actions. She started to connect the Getting the Toy Taken Away with the Doing the Wrong Thing. It didn't always get her to do what I asked when I asked it, but she did start to spontaneously do some things that she knew would be good without my asking. The jury in my head is still out as to whether I'm simply bribing her, but what I do know is that this current deal gives her more opportunity to get some positive, rather than negative, reinforcement. And, if nothing else, it's worth it to me not to constantly hear the sound of my voice yelling at her for one thing or another.

The other wonderful thing that happened was because she didn't have the opportunity to see every one of her toys in her room every day, it was a big deal to get one back. She'll actually play with it rather than dropping it on the floor and leaving it where it fell. When I announce that she's earned a toy back, we ceremoniously march into the bedroom where the plastic bins are stored. I open the top and she'll peer in and whisper, "Woooooow." with childhood wonderment. She warily thinks it over and chooses exactly the toy that she needs at that moment. Then reaches in and slowly, carefully selects and extracts the needed toy. Then she immediately takes it to her room to decide exactly what drawer of the toy chest that toy should now live in. She vigilantly puts it where it now 'belongs'. And because she chose the place the toy would be kept, she now knows where to put it back when she was done playing with it. And does... almost every time.

I'm a minimalist when it comes to toys. Her friends have entire rooms (sometimes multiple rooms) dedicated to holding space for the paraphernalia that comes with being a child. It's not that I begrudge other families' buying things for their kids, I just don't think kids need That. Much. Stuff.

What I notice mostly when we're at one of these houses is that the kids don't really use any of them, they just pull everything out and drop it on the floor, one by one. Playtime turns into methodical destruction. With just a few toys, it's reasonable to ask her to pick up her own things, but with entire room(s) of toys, it becomes something that she'll never be able to do on her own. And because it's such an onerous task for a toddler to put that many toys away when the demolition is over, the parents are always the ones to clean up. Perhaps I'm just being selfish.

It's not that I don't want my child to have things, but we live in a small house with limited storage space and I don't have a second room available to simply shove all that stuff behind a door and close it. When The Dormouse goes to bed, the floor around it has to basically be picked up - otherwise, she'll stay up all night. She has a lot of things - gifts from relatives, hand-me-downs from friends - but as her parents, we have actually purchased very few toys. When we want to do something special for an event, we tend to DO more than BUY. I hope that this is creating memories for her. I know that the toys will eventually break and be discarded, so in my design, when she's grown, she'll still have what she remembers of our family and hopefully, those will be looked back on fondly and contribute to the happy, well-rounded person she'll become. But mostly I just don't want to pick up all those toys.