One Saturday, as my husband was attempting to read the newspaper, our toddler Sylvie tugged him out of his chair and pushed him towards our bedroom. She pointed to a pair of used socks he had tossed on the floor, and, regretfully but firmly, told him he had to put them in the hamper—now. My husband, momentarily blind to the absurdity of taking orders from a person in saggy diapers, hurriedly whisked them away.
It was immediately clear that Sylvie’s love of tidiness was no phase. She was truly aggrieved by the presence of those ratty socks, and she visibly relaxed when they were gone. When she started to walk, we fully expected her to do the usual toddler typhoon through our apartment, leaving a trail of toys and clothes. But how many kids want something put back? For that matter, how many two-year-olds name persnickety Bert as their favorite Sesame Street character? But she obviously felt best in an orderly environment, which gave her a sense of control, and of calm.
Sylvie is not compulsive. Instead, she’s careful, thoughtful, deliberate. Every morning, she swings through our place, conducting a visual sweep like a security guard. You can see her thoughts working: Mm-hm. Couch pillows in place. Good, good. New bananas in the fruit bowl: I’ll allow it. She’s a giggly, funny, spontaneous toddler—she just happens to be neat. And so her Playmobil figures are lined up with the precision of North Korean soldiers. Her Lego buildings have clean, modern lines. Bibs sit in a drawer, barely used.
I see only upsides to this behavior. Our apartment is spotless, for one thing. Our tiny tyrant has been able to accomplish what ten years of pleading with my messy husband could not: one look of reproach from Sylvie, and he hastens to put his junk mail in the recycling bin. And because of her, I’ve upgraded my frazzled-mother look just a little. When I leave the house, she inspects my outfit for splotches. If she —inevitably—finds one, she runs for a sponge. Then she carefully wipes away the offending stain. “Better,” she’ll say, giving my shirt a little pat. All is well—with me, and with her, too.