So what did you do today? A simple question really, yet one I can rarely answer. My jobs as maid, policewoman, teacher, doctor, psychologist, mediator, veterinarian, seamstress, chef, sanitation engineer, accountant, transportation director, etc., leave me mentally vacant at day’s end. But today, I know exactly what I did all day. I was in court.

Five minutes after I put Aiden on the bus to kindergarten, my 4-year-old, Reece, asks me, “Where is my Apatosaurus?” I tell him I surely don’t know and explain to him the importance of putting toys back in their proper place. One long blank stare later, he repeats the question. Thus our quest began.

We start in his bedroom. At first glance his room looks pretty organized, but it’s all a big lie. A few years ago, tired of the constant clutter, I purchased every plastic “organizational” bin Target had on the shelves. Unfortunately, there is nothing organized about them. They are big black holes of junk crammed into a square cube, with the lid closing only if you sit on it. Basically, I am hiding my kids’ stuff like a squirrel.

As I pry open the lid of bin #3, a dinosaur explodes out of the heap. “Found it!” I shout. “That’s not it,” Reece scorns. “I want the squishy Apatosaurus with the spots,” he implores. We press on, plastic cube after plastic cube, pile after pile. What is this junk? Do we need it? Do you guys play with this stuff? Where did it come from? What the heck is this? So I decide to turn this debacle into a teaching opportunity.

“Let’s sort through some of this stuff and decide what to keep and what to throw out. We can even give some to charity,” I declare. “What?” Reece fires back, as if I had just asked him to donate a limb. “But this is my robot guy, we can’t get rid of this! This is my yellow rabbit and I loooooove him….!”

Between his pleas and “puh-leeezes,” my object lesson has turned into a courtroom drama. Reece, known family-wide for his great debating skills, was the public defender of the forlorn refuse. I was the harried judge, robe and all.

Court’s in Session

I presided over Lincoln Logs and stuffed animals, long-forgotten toys, and one thing I suspected was petrified chewing gum. As each piece of evidence was introduced, I was regaled with heartfelt testimony. “This purple marble is soooo great. You just can’t throw it out. It would be lonely.” Next he begged for leniency for the crocodile. He strategically debated the importance of a pile of tiny broken plastic pieces, calling them treasures, not trash. The McDonalds talking toy is hailed as art. One by one each object was given a stay of execution. In a stunning mid-trial turn of events, Bendy Man escaped banishment. The 487 plush toys, quickly given names as a last-ditch effort to humanize them, were pardoned. Yo-Yos and robots alike were agonized over and escaped conviction.

The scales of justice swung wildly this day. Even the fossilized gum got off scott free. I was at a loss, and the Apatosaurus that started it all was still missing. I was left wondering: where did all this junkie stuff come from…and who paid for it?

After what seemed like an eternity in court we broke for lunch. The “toss it” pile consisted of a playing card, mangled Pick-Up Sticks, and two scraps of paper. The bins were still full, and after a PBJ and some milk, so was the 4-year-old attorney. Too exhausted to continue, I granted a judicial pardon for the rest of the piles and closed the case.

We never did find the squishy Apatosaurus, but we did find the game spinner for Candyland, a long-missing Leapster Game, his manta ray, dice, and the $12 sunglasses (I know!!) I had to buy when he lost the last pair. I wonder, will the clutter ever stop piling up, or do I have to buy another skid of containers? Maybe I’ll leave the trash…I mean treasures…alone for now. I just don’t think I could go through another trial. The prosecution rests.

Jane Suter is one funny mom. To share some of your own parenting experiences email Jane.

Illustration by Colleen Johnson.