At some point, we all turn into some version of the people who raised us. I think it is inevitable. And, in my case, not necessarily a bad thing. That said, no matter how well we were raised or how happy our childhoods, there will always be things that we insist on doing differently; primarily because we’ve experienced the long-term effects of said action but also because no matter how much we might be like our parents, we are separate and distinct people.
But despite all our efforts to be “different,” the moment will come when we have that out-of-body experience and watch ourselves morphing into that irritating, unfair, mean person who was the Minchin to our Crewe. And I am guessing 9 times out of 10 chores are involved.
I always had basic domestic tasks for which I was responsible, plus some extras on the weekend. In my recollection, I began doing simple things like sweeping and dishes when I was 7 or 8, and moved on to the hardcore stuff like laundry and bathrooms when I was 10 or so. I also helped watch my younger brothers and got to assist on ‘fun’ indoor and outdoor projects that involved tools, and paint, and, on at least one occasion, dousing icky bugs in gasoline.
It isn’t so much the work that I found objectionable as it was the being awoken at the crack of dawn to do it. I have distinct memories of my parents hauling my tender ass out of bed at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning to do chores. “Ride of the Valkyries” was blasting from the stereo and there was laughter and the tinkling of crystal as my parents gleefully toasted their child labor law violations. As I scrubbed the floor with a tiny brush in my tragic rags, I always swore angrily that I would never treat my children in such a cruel and callous way.
In reality, I am sure that I awoke up at a reasonable time, was fed a hot, delicious breakfast, watched some cartoons, and then was told to get off my lazy butt and get to work. And they weren’t rags, but they certainly weren’t Garanimals — a slight that I would never forgive. Nonetheless, I was certain that MY children would be draped in Garanimals while they frolicked about enjoying their Saturdays.
Oh sweet fancy Moses how that worm has turned.
You see, I would be DELIGHTED to drag my child out of bed by the ankles and laugh while I duct-tape a 17 page to-do list to his chest. The reality, however, and the albacore around my parental neck is the fact that my wonderful, unique, and much beloved almost 12-year-old does NO house or yardwork. Seriously. None. And not for lack of trying.
To his credit, he is very good and sweet about keeping his little sister alive and relatively safe for a while I gather laundry or whatnot, and will play with her and keep her entertained without question or complaint whenever asked. And he keeps the family going with his sense of humor, endearing affection, and concern for everyone’s well-being. Really, his non-chore contributions are amazing.
I will also be the first person to acknowledge that I have issues with giving him work to do, because I know it will only end up giving me more work to do. And yes, I have some control issues when it comes to housework. Ideally, I would like things done exactly as I would have done them. But I would settle for an end result that looks comparable. Just so long as I don’t have to watch it being done in a way I find fundamentally wrong.
The solution, then, seems to be to simply give an assignment and walk away, providing only nominal supervision. And really, how much supervision should sweeping require? I am thinking very little, but if you’ve ever seen K wield a broom, you would understand my reluctance. He holds the broom like it is a toxin-coated pitchfork and stabs at the floor with intense, jabbing motions. In fact, he is far more likely to dig a hole or set something on fire with the broom than he is to actually transfer a single crumb from the floor to the garbage. I wish I were joking. And any attempt at correction or instruction only sticks with him for about 1.9 seconds, and then he is back to his default stabby setting. On the flip side, though, he can dig a hole like nobody’s business. It’s extraordinary, really.
Getting him to clean his room has, over the years, been just about the most traumatic, frustrating, and horrifying thing I have experienced as a parent. Traumatic for both of us because, for various reasons, K is incapable of actually “seeing” the mess and becomes utterly paralyzed when faced with the task of having to put things away. Again, I’m not joking. He cannot sort. Despite the facts that there are labeled bins for all toys and lockers for all his clothes AND he really wants to do it right, he just can’t. I like to think that he just doesn’t judge.
It’s frustrating, but I accepted years ago that I actually have to walk him through every minute step of cleaning if I actually want it clean. You cannot simply tell him to clean up all the things off of the floor and put them away or you will end up with a single, tiny bin overflowing with lego, garbage, cats, socks, and books, while the floor remains littered with lego, dirty underwear, bbs, and chewing gum. He and I clearly have very different ideas of what belongs on the floor.
So, if I want it to actually be clean in there, I have to stay in there with him, line up the bins and help him sort. I have to guide him through the process every single time – it simply doesn’t stick. It’s getting better in the sense that there are far less tears than there used to be, but that’s it.
My other option is to just shut the door and pretend he is getting it done. Which works for a few months until I forget and actually take a critical look at the situation, pass out from horror at what I see, and then end up having to spend a weekend going all haz-mat in there. I will inevitably find a possibly sentient giant mystery wad of candy, dirt, skidmarked underwear,batteries, magazine inserts, pokemon cards, string, dead bug parts, and something that might have been a sandwich at some point tucked inside his bed. I worry he is constructing a changeling so that he can escape my Hannigan-like cruelty.
And then I begin to wonder if the changeling could run the vacuum…