Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sometimes, you get what you need

Yesterday, in addition to calling me lazy for asking her to clean her room, A___ declared that I treat her like a servant.

A number of possible responses ran through my mind, including:

-- That's it! All versions of 'Cinderella' are banned from the house FOREVER.
-- I don't think the word 'servant' means what you think it means.
-- Pull up a chair, kiddo. Now seems like a perfect time for that long lecture I've been meaning to give you about orphans, child labor in third-world countries and, speaking of labor, the 18 hours that I spent LAZILY bringing your disrespectful self into this world. WITHOUT an epidural.

Upon further consideration, though, I decided she's right about one thing: It is time for a change. Just not the one she's hoping for.

When my husband and I were both working, I'll admit we didn't always do exactly what was best in raising our children. (Even when we had an inkling of what was actually best, which is a pretty small percentage of the time.)

I'm not saying it's like this in every dual-income family. I know lots of families where both parents work full time, the house is always spotless and organized, the children are unfailingly polite and respectful, PTA meetings are attended, cookies are baked from scratch, and the mother regularly prepares entire meals in which each course reflects a whimsical holiday theme. (OK, I really only know one family like that. And I will find their weakness. I will! But I'm sure your family is doing just fine.)

Us? We were TIRED. A whole lot of the time. When keeping track of two different children's snack days feels more challenging than your college differential equations class on a hangover ... when you're lucky if your kid wears shoes to daycare, let alone having two complete sets of dry, appropriately sized, LABELED clothing in his cubby ... Let's just say it's hard to resist the siren call of the Path of Least Resistance.

Because let's face it. That path is all downhill, people! It's one long, lovely coast down a floral-scented, tree-lined avenue. Which is fantastic ... until you have to backtrack. And unfortunately you always have to backtrack eventually. (Maybe not you, cookie-baking, holiday-theming PTA mom. But the rest of us.)

For example: When your kids are 3 years old, it obviously requires less energy to pick up their toys on any given night than to make them to do it themselves. (If the previous statement does not seem obvious to you, you've clearly never met a 3-year-old. And you might as well stop reading now.)

Nevertheless, there will come a time when you've had enough. They're old enough to pick up their own toys, you'll say with adorably naive enthusiasm! If your kids are anything like mine, they might even go along with you for a day or two, just for the novelty. But sooner or later they will ... let's call it "disagree." And if your kids are anything like mine, they will disagree loudly. While you're staying in a hotel with thin walls and a CPS worker in the next room. Or when your mother-in-law is visiting.

That's when you turn around and face the long, uphill climb back from the Path of Least Resistance. And that path you're headed toward? The one you pretended not to see as you made a break for the easy route? That dark, bumpy, washed-out, uphill-both-ways, avalanche-prone, sorry-excuse-for-a-road? Yeah, that one's called parenting.

So ... despite the fact that we were both working and TIRED (did I mention tired?), my husband and I had up to this point managed many of the basics: dressing, bathing, teeth brushing. Routines had been established! Logical consequences were in place! We were feeling pretty darn good about ourselves, some days, when the stars aligned and no one threw us any curve balls, threw a tantrum, or just plain threw up.

But getting the kids to do chores? Meaning, help out around the house above and beyond taking minimal (and I do mean minimal) care of their own hygiene? Sure, we fully intended to get around to that. Building responsibility, being part of the family, and all that. The whole identifying-age-appropriate-jobs-teaching-new-skills-creating-schedules-and-routines-coming-up-with-fitting-consequences-for-noncompliance-enforcing-consequences-coming-up-with-new-consequences-when-the-old-ones-stop-working thing? Oh, we were all for it. It just wasn't ever the right time.

Yesterday, A___'s indignant response to being asked to pick up HER OWN ROOM appeared on the side of my path like a big, flashing, neon sign that read, "Welcome to the Right Time." This was, after all, part of the reason I left my job. So that I would have more time to keep the family on track. It's a luxury I intend to take full advantage of while I can.

Yes, A___ is about to discover that even with a stay-at-home mom hanging around, "You can't always get what you want." (That yelling you hear? It's coming from our house. It'll die down in a week or two.)

And when I'm done with that, I might just bake some cookies. From scratch! But I'm still not going to the PTA meetings.


  1. so, you made me feel better -- and worse -- about indulging Mason's every request for "Sesse" and "Sid." I'll admit it - the tv was my babysitter during the last trimester. And now he just doesn't understand why one episode (the same one he probably saw yesterday) is enough for today. He's not even two yet -- and I'm freakin' exhausted. hahah! :) :ove to read your writing again! :)
    Mary Pat

  2. Ohmygosh - you said it, sister! This is all so TRUE! I have to sit on my hands to stop myself from doing the chores that I KNOW they should be doing...some days it's just so much less work to do it quickly myself than to teach responsibility! - Jenn

  3. I get that EXACT SAME RESPONSE from Megan: "You're treating me like a servant!" (said with a pouty sense of the poor victim or with righteous indignation). Where do they learn that particular line? I just laugh.

  4. The thing that frustrates me the most about life is how I never have enough time and energy to do all of the basics, much less everything I might want to do. I don't even have to contend with taking care of kids, so I don't really understand how parents do it.

  5. you're way ahead of me, Midstream... no personal responsibility is happening in our house! Lead the charge! (and good luck!!) ~ Carolyn

  6. Ditto.

    That's all I have...ditto...oh and in my case, I just did it all so it would be done MY way...but then we've talked about that haven't we? New lessons are being learned in our house as well...and not just for The Girl and The Boy...but for the Mommy and the Daddy too.

    Joining in the screaming....that may or may NOT die down.

  7. Your grandfather Greene, bless his soul, had a rather harsh sense of humor at times. I recall being in circumstances similar to those you describe here, raising your cousin, now 26 and currently living down the hall. Grandpa was too fond of chuckling, "Don't mind this phase. The next one will be worse." As much as I loved him, I could have flattened him every time he said that. But Sarah is a joy to live with now in South Dakota. And it all starts all over again with her son, Austin. Hang in there, my favorite niece. I know you to be very special. Do you recall stopping behind us at the light, so long ago, in Seattle, and doing a lap around the car, for no particular reason (or just because we did the same thing at the light before that one?)?

    Much love from the Mid-West to you. Keep writing.

  8. Bravo! I, too, chuckled right along with Grandpa Greene since I recall hearing that statement about "phases" on more than one occasion. Don't worry, it gets better after 21 years!