Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Saturday Chores

House cleaning chores happen on Saturday morning at our place. Or at least, that's when they're supposed to happen. A motivated child can get through his/her assigned chores in 45 minutes. An hour tops. But our kids regularly tend to drag the chores out for 2½-3 hours or even longer.

I guess it's like when my mom used to make my brother eat vegetables that he really detested. We all had to eat them, but this brother had a particular dislike of certain vegetables. There was a time consuming ritual to arrive at the point where my brother would put the vegetables in his mouth. He would then reluctantly chew on them. And chew, and chew, and chew, while trying to achieve the fortitude to swallow them.

We used to chide my brother for his antics. We asked him why, if he disliked the taste of the vegetables so much, he didn't just wolf them down as rapidly as possible and get it over with. Why did he have to keep the distasteful food in his mouth for-stinking-ever? Our kids often (not always) follow a similar pattern with their chores.

I don't think that our family's chores are particularly onerous. While we clean the house every Saturday, our home isn't the cleanest place on earth. Far from it. When I lived in Norway I frequently saw little plaques on the walls of homes that said something like, "Clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be home." That describes our house. Most of the time. When we err, it's on the side where being clean enough to be healthy might be questionable.

Our kids clean the bathrooms (including the toilets). They dust the furniture, wall hangings, curtains, blinds, fan blades, etc. Or these things at least get to see the duster. They vacuum. To a certain extent. They empty the wastebaskets. And that's about it. Each of these children started doing these chores when they were still wee tots, so they all have plenty of practice.

You might commend us for having such (janitorially) well trained children. But you must understand that we have developed an odd tradition that has become sacrosanct to our children. In the dim ages when the older children were starting out with chores, we discovered that we couldn't get them to be productive until they finished watching their beloved Saturday morning cartoons. We ultimately settled on 10:00 am as the time for starting chores.

Only the youngest still bothers with TV on Saturday mornings. The others tend to sleep, do stuff on the computer, play video games, etc. until the stroke of ten. Or for a few minutes thereafter until my wife or I get on their case.

Given the 10:00 am chore start time, you'd think that the chores would be done by 11:00 am. But no. Because the children are expert at finding things that absolutely must happen at the moment chore time arrives. "I haven't had breakfast yet," says one. "I'm going to take a shower first," says another. "I have to use the toilet," says another. Each of these tasks seems to take the better part of an hour. Plus another 30-45 minutes to get dressed. By the time a child finally gets ready to start on a chore, the child says, "It's lunchtime. I need to eat," despite having eaten breakfast only a short time earlier.

When the chore activities finally get underway, our children seem to have developed great expertise in taking as long as possible to complete their chores. Not that all of that time translates into thoroughness. It translates into much lolly-gagging and complaining about not being able to get to other more desirable activities.

A favorite tactic is spending copious time finding, setting up, and using their personal audio devices. Earbuds are forever disappearing. Waiting for the vacuum is another favored stalling activity, despite the fact that we have three vacuums in the house. (That's a long story.) But the vacuum the child wants to use is already occupied. Or the child feigns being unable to locate some other favored cleaning implement.

It's my brother chewing on his hated vegetables all over again. I ask my children why, if they want to get on to leisure, they don't get their chores done as quickly as possible. Heaven knows they couldn't possibly be much less thorough if they hurried.

In reality, I very much appreciate the housework my children do, despite the nagging it sometimes requires to get them to do it. They (mostly) do a fair job. Unlike some of their peers, they actually know how to clean a toilet, chemicals and all. I'm not sure how well this translates into regularly cleaning the toilet after they are living on their own. But at least they'll know how to do it. You can do much to prepare your child for life outside of the family abode, but what they do with that preparation once they get there is largely up to them.

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