Saturday, 6 March 2010

Airing My Dirty Laundry

When my younger sister (let's call her Laura Ingalls, her favorite character of books and TV) and I were growing up, our mother had a full-time job. We were latch-key kids and, instead of coming home to freshly baked sugar cookies, we came home to a list of chores. I know, take out the violin. But chores were a part of our life and we accepted that. More accurately, my sister embraced the domestic duties and I accepted the fact that she was better at them. So I bribed her to do my share because, from my first paper route at 11, I always had an after-school job. Laura Ingalls was, and still is, a card-carrying member of the Neatnik Generation. An organizational guru. When we were young, she color coordinated the clothes in her closet and kept the contents on index cards so she wouldn't repeat her outfits. If you were reading a book and put it on the coffee table to nip off to the kitchen for a snack, the book would be filed away in the bookshelf (alphabetically by author) by the time you got back. She proposed cooking weekends so we could make the week's dinners and then freeze them. I'm pretty sure she even knew how to use a crockpot and had her own sewing kit for reinforcing those pesky loose buttons. But that's just a little freaky and I think she knows that now.

As it turns out, Laura Ingalls is currently a successful entrepreneur running her own, very well-organized business. And I am the housewife. So you never really know, do you? The point is that we knew that Comet was not only something in the solar system that is bigger than a meteoroid, but it was also an abrasive agent we used to scrub the sink and bathtub. The washing machine was not a mysterious white elephant that lurked in the basement. And we could cook up a mean tuna noodle casserole. So, not only were we domestic teenage divas turning out barely edible casseroles, we were frugal too!

Anyway, I digress. Enough with the trip down memory lane. On Friday morning, approximately 30 seconds before it was time to exit the front door and run hell-for-leather for the school bus, Truly asked, 'Mum, where is my PE uniform?'

I counted to ten and breathed in and out and refrained from yelling like a fishwife, 'Why do you always wait until the VERY LAST MINUTE?' Instead I asked very calmly (New Year's Resolutions still fresh in my mind), 'Did you check the pile of clean laundry I put on your bed?' (Four days ago).

'It's not there,' she said.

So we looked in all the obvious places--the hamper, the laundry room, the toy box in Scrumptious' room, behind the sofa cushions. No PE uniform.

Eventually, we found the PE uniform. Rolled up in a ball in a canvas bag UNDER TRULY'S UNMADE BED. I'll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say, when the bag was opened a troop of happy hormones marched out and performed an exuberant Irish clogging number all over the bedroom.

(Feel free to insert melody because an aroma this pungent deserves a lilting tune of its own):
Lift the wings,
That carry me away from here and,
Fill the sail,
That breaks the line to home.

Truly snatched the uniform and skulked off to greet the day. All I could do was stand back and thank the gods of crappy mothers everywhere that I wasn't one of her netball teammates.

So I wonder: Do stay at home mothers do too much for our children? Perhaps it's not only stay at home mothers, but 21st century mothers. Do we pamper them too much? Mommy-coddle them? Do they take us for granted? I'm not sure. But I'm going to teach Truly how to use the big white elephant in the basement. And maybe I'll enroll her in some Irish clogging lessons.


  1. Oh, I did love Little House on the Praire. Sadly I am no neatnik, not by any stretch of the imagination.

    It is an interesting question. It is a tough call though, because getting the chilren to do the chores is such purgatory sometimes it is just easier to do them yourselves. But like you say, once you are in the routine of it, they just get on with it as a part of life.

    But just getting the kids to tidy at the end of the day, about the worst 15 minutes of the day here.

    Sally, at Who's The Mummy did a similar post recently.

  2. Brit in Bosnia--I know it's wrong of me and not fostering independence in my children---but sometimes it is easier if I just do it myself! Not sure I'm doing the right thing though...

  3. sorry it's taken me a few days to your blog! Really liked your post on the Brit visitor too - it's funny how patriotic I have become since living in Chicago. Like defending my country is down to me alone. It always amuses me on reflection - why did I get so upset exactly??

    Anyway, I really relate to your dilemma. I always had tons of chores as a child, even tho I had a SAHM. I was making my parents pots of tea every weekend from the age of 8, doing my own washing by the age of 11, always washing or drying up every night after dinner and by 12 it was my responsibility to iron for the whole family.

    I like to think it is just because my boys are 4 and 6 that I haven't got them too heavily involved as yet - but it's all BS. I help them get dressed, just so we can 'get a move on'. I sometimes rally the troups to tidy up, but rarely. Ditto making their beds. The only thing they do on a consistent basis is put their shoes/coats away and bring their plates to the kitchen after every meal.

    I know it is down to me to muster the energy to get them to do their bit. I really want to raise men who think it is normal to work as a team and know how to look after themselves. But I am also the sort of person who likes it better if I just get on and do a job 'properly' myself.

    I'll let you know in a few years time how my good intentions are going...

  4. Hi Nicola, thanks for stopping by and I love your blog too!

    I do the same thing. This morning, my 5-year-old sat in a chair as I dressed her. The sole object was to get her out of the house and get her to school on time! Bad mummy...enabling mummy. Everyday I start out with the best intentions as well but, just like you, I find that it's often easier (in the short-run) to do it myself, to tidy up the toys, make the beds, collect the dirty laundry. Ah well, we'll keep trying. Good luck!

  5. Afraid I must confess to being a neatnik but the upside of that is my kids have no choice but to get with the programme. Chores are an essential part of childhood & a balance somewhere between them doing nothing & being your childslaves is perfectly reasonable in my eyes.

    We have a rule that if it can be done in 60 seconds or less, they definitely have to do it themselves (with obvious allowances for personal safety!) Then as they grow we add to it with learning to use washing machine, make breakfast etc etc. I try to encourage these chores as being part of growing up & so far that is working. They seem more appealing when the kids see them that way as opposed to an obligation.

    Surely we want to produce well rounded adults after all and that includes the ability to wash clothes, cook a meal & tidy up a bit.

  6. Modern Dilemma--the funny thing is that, over time, I've become more like my sister. I like a tidy house.

    Your approach to encoruaging chores is very smart. I know I need to encourage my children to do more to help out around the house. And you're absolutely right. We do want our children to become well rounded adults. Thank you.

  7. I do not the answer, I have three teenagers who are all completely different. The oldest is very responsible, clean, neat but I have spoiled him the most. The middle daughter is spotless, organized, and very good at tidying up. On the downside she is a ditz and leaves the tuna out of the casserole and pours the rice and water directly on the heating element of the steamer! My youngest daughter is a slob, very messy, but is a fabulous cook and can follow directions perfectly. Sure, they all know how to clean, do laundry, and cook, but would they ever do it on their own?
    I guess all we can do is hope for the best.

  8. I have four step-teens and one 12 yo of my own and in order to not go totally and completely insane hubby and I recognised early on that the whole household had to help out. Not only does it benefit me now, but it also benefits them in the long run.

    We have a bathroom cleaning rota, someone helps with dinner and setting the table and the rest help with dishes, uniforms must be in the utility room by Fri evening and they iron their own, if they want money they do extra jobs for money such as cleaning the windows and mirrors, digging over the garden, etc.

    A benefit of a large family is the understanding that teamwork and helping out is essential!

    PS I loved the Little House books and TV show!!

  9. suester, at least your teenagers can clean, do laundry and cook! That's an accomplishment. I'm going to work on it.

    Michelloui, it sounds like you set up a great system. I'm going to make changes in my own house. Both my girls need to start helping out and doing age-appropriate chores. My 14-year-old needs to start earning her pocket money by doing her share of the housework and helping with meal preparation. And my 5-year-old can do a lot for herself but chooses not to because, too often, I do it for her. She could be setting the table, making her bed, tidying her room, etc. As you said, giving them responsibilities benefits you now and it will benefit them in the long run. Thank you.
    And, yes, I loved Little House too.