Today is supposed to be housecleaning day. Dusting and vacuuming and whatnot. I asked the kids this morning to strip the sheets off their beds, take them to the laundry room, and then pile all their remaining floor detritis (blankets, stuffed animals, mismatched socks) onto their beds so that I could get to the floor to vacuum.
“Okay Mom!” Then lots of giggling as they continued whatever game they were playing with the stuffed animal Monstaz.
After I walked the kids to the bus, and the bus driver yelled out the window, “One o’clock release today – it’s gonna snow,” I came back home to turn lights out before heading to the grocery store.
And lo and behold, the kids’ floors were still covered in blankets, Monstaz, and mismatched socks.
I fumed, and stomped, and yelled at my husband, “Oh my GOD. They didn’t clean their crap up AGAIN. I’m so sick of them not listening to me!” I yell and yell and yell, and what does it get me? Nothing! Lots of guilt and no results.
“They’re never going to listen if they don’t have consequences,” says my husband. I fume some more. I can’t take the TV away, because that punishes me. So I simmer a while, running pre-storm errands, trying to see through my fogged up windshield, toting groceries in the rain.
And then it comes to me.
When the kids get home I smile and ask how their days were, then say, very casually, “You are both in trouble.” That stopped them in their tracks. “Neither one of you cleaned your floors like I asked this morning, so now you get to do the work I was going to do for you.”
Their eyes were like saucers.
“After your snack, you will go upstairs, clean everything off your floor, then dust and vacuum your rooms.”
They sputtered, “But I didn’t hear you!”
“But he made that mess in my room!”
I started to argue, then thought better of it. “Here’s the vacuum, here’s the duster. I’ll come up and get the places you can’t reach.”
Our son’s face was red with anger, his mouth a tight slit. Our daughter sobbed with the unfairness of it all. They had gotten out of school early for this?!
I kept my mouth shut for the most part, despite all the lecturing I wanted to do. We worked in silence in our separate rooms. Silence, that is, except for the whimpering and sniffling coming from our daughter’s room. When I joined our son, he saw his globe and said, “I know an easy way to dust this!” And he put the tip of the swiffer duster at the north pole, flattened the length of it down a longitudinal line, and spun the earth on it’s axis.
I smiled and told him, “I do it the same way.”
He spun it around some more. “Hey Mom, do you want me to show you what we’re learning about in social studies?”
He pointed at Mali, a country in western Africa, and told me how in Mali, the Griots don’t write down their history, they have to memorize it. “You have to tell me a story that’s part of your history, and I have to memorize it in a week.” He looked at me, a little worried. “I hope it’s a short one.”
When our daughter heard our civil conversation, and knew her brother wasn’t fighting the punishment any more, her well of tears miraculously went dry, and she vied for my attention. “We did a science experiment in school today!” She yelled from her room.
I went in to dust her fan blades. “Oh yeah? What did you do?”
She told me about how they worked with three liquids – water, vinegar, and oil – and that they added them all together to see if they would mix. “And nothing would mix with the oil,” she explained. “And one time, the oil was on top, and the water was on the bottom, and even when we poured food coloring on top, it didn’t mix with the oil. The drops exploded in the oil, then sank right through it into the water and changed the color of the water!”
“Wow!” I raised my eyebrows and tried to look suitably impressed.
After the best after-school conversation we’ve had in weeks, the kids and I have forgotten our anger. Whether they learned a lesson about listening remains to be seen. And I’m not even sure if I care. The work is done a half hour earlier than if I had done it myself. Now, unexpectedly, I get to drink my afternoon coffee with leisure, snow falling softly out the window, while I read my new find: Brain, Child: the magazine for thinking mothers.
I read a fantastic column in the Roanoke Times the other day about Brain, Child magazine. I had never heard of it, but when I read a description of it, I knew I needed to read it, and maybe even submit an article one day: “The articles were often edgy and sharp. Filled with great writing and even a few cartoons, Brain, Child was like a New Yorker for mothers.” I’m looking forward to reading my first issue.