Today was Jeff's 44th birthday. It snuck up on me - I couldn't believe it was July already! I had ordered him some backpacking/hunting type things as gifts, only one of which arrived in time for his actual birthday morning. I picked up double chocolate muffins the night before, because in our house, the "birthday fairy" (me) decorates the table and puts up balloons and puts your gifts on the table so it's the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning. So, I had to scramble a bit because I didn't plan ahead. But all was well, and the birthday morning went off without a hitch (even though it was just the two of us, because no one else could be bothered to get up that early to say happy birthday).
Then, came the party part. We invited over our two best neighbor friend/couples for appetizers, drinks and cupcakes. I had planned what I'd make, purchased (most of) the ingredients, and had a plan for getting the house cleaned for the party. That "plan" included the kids, as it should have, since they LIVE here and should be helping out anyway, right? Wrong. I asked Hannah to vacuum. For four hours. Over and over I asked and reminded and finally said "I need your help now". All of which were met with grumbling, whining, "just a sec" and other avoidance techniques. When she finally did make motions to do it, it was not without grumbling about being "the only one" who "ever" does anything. And I lost it.
A blogger friend of mine said "even Superman had his kryptonite" and I guess this was mine. I am sick to DEATH of my kids whining, grumbling, eye-rolling, debating, tantruming, etc. when they are asked to simply contribute to the household chores. I've held hour-long debates about why someone shouldn't have to vacuum the upstairs (which takes 15 minutes, tops). I've been called nasty names and accused of being "OCD", "you care too much what other people think", "maybe if you didn't yell at us, we'd do it" all over asking for the garbage to be taken out or the dishes to be done. I'd like to qualify this by saying my house is NOT picture-perfect and never will be. My standards are very relaxed. I don't ask much, but what I do ask is ALWAYS met with negativity. And I'm just DONE.
Nasty words flew from both of our mouths. Things neither of us should have said, and all over a simple request to vacuum. What a sad, sad example of how things roll around here. In the end, she retreated, I vacuumed, and did ALL of the other cleaning, party prep, household chores. Needless to say, nothing was ready when the guests arrived and my girlfriends ended up helping me get things finished off. Definitely not the way I planned for the day to go. Especially the part where Jeff arrived home early to a kitchen in disarray, the bedding in the wash, and all he wanted to do was come home early and take a nap. I had planned to have a clean bed, planned to be a lot farther along in the food prep process, planned to NOT be in yoga pants and a sweaty shirt, not showered, at 4 p.m. I had not planned to reach my breaking point when I got the final whine about vacuuming.
This evening, after scrambling to find sheets for the bed (flannel, that's all I had clean!), I told Jeff I could not imagine making such a production over chores when I was younger. He said "what's the difference?" to which I could only reply "my mom would have smacked me!" Now, I don't want to debate corporal punishment here, but I'm sure the threat of being smacked was not the only motivator. I just knew that some things were not debatable. And chores were one of those things. Not to mention I would have NEVER called my mom the names my daughter called me. Would my mom have called me the names I called her? Probably. The bottom line is that my mom would NOT have put up with that kind of behavior, and I knew better than to cross the line. With my kids, it appears there are no lines.
I've modeled the behavior I expect. We have rules and chore lists - both of which seem to be ignored more often than not. Which makes me the constant enforcer. The drill sergeant. And I'm so sick of it. I honestly do not understand 1. why anyone would want to live in filth, 2. why it's such a big deal to spend a few minutes each day picking up after yourself and doing some chores for the good of the household and 3. why all the rules seem to be "negotiable". I stick to my guns. I dole out punishments when warranted. I put up chore charts, I remind, I nag, I ignore, I leave things on the floor for days hoping someone will notice and pick it up but no one ever does.
The kids share a bathroom and it's filthy. Not just cluttered, because it's certainly that, but it's disgusting. Towels stacked five feet high tower in the laundry basket, and the floor is covered with a layer of clothing (rule: no leaving your clothing in the bathroom), and more towels. The counter is covered in cosmetics, bottles, toothbrushes, smears of toothpaste. Hayley leaves her contact wrappers all over the countertop. No one ever puts the toilet paper ON the roll. Perhaps the effort of unwrapping the paper is just too much and putting it on the very difficult contraption called the toilet paper holder is impossible for their minds to grasp? The shower walls are covered in hair. How hard is it to just rinse that away after your shower? Arlie complains about it all the time and doesn't even want to shower in that bathroom. I don't blame her. I wouldn't.
We have a rule of no eating in the family room. Yet today I found three pop cans, two bowls, various plastic wrappers, a spoon and a plastic take-out container in there. There is no way in the world I have time to police who the offender is. And no one would 'fess up to it in a million years.
When the toilet is clogged, "no one" ever did it. Instead of plunging it, they will use another bathroom and ignore the clogged toilet for days, unless I happen upon it and fix the problem. They've all been taught basic plunger techniques so there's really no excuse. Dog messes will remain "unseen" until I notice it and then it's as if I've asked them to cut off an arm when I demand they clean it.
Our dishes rule is "rinse and put in the left side of the sink". They're not even required to put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, for cryin' out loud, and do you think they can follow that rinse and to the left rule? Not a chance. Some days, Jeff refuses to cook because he can't get to the sink for all the dishes piled on both sides. Bedrooms floors are covered in clothing that is sometimes clean, sometimes not. I've actually seen them dump baskets of clean clothes on the floor because I demanded they return the baskets to the laundry room. The clothes lay in a heap so long they can no longer tell which are clean and which are dirty so they will just rewash them. And dump them back on the floor.
I wash, dry and fold the towels. I only ask that they bring the dirty towels into the proper receptacle in the laundry room. They don't. I wash the ones I use and put them neatly in the linen closet. When they have exhausted that supply, they reach for beach towels. When those are gone, they use hand towels and complain that there are "no towels" clean. Back to that five-foot pile of towels in their bathroom. All they have to do is move them a few feet and they could be washed, dried, folded and put away by ME. What service!
The kids do their own laundry. Which means they don't do it. And here is where I admit a huge mistake - buying them clothing. I have bought them way too many clothes, because they can go weeks without washing and still have things to wear. And when they run out, they've been known to just pilfer out of the parents' closet. Without permission.
It makes my kids very angry when I say this, but the truth is, Arlie is the only one who consistently follows the chore list and the rules. She does her chores not because she loves to do chores, but because she enjoys a clean living space. And because it's a requirement of our household. No questions. So, why can one child do it and not three others? Priorities and choices. My three spend almost all day in front of a screen, so I know they have plenty of time to keep things neat, follow the rules, and contribute to a tidy household. They just choose not to. It's summer and they have very few obligations, but they spend a good portion of each day sleeping, laying around, and eating. They rarely go outside. They never exercise. Any attempt to "force" these issues is met with World War 3. Screaming, dramatics, long, drawn-out missives on why they can't do it. It's utterly exhausting.
So, I would like to know - what chores do your kids do? What are the consequences to not doing the chores? How is it policed? Because I am sick of hearing the whining and excuses. It should not be such a debate or such a big deal. Certainly a simple request to do a simple chore should not result in the screaming match that greeted my husband when he arrived home early on his birthday. Is it really too much to ask? What I do know is this: I need a vacation. I suggested today that my three kids should spend the next week at their dad's. Let him see how lazy they are. Not that it would make any difference, because a week is barely enough time for the novelty to wear off. And getting the girls to spend a week there would be like pulling teeth,. Plus, it would be vacation, not a lesson. So, what's the point, really?
All I wanted was for today to be a fun birthday celebration for Jeff. We did have fun, and laughs, when all was said and done, but the stress I went through just to try and do it all myself with no help from anyone else was NOT worth it for me. Next year, we'll just go out to dinner like everyone else. Parties and gatherings used to be our "thing". We were the "fun house". But the effort required to host is just too much for one person, so I'm hanging up my hat, until someone else decides to come forward and help just for the sake of being part of a family. Isn't that what it's really all about? Helping others just because it's the right thing to do? How does that lesson get taught? Where am I going wrong?