Tag Archives: chores

I can’t learn it any younger

Last week I cycled a lot of dishes: from the counter, various side tables, and the dining table to the dishwasher, from the dishwasher to the cabinets, and back into the cycle again. I was counting this time, since I finally got down on paper the division of labor I expected the kids to adhere to now that I’m working–one on dishwasher, one on sweep & general tidy, one on laundry and the youngest on taking out various forms of refuse. I counted each session accomplished in each category by them or by me, and, well, we might be at 10%/90%, and at least that’s a place to start. The excuses were, I’m doing something. I need to have supper. I want to take a shower. I’m so tired! I’m getting ready for school. So my goal is to—lovingly—teach them to use the nooks and crannies of time within their schedule which would otherwise be wasted—to put away a load of dishes while the breakfast eggs are cooking, sort laundry while the microwave heats the milk, sweep the floor while waiting for the bathroom to be available. Yes, it doesn’t seem almost impossible to get any chores done between school and athletics and homework and sleep and fun, but now that’s me too, so we’ve got to figure this out, or we’ll run out of dishes or clean underwear.

My other goal is to keep my temper. Even on a regular day I get really miffed when people walk away from messes, and when I have to interview everyone three times before someone finally remembers it was them who dropped that wet towel on the wood floor or left the cheese on the counter. When I get up at 5:30, sub all day, drive my daughter to the barn and tutor in the late afternoon, with only a few hours at home and not much time alone, I definitely have a harder time not giving in to anger.  Raising my voice doesn’t cow anyone in this house anyway, and often leads to their saying words which in themselves should bring down some sort of consequence. I realize too that I’m supposed to be an example here–even if my mom gave up on training and did all the work herself, making it impossible for her to take on a career or other responsibilities if she’d wanted to, I’d better figure out how to do this, for their sake as well as my own.

Looking back on that paragraph, I see how readily I excuse myself. Maybe that’s a way I can win them over, with understanding, like I want when I get behind.

Next week I’m keeping out of the schools for the most part, so I can work on my son’s FAFSA application, which depends on getting our personal tax return done, which depends on getting the business tax return done, which depends on getting the accounting files up to date. Today I spent several hours trying to figure out why the program wouldn’t even open, and ended up upgrading the seven-year-old software. Once all the money stuff is done, I have to check on the progress of my son’s college applications and help him figure out how to get involved in that Palestinian volunteer opportunity he wants to do. He’s so swamped with school work and the final weeks of the swim season that the earlier application due dates are looming and he just isn’t making much progress. No time to visit campuses either.

As I said I tutor a few home bound students for my district; I fired off an email to my tutoring supervisor listing all the “challenges” of the job—things that impeded student from progressing on schedule, or made transition back to class less than smooth, and so on. With possible solutions for each. Thought it might impress her as well as getting the ball rolling toward some improvements to the program. Then I thought it might be more irritating than otherwise, me wanting to change things a few weeks in when they’ve always done things a certain way, and maybe even that was a huge accomplishment under budgetary and other constraints. I don’t even know how many students are in the program at any one time. Still, seems it might be worth drawing up something on ways schools could work better with tutored students. One who went to school a few times this week said she was pretty much ignored, as if the teacher didn’t realize she’d been away for over a month. A good teacher from what I hear, but apparently ot noticing individuals overly.

I came back today energetic as usual after teaching, which they say is a clue that you’re working in your gifts. Not that it was like that my first year full time. I had lower expectations then, just to see if I wanted to continue at all despite all the difficulties, many of which I’d bring on myself as a novice.

One of my days this week was in 11th grade and AP (12 grade) English, which went pretty well, except in my second section of discussing some poems in the large group I got too effusive and got called on it by a student. He made some comments, such as “what does this have to do with…” and also got miffed when I didn’t notice his hand raised to respond and kept calling on others, for which I apologized. When he later questioned the value of the train of thought I was on, I admitted that it was perhaps off track, though other students were engaged and seemed to be enjoying the discussion. The bell rang, and students began packing up. I overheard him say in in a scornful tone so I could just overhear, ” Well, that teacher was awesome. I learned so much this class!”

I was already feeling like I’d been too loose in the discussion, too willing to share my own views and lead things in the direction I wanted at the moment, in my overconfidence from how well the previous section had gone. But I was stung, and I walked over and said, N—-, I appreciate feedback, but your comments had a sarcastic tone that was hurtful.”

Surprised, he said that he had not meant to come across that way, but he felt that I had gone on too much at times instead of sticking to the poem. I said, yes, I heard that. He repeated that he had not meant to be hurtful, just to give feedback. So I said, “Then I’ll take it in that spirit,” nodded, and walked back to my podium.

I did not get moist eyes, did not have a noticeably quavery voice, and I’m pretty sure my lip did not quiver. But I felt utterly humbled. And as I thought about the fact that he had indeed meant to be hurtful, as he knew very well, I had to wrench my thoughts back to the value of that experience for my own growth, rather than feel angry at the student for his unkindness. If I can’t embrace a teachable moment, than what’s the good of trying to create them for students?


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Helping our children learn to submit to legitimate authority and understand rights and responsibilities

Sounds high and lofty, no? I apologize to those expecting something more authoritative. Just trying to live out the principles, and here’s how it sometimes goes.

Having rejoiced in my previous post at a certain harmony established with one daughter, I now tell another tale, about a confrontation resulting in my confiscating the smart phone she uses–as distinct from “her smart phone,”as she calls it–due to her not fulfilling household duties and showing proper respect to other household members. Sloth and sass, one could say. Let’s see if we can make any headway here, in a realm in which I remember well being on the other side, and my parents having not really won the battle. It’s a battle not of parents against children, but parents for children, against their lower instincts, right? Helping them overcome. Now as an adult I’m on my own in my own battle not to be slothful and sassy, but I do want to help my kids along too, maybe give them an advantage for the future. And we parents who like to expect everyone to be reasonable and come around on their own have to force ourselves to be more assertive at times like these. They respect us more in the end, and appreciate the help with overcoming their vices. Strange but true.

We did explain that the phones (given to the three oldest) were lent, on condition that they pulled their weight and kept good relations with all family members as they were able. Yeah, yeah, whatever, might have been the thought. What kid being handed a wonderful toy ever thinks, “My, those are reasonable conditions, and I should consider whether I really intend to fulfill them”, etc..? Still, the dotted line was, figuratively, signed.

We have confiscated devices a few times before, but not effectively. Have had to face the implied challenge of a physical wrestling match (“No! You can’t have it! It’s mine!”) by waiting and swooping in when said phone was untended, or by cutting off service, changing network password, etc. Then yielding to a reasonable-sounding request–need to text a friend about homework, want to listen to calming music, etc., after hardly any time had passed. The lesson was not learned, the bedroom was still a wreck, the chores still undone. Their unspoken conclusion was, “Well, I guess I can get away with that without too much grief.”

But this time I just stood my ground, unmoved by shrieking, and insisted, insisted, insisted that she give me the phone, that it was a privilege and had conditions. And she actually yielded, with a snarl; I got the phone. I was frankly surprised! But she assured me that this wouldn’t work, would make it even less likely that she’d do what I wanted. And I was being totally unfair, because the other daughter still had her phone, and hadn’t cleaned up her room either. So tempting to justify, and I usually try, but this time, I just said, “This is about you, not about her, and I’m trying to teach you something important right now that will help you in life. I’ll do my best with each of you, but that’s not your concern.” Goodness, she should be thanking me for coming down on her–parents who love their children discipline them, as the Bible says.

Then she went through device withdrawal, and reverted to some childish methods to try to intimidate–yelling, accusing, dumping her glass of water on the floor, knocking over chairs, provoking siblings,slamming doors, even the silent treatment (not her specialty), refusing to answer when spoken to. All with an appearance of fury, but, in reality, not uncontrolled. She’s not throwing anything through the plate glass living room windows, after all, or doing any personal violence, knocked over a chair, not a lamp, and so on. I tend to wait this out–it’s no time to talk, after all when she’s in the “reptilian brain.” Just take note of things she’ll have to fix or clean up, or I will.

I wrote down the requirements for her to get back her phone and conditions on which she was keeping it. Specifically, clean up her room, acknowledge the legitimate authority of us as parents, be respectful of everyone, do some household chores for the common good. By the next afternoon, the paper had a hand-torn fringe, but she had cleaned up her room, done her chores, and politely asked for the phone. and of course I gave it to her.

All the reasoning of this process, and the waiting out of tantrums and her apparent suffering for the lack of her phone were pretty easy for me, but that part where I had to stand there and insist, not give up, dictate, act like a solid rock, that was hard. I can count on one hand the times I remember doing that properly. But as I said, every time I stayed strong for my kids, stood up to them, calmly set a firm limit or consequence, those were the times there was some kind of breakthrough in their ability to respect me as a parent, as well as their sense of security. It’s like they thank me silently from their soul for being strong when they can”t be.


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Ms. Grumpy-pants

Ms. Grumpy-pants

Took my older dog for a run in the still, damp air to see if I could shake off what shook me up the other day. The dog is always happy to hear the leash jingle, but the whole journey away from the house, I have to tug every few seconds to keep him from being a literal drag. And there’s the problem of unpredictability. He’s bit several people without warning, several times puncturing the skin. Upsetting, not okay, even scary, but we can’t see our way to putting him down, only redoubling our efforts to keep him from hurting anyone. I cinch his leash toward me and ready myself each time a jogger approaches, and try not to release any stress pheromones he might interpret as a call to protect me. Meanwhile I wish good morning to the passers by. There are no incidents, no lunge attempts. On the way back he heels nicely from a forward position, eager to return to familiar territory. And I feel like dragging, because I don’t really want to go home right now. Wondering why things were so fine for weeks, and suddenly tense and hurtful so I’m responding from my reptilian brain, also known as bitch. I hate being grumpy, makes me grumpier still.

The main thing is I’ve been tense about for days is housekeeping and chores. Four kids, and I thought I’d put a lot of effort into teaching and training them to pick up after themselves and pitch in on general household tasks, but not one of them ever (it seems) does any chore without being asked, and even when they are asked (or told), I often end doing it myself, fuming. Busy, too tired, feel sick, “just a second” that turns into an half hour, didn’t make the mess, already did a chore, etc.

Part of it is that I take very little satisfaction and virtually no enjoyment from housework, laundry being the exception (especially using a clothesline). I’d rather be gardening, installing trim, sewing, painting, baking, doing finances, mowing the lawn, almost anything. So I think it’s only fair that the burden be shared, and when it isn’t, I take it personally. I too want my share in recreation, personal scholarship time, creative pursuits, and so on.

The other part is that I see a pattern of irresponsibility and insensitivity that could affect other areas of their life and relationships. Truth is there is no just escape from housework, and the sooner they get used to, and skilled at it, and learn to balance it with everything else, the more successful they will be at those mundane foundations of modern living. It’s for their own good that they should do chores. Why can’t they see that? I have explained it.

Finally, I feel guilty, and inadequate, because in this aspect of parenting, I feel a failure. I have neither been an effective teacher/motivator, nor dictator/disciplinarian, nor organizer/delegator, nor loving, merciful self-sacrificing person who people just want to help out.

Run, sweat, shower, breakfast, coffee, writing time. I feel a bit better. Now it’s time for me to re-read my housekeeping resolutions post, and pull myself together, with God being my helper.


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The tyrrany of lists

The tyrrany of lists

A checklist is supposed to organize and clarify priorities and plans, right? Perhaps also provide a symbol of  accomplishment as each item is checked off. I make lists of household tasks, homeschooling lessons and projects, errands, grocery shopping, et cetera. My grocery/errand list is a piece of paper folded lengthwise and clipped to the fridge (same as my mom uses), and I keep pretty good track that way. When the kids say they need something, I have them add it to the list. Before leaving to execute the list, I rewrite if necessary for clarity and in order of my chosen route. I have very little problem sticking to these lists, within reason, though naturally some less urgent items get rewritten to the next list. When most things are checked off, I update, and continually cycle through what needs to be bought, picked up, or dropped off. No creativity needed or wanted, just orders, actions, and completion.

But there’s another kind of list that I often prepare only to depart from it. It’s as if the list is some sort of art form (which I admire) or accomplishment in itself which I not intend to allow to rule any part of my life. Or merely a brainstorm that helps me determine what I really want to do. I might start with the first item on the list, then go off in a completely new direction as I think of more interesting plans. It’s as if the constraint of the list, its orderliness and linearity encourages me to rebel and seize my creative freedom.

But then there’s guilt, and a sense of accomplishment eludes me (although I can try to mitigate this by retroactively adding–and checking off–items). Wasn’t I the one who made the list, and weren’t the things on it worth accomplishing? After hours of mucking about with other projects, other books, other ideas not on the list, I make a stab at the third item on the list, once I find it under the debris of my actual work. But first I rewrite it and start fresh. Depending on my energy level and mood, I might have a flush of perfectionism, a vision of complete accomplishment of all items–dishes washed, floors swept and mopped, counters gleaming, papers organized, laundry and mending done, garden weeded, creative projects laid out on the table for the children, emails all answered. But that soon fades, and I’m faced with The List, minus one or two items completed with that surge of energy. And it’s no longer looking possible.

From that point, it is only force of character and will that can keep me loyal to the list. And that, as J.B. used to say, is where the rubber hits the road. Duty is where character is built and shown. Freedom and creativity are gifts, but diligence must be the master. Can I shoulder my work cheerfully and as unto the Lord? Can I resist the temptations of an unfinished book, a bag of chips, a blog that I want to work on? Yes, most of the work of a home maker is tedious and mundane, and has aptly been compared to threading beads on a string without a knot at the other end. But yet it is necessary and important–it is the maintenance and improvement of the infrastructure of home life, from which life in the community grows, and so on.

It has taken me twenty years to get to the point where I can automatically and without much inner (or outer) complaint just tackle the same old jobs each morning and throughout the day. I didn’t grow up doing housework–my mom, and when he could, my dad, did all of it, I am ashamed to say, while we were free to do other things. It was a mixed blessing–I had time to read widely, work on crafts, think, write, draw, and explore. But I didn’t get used to house work, and ultimately, one must.

So without much of a vision of how to do it, I’m trying to get my children participating in housework, at the very least being responsible for cleaning up their own messes. I’ve read books on kids and chores, made charts, chore wheels, and of course lists. But I’m only doing fair to middlin’, and frequently complain to my husband at the seeming impossibility of getting the kids to see what needs to be done and pitch in without being told. He is much better than I at getting the kids working, and on the weekends he plows through chores in his can-do way that would overwhelm me in their grimy detail. His approach is more gross motor than mine and I sometimes have to tackle and sort the former clutter now corralled in stacks or laundry baskets. But the counters gleam, the floors are swept, the dishwasher is humming and clothes dryer is spinning. And my husband is looking very attractive, so I tell him the rest can wait.

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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Places & Experiences


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A new kind of personal training program

A new kind of personal training program

To keep fit and maintain my energy, I run a few miles as many days as I can. I was never much of a runner, never pushed myself to the point of the second wind, the rush of endorphins others report as being so addictive. But I’ve been inspired by others to push a bit harder, and I love the sense of growth that comes, as well as the satisfaction of consistency. In the summer I try to swim several times a week, and have discovered some fast twitch muscles I didn’t know I had. Makes me hope I might enjoy training for a triathlon in the next year or so, even though I’ve never enjoyed races (I prefer contests of strength and skill).

This last month I had to save my physical energy for a big floor refinishing project, and that, grueling a physical as it turned out to be, also brought additional strength and a sense of accomplishment. I hope that strength and endurance will transfer to swimming and running as I return to those forms of training. As, I am sure, and more properly so, the running and swimming gave me strength for useful labor.

But perhaps it’s time for some work in an area in which my habits have been slack, my motivation weak and easily quashed, and my metaphorical abs not supportive. This time, it won’t be mainly for myself. Yes, I mean, I am going into a training routine in homemaking.

The floor is done, the furnishings mostly back in place, and I am determined now, first of all, to prepare decent and regular meals. Not to say cook, since some of the best meals don’t require it. I’m starting with supper. We can coast at the other meals a while longer and have (whole grain) cereal, fruit, yoghurt and instant oatmeal for breakfast, and leftovers or self-prep sandwiches for lunch. Plus three of my children enjoy making waffles or pancakes occasionally, so we’re good there. A sit-down supper, on the other hand, we need, in order to to improve our protein and vegetable intake as well as reconnect and enjoy each other’s company. And review mealtime etiquette, I’ve already noticed. When possible, I’ll even try to make (or delegate) dessert. At least once a week, I’ll bake bread or something similar like I used to. All that requires planning, at least when the garden slows down and I have to rely on groceries more.

Second, I am determined to work harder to train and engage everyone in sharing household duties and responsibilities. On the fly at first, catching people at leaving dishes around, eating in their rooms, failing to put things away, leaving work for others. Nabbing helpers for meal prep, cleanup, fetch and carry, laundry and other necessary tasks.Then, back to attempting to organize specific responsibilities and keep everyone accountable. I will do my best to be encouraging but firm, appealing to the best in each family member.I regret to say that I was a poor household helper when I was young, but I think my parents should have taken me in hand on that account. I mightn’t have become such a housekeeping slacker and taken less time to adjust to my new life as a housewife. I hope I can do my children (and their future housemates) a service by this training and preparation.

Third, and here’s where I’ll need all the inspirational literature and motivational RSS feeds I can get, I will try to keep the house clean and orderly, even if others don’t care or aren’t willing or able to pitch in. Which is occasionally the case, you may be surprised to know. I have found that my mood and creativity are negatively impacted when things are in disarray. Since it looks like I will have the most time this season, and because I care about order and beauty, I’ll have to take responsibility for those in the main. In some ways I’m looking forward to that, as it means a few sewing, painting and furniture refinishing projects. At least projects, unlike general housecleaning, stay done. And part of this work will involve selling or giving away stuff we don’t need any more, which is liberating.

Finally, I will try to be more of a “yes” mom whenever I can. Mom, can we go shopping? Mom, will you help me make this? Mom, will you look over my essay? Can I play a computer game? Can we do something special? I’ll even try to surprise the children and my husband more often with something they enjoy or appreciate–a treat, a special time, an outing, a gift.

You see, it’s new year’s resolution time for me, which, I just realized, is appropriate. The Jewish new year is coming up (Sept 5-6, sunset to sunset). I’m not Jewish, but I do think fall is a better time for the new year to begin. I’ve always felt a new energy then. So l’Shanah Tovah, Good Year, to you.


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