Over the years, I have spent a fair amount of time re-washing dishes that my kids supposedly washed. (Because I am a Neanderthal, and mean, we do not have a dishwasher.) This can—and does—lead me to useful thoughts such as, “Boy, when my kids do the dishes, they don’t do a very good job.”
Most of the time, when I have such thoughts, my mind focuses on the last part, and I feel aggravated. The next meal together would then usually include me making such witty comments as, “The whole point of cleaning dishes is to get them clean,” followed by step-by-step instructions. I’m sure the kids were taking careful notes.
However, on the rare occasions that I am in “wise mind” mode, I remember that the first part of the sentence is pretty important, also: “When my kids do the dishes …”
From about our second week together until the day we dropped Daveon off at college, my kids had two dish nights per week. I took the other two, and on the seventh day we usually got a pizza, ate out, or otherwise slummed it. (Hey, it worked for God.) On your dish night, you set and cleared the table as well as washed the dishes and soaked the pots and pans. My kids did this for two nights a week each, for years, without ever complaining … once.
Other things they have consistently done/do:
- Clean their rooms weekly.*
- Do their own laundry.
- Strip their beds, wash the sheets, and put it all back together. In fact, during his bedwetting years (roughly age 5-8), Mark would strip the soiled sheets, spray and wipe the mattress cover, and put new sheets on—all by himself. That’s kind of impressive, now that I think about it.
- Feed the rabbits and clean their litter box and cage.**
- Empty the trash, recycling, and compost bins on trash night, and spray and wipe them out.
- Cook dinner for the family once a month each, from start to finish.***
* As the boys have gotten older, the definitions of both “clean” and “weekly” have become subject to increasingly loose interpretation.
** As of February, we are down to one rabbit. But you get the idea.
*** I buy the groceries. I’m not that mean.
All of which leads to the big lesson learned: It’s easy to lose perspective—to think in terms of, “Hey, when you did your 17 chores this week, you left a sock on the floor!”
Not that I am speaking from experience.
Perspective challenges come in all shapes and sizes. While in high school, Daveon came home one day from cross-country practice with a backpack he had found on the sidewalk near BART. It contained a laptop and an iPad. He tried to see if it belonged to anyone near where he found it, but when no one claimed it, he brought it home to see if we could identify the owner. We could, and did, and the guy got it back the next day. Later that night when Daveon was supposedly doing his homework, I found out he spent most of that hour or so texting. Right away my mind went to, “You said you were doing your homework, but it turns out you were texting”—as if this were some violation of the sacred family trust, and never minding the fact that a kid who could have easily hidden the cool gadgets he found in his room, undetected by dad, did the right thing and presented them front and center as soon as he walked in the door.
I am usually better at perspective when it applies to how other people treat my kids. Pretty much always, but during elementary school especially, my kids are/were pretty chatty with their friends in class. This, believe it or not, annoyed their teachers, and I have had more “Daveon/Mark talks a lot in class” conversations than I care to remember. As part of those conversations, I always felt obligated to communicate this message: “These boys were born drug-exposed, had somewhere between four and seven homes by the time I got them, and have never known either of their biological parents. While I understand—and will address—the annoyance their talking causes, quite honestly, if the worst thing anyone can say about either kid is that he is chatty in class, I think we’re doing pretty good.”
And I tell the boys the same.