Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Maid Quit and The Housekeeper is on Strike

My youngest child just turned nine.  Nine years old.  My oldest child would be thirty years old.  Thirty.

I have put in my time of cleaning up after other people.  Picking up toys, picking up clothes, picking up picking up.  I have scrubbed, folded, washed, dried, and vacuumed enough.

The maid quit and the housekeeper is on strike!

My older son told the youngest daughter that she was spoiled.  He is right, the girls have it very easy compared to the boys.  For one, I've structured my professional life around the girls' schedules so that they really do not know about getting up at 5am to catch a 6am bus to make the 6:30am train out to the babysitters so mom can catch the 7:30am train (after walking 3 blocks each way) to the Loop for work by 8:30am.  They know nothing about that, my almost 26 year old and my 24 year old do.

The boys were cleaning toilets at 4 (actually, they started because the older boy was teaching the middle boy how to go like a boy and they decided to sword fight so what was a young, divorced mom to do but give them both sponges, a bucket, and told them to clean it!) Every since I figured out they liked suds and skating in the kitchen while they mopped, the chores were their's.  I still did my folding and ironing and cooking and cleaning, but three days a week, those boys cleaned their own bathrooms, took out the trash, and washed dished.

Somehow, the last three kids escaped much of the chore detail.  The youngest son, now a college freshman, was simply shoved out-of-the-way by his two older brothers who lacked the patience (really, the time it would take) to properly teach him when it was their week to train him on wets or drys.  He eventually learned, but didn't have the same fortitude of the older ones.  His performing and rehearsal schedule got him out of much of it during middle school.  I think I managed to get him to do one day a week as opposed to three.  He is in college now, responsible for everything, I hope I have equipped him to not be a messy husband when he gets married one day.

Now my girls!  Oh goodness.  I have one, my little shadow for five years, who would watch me during the day while her big brother and big sister were in school.  She was my little cleaning buddy and to this day cleans a bathroom almost better than I do.  I never have to get after her to clean up and she prefers the bathroom and is learning the kitchen over taking out the trash or vacuuming.  Now, that princess, my Meme is another story.  That girl better publish a best seller and hire someone that she better pay more than a living wage!  She does not like to do chores and you'd think I was asking her to solve world peace.

I had to get in their business and remind them that while my schedule affords me a lot more freedom than when I was raising the boys and going to school full-time or when I was in my corporate life full-time, I am not their personal maid.  They figured out after a few gentle reminders and acknowledgement that they are truly blessed.  I am sure we shell out close to $500 a month just on their activities from scouts to piano to guitar to choir to violin to basketball and never mind their little weekend outings with my husband!  They better get to scrubbing real quick.

Chore wars are always moments of angst in families.  Some, like the lady I overheard in the coffee shop this morning, hire someone (that speak Spanish? like she said) to clean up after them.  I live in the suburbs so I see the blue and pink maid service cars whizzing around the streets of the toney homes.  I have never been comfortable with that situation and think that with all the people in my house, someone can clean it up.

My husband, bless his soul, is not the neatest man around.  He has a tendency to just live out of a basket and I learned early in our marriage that if I wanted world peace, to just give him a space to keep his junk.  Every house we've lived in had space for him to be him, like his own closet, and just a place to shove his papers and books.  I gave up on trying to organize him because once I spent an entire day folding his mountain of t-shirts into those nice container-store-like-bins that I color coded and style sorted only to find that he had pulled them out trying to find one and never put them back.  I just shoved the closet door closed and walked away.  Sometimes, when I am feeling generous, I will wash and fold his clothes and bring the baskets upstairs, waiting for him to put them away, he lives out of it like a dude in a college dorm.  World peace, I just keep his stuff on his side and try not to look in that direction.  Saving my energy for those girls.

I told them I didn't have babies anymore, that meant, I didn't have to stand over and "supervise" anyone else to put away the toys, dolls, books, and crayons that they had enough smarts to take out and play with.  I've spent my meager coffee money on organizing bins and storage units and have helped them color-code to a teacher's delight.  Then I looked up and my girls were tweens with enough stuff for their own store.  I could not keep this up.

Transition year!  I told them I was going back-to-school for my doctorate and they have one year to step-it-up. I no longer put their clothes away.  They each have drawers with baskets inside for different sets of clothes, they each have hangers and a color coded closet.  I will still do their laundry, although I have started teaching the big girl how do do that, but I refused to put their clothes away.  My big girl likes fashions and I told her every good designer takes care of their clothes.

Toys and dolls have their place and I told them to just keep it in their room.  The sitting room is not the place for their stuff and their office/music room is for that and not arts and crafts.  It is their space and their responsibility.  I told them "I don't have babies anymore!"

They respond in unison "We know!"  My husband has learned to just sit back and be quiet.  He will chime in if they get a little mouthy about their chores and remind them of all they get to do because he works.  I just tell them that back in my day...and then they get going because they do not want to hear about the room inspections of 311 Gordon Street.

I live in the suburbs with a lot of Gen X moms who think they are supposed to be at the absolute disposal of their kids.  They barely reprimand them and most do not have chores.  I told my kids that I was born in a different generation and if they want to keep enjoying the privileges of their dad's salary and my time, they better step-to-the-plate.  Baby girl gets it right away, big girl is working on it.

My home is our refuge, our place of rest and respite.  It is not and never was meant to be a show piece, I never believed in those rooms that were never used.  We recently sold our 3500 square foot house and we lived in every room.  There were rooms the kids couldn't bring their toys - like the Great Room there or the Sitting Room and my office here, but we lived in our home.  I have learned to tolerate a certain amount of chaos, with five kids and a husband, it was to be expected a little, and have my must-haves.  The kids know I will not give in when it comes to the kitchen and the bathroom.  I do not like waking up in the morning and facing a dirty kitchen before I can make coffee.  The girls have escaped the 3 o'clock in the morning wake up call my middle son got one time when he forgot to do his chores, but they know I will make them drop and clean the hall bathroom in a minute.  Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, same schedule for 30 years, why stop now?

We have our children for only a moment, these lessons last a lifetime.  My 26 year old, he loves to cook and hates to do dishes (oh, the burdens of being the oldest) but hates a dirty kitchen so he just uses paper plates.  The 24 year old was in the Navy for four years so I'm sure those cleaning skills came in handy.  I am not sure what the 18 year old will do, but I'm pretty sure he passed room inspections and remembered what I told him about cleaning the bathroom that he shares with three other guys.  One day, they will be husbands and I told them I don't want their future wives screaming silently about what I didn't teach them!

I believe in chores, I am just finished doing them.  The maid quit and the housekeeper is on strike...well, actually...she is brushing up on her Latin and Greek root words in preparation for her GRE...she doesn't have time to clean up after anyone else anymore!

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