People said I was crazy and that it would never work.
“Of course it’ll work!” I’d say back, citing examples of other things that people also said would never work.
Let’s get real. If Google can invent a driverless car, I can certainly engage my teenagers in a little organized cleaning action around here.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” is what my friend Tony said to me when I told him the idea. “You really think you’re gonna be able to make them do it?”
“I know they’re gonna do it because if they don’t, they’ll get grounded,” I said. “No ifs, ands or buts about it.”
God, I just sounded so much like my mother, although she’d add “young lady” to the end of the sentence. That’s when you knew you were in trouble at my house growing up– when you got called young lady.
It wasn’t like I would be asking them to run 10 miles barefoot or go to the world’s longest symphony, Victory at Sea, and sit there for 13 hours! All I wanted to do was stop the madness on Saturday mornings by divvying up the chores to one per day.
Growing up, my Mom had a “job jar” ready to go on Saturday mornings. We’d have to reach our hands in and choose three slips of paper, lottery style, and do whatever the chores were before leaving the house: dust, vacuum, laundry. Oh how I hated Saturdays. Eventually so did my friend Andrea Whittaker when her Mom started doing the same thing. We’re still friends and still joke about the job jar.
My solution, I thought, was way better than dragging them out of bed and bickering about the jobs. If they did one chore a day instead of saving them for Saturdays, maybe we’d like Saturday mornings again. We’d have a clean house all week long instead of for just a day or two. And there would be no getting out of it. This was actually the biggest problem. They’d sleep until noon and then have to rush off to whatever they had planned for the day– usually tennis or photography class– leaving me to clean the house.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the girls didn’t like my logic, especially when they saw it written in giant letters on the chalkboard door in the kitchen.
“You mean you expect us to do this?” Susannah whimpered upon reading the list. “Mom I can’t! How can I possibly vacuum the downstairs on Mondays when I have school work to do?”
“Susannah, it’s about 900 square feet,” I said. “You can do it in under 15 minutes.”
She rolled her eyes and called her sister downstairs for back up support.
“Look at this!” she cried, pointing to the door. “Mom thinks she’s going to make us clean everyday and cook a meal once a week.”
Nell looked at the list as if she couldn’t believe her eyes.
“I always clean the upstairs bathroom,” Nell protested. “Why can’t she do it?”
“No you don’t. I do,” Susannah shot back. “Mom this is so unfair! Make her vacuum.”
“You’re the one who wanted the stupid dog in the first place Susannah,” Nell continued. “You should be the one to vacuum up his hair, not me. It’s your dog. Deal with it.”
“What do you mean outdoor chores?” Susannah asked. “I also can’t cook.”
I told her to look out the window into the yard and tell me three things she thought it might mean. She couldn’t come up with one.
I filled in a few blanks for her.
“Are you serious? We have to cut the lawn and shovel snow?” she asked.
I explained that I was. Why pay the kid down the street $25 to do it when we have three capable girls right here? Last time I mowed, it took 25 minutes from the start of the motor to pushing it back into the garage. We have a very small yard compared to our last one that housed chickens, a goat, a greenhouse, fruit trees, raspberry bushes, and a giant vegetable garden. Shoveling snow would be easy too. The walk way is about six feet.
I think the news was beginning to sink in. She looked somewhat stunned, but was still forming words.
“Yup,” I smiled brightly. “We will rotate the duties between the three of us. Same with taking the garbage out on Sunday nights.”
The protesting lasted around five minutes until there was nothing left to dispute, swap or change.
That’s when I delivered the final blow.
“And if you don’t do it on the day that it’s assigned, you will get grounded,” I said. “It’s as simple as that. I am asking for 15 minutes of your time each day during the week and about 30 on weekends. I am sick and tired of you guys treating me like the hired help around here. We are a family which means we are a team which means we work together for the common good of our company unit, Sir. Any questions?”
Their eyes widened.
“It’s so unfair,” Susannah complained as she picked up the Dyson.
Nell simply walked off to find a cleaning rag armed with a can of cleanser.
I’m happy to report only two groundings have occurred, both in the first week, when they didn’t walk their dogs. I honestly hated to do it, especially when one had to miss a party, but I had to teach them that I meant business. And that dogs need to pee. That’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting– you gotta follow through on things in order to get results.
Life at the Fahrenthold-Pittman’s is now its own symphony of clean, stress-free responsibility.