Hadley and I just finished Little House in the Big Woods (check out the bear hiding next to the house). What struck me the most about this book is how self-sufficient they were, and how hard they all worked together just to eek out an existence. Laura and Mary had rocks, acorns, and cornhusk dolls for toys. Charles Ingalls was a cross between Indiana Jones and Billy Graham. He trapped and traded fur, managed a farm, made bullets, and built a house (several of them). All this and he played the fiddle, carved Christmas ornaments, told great stories, and didn’t resent living in a houseful of women.
I was thinking about how far we’ve fallen the other morning when I was listening to Liam and Skyler clean their room… kind of. After ten minutes of name-calling and accusations, I’d promised an additional chore per insult. Skyler ended up with five and Liam had four. After they left for school, I wrote up the chores on the whiteboard we keep in the kids’ hallway. Since the boys usually get home while I’m talking to other moms, I posted four signs around the house to make sure they SAW them. (Because boys are gifted at ignoring what is right in front of their face). This is what the sign said:
Welcome Home! Do not go on the computer or TV. If you do, you will be grounded from all screens for the week. Do not pretend you didn’t see this note. Your chores are listed on the white board.
Do ONE chore and then ask me to check that it’s complete before you check it off. Then get a snack and move on with the rest of your chores.
Once you have finished ALL of them, you can do your homework and practice piano.
To make sure you do them efficiently, it might be a good idea to do the chores in separate rooms. However, since some of them are the same chore, you will have to figure out how to get along. If you argue or blame each other for anything, additional chores will be added.
If you can get ALL of them done well, and you get your homework and piano practiced, and you don’t fight or argue, we will watch more of Indiana Jones tonight.
I was determined to enforce this one, but predictably, there was a snag. After school dismissal, Liam and his friend came bounding up to me. “Mrs. Colwell, can Liam come over after school?” Max asked.
Thinking of the signs, I looked at Max, took a deep breath and said, “Liam has some chores he has to do before he can play today. If he gets them finished and there is still time, I’m sure he would love to play with you.”
As I finished, Max’s mom came up behind him. She looked at me in shock and then she said, “Thank you! Thank you so much! My kids think they are the only ones who have to do chores. Now Max knows. Oh my gosh, thank you. Max, you have homework you need to do.”
So all the kids went home. Skyler and Liam discovered the notes and got to work. They didn’t fight or even complain much, but they did a predictably sloppy job until I explained that cleaning the bathroom doesn’t mean flushing the toilet and closing the shower curtain. If there are towels on the floor and toothpaste on the sink, you’re not done yet.
And “folding laundry” doesn’t mean wadding it up and jamming it into drawers, especially if it’s your mom’s clothes. Hanging up involves using a hanger, and the gum on the rail of your bunk bed is not there to hold your pen in case you want to draw on your arm at night.
When they were finally finished, having completed each task passably well, they were quite proud of themselves. I wouldn’t call the bathroom glistening, but it definitely smelled better and there were only a few streaks on the mirrors. Max finished his homework and came over, but only for 30 minutes because that’s all the time they had. Instead of bickering at dinner, they bragged about the chores they had done.
They felt so useful, that I am doubling the number of tasks they are expected to do around the house. Call me the meanest mom in the world, but I can’t wait until one of them claims to be “bored.” I’ve got a vacuum that will fix that problem!