Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wondering and Worrying.

Today was the first day of school (for two of the three).  High school, for some reason, starts tomorrow.  At any rate this morning the girls were shepherded off to their respective schools.  I was left with a teen aged boy and my emotions. Believe you me the emotions ran the gamut; wistfulness and nostalgia coupled with anger and jealously.  I do believe the Boy will happily answer the school bell tomorrow; running as fast as he can from my perimenopausal self.

September, for me, is a season of renewal.  Time to take stock. Time to reassess, reevaluate and reorganize.  The ideal start to a school year would be one with tidy rooms, desks at the ready, laundry clean and put away.  The perfect place for the spark of knowledge to catch fire.  Alas my kids' rooms are fodder for a fire but not one of knowledge.

The perfect example?  My son. This morning I was informed, in no uncertain terms, he needed a new backpack.  NEEDED.  And I nearly complied -- answering his demand unfettered.  Fortunately my brain clicked in.  Hey? Didn't I just buy him a BRAND NEW backpack six-months ago?  Why yes.  Yes I did.

He did not remember said backpack.  He did not remember me buying it for him.  He did not remember using it. Low and behold, after an archeological expedition upstairs, the backpack was located and remembered.

And that was the proverbial straw.  I have been ignoring the kids' rooms for the entire summer.  I begged and pleaded to no avail.  I launched thinly veiled threats.  Finally, exasperated, I went with benign neglect.  Silly me.  I had the assumption that when said rooms got too bad the kids would give in and clean (at least a little).  Well that "too bad" threshold has not yet been met.  But Mama's has.

Plus there are things up there, up in the deep dark upstairs, that we need.  Backpacks and graphing calculators to name a few. And silverware and plates. And charging cords.  And my bras and sweaters and tee shirts (oh the joys of being the same size as Middle).

It's one thing to let the rooms be messy.  It's another thing to buy an entirely new dining set and/or wardrobe.  Thus the better part of my day was spent cleaning Middle's room.  It's still not done.  After that I will tackle the Boy's room and Little's nook.  The calculator is still MIA though I found three charging cords, quite a bit of silverware and most of my clothing.

There are bags and bags of items destined for the Goodwill and bags and bags of items in the garbage.

It makes me sad to see so many things, things purchased with hard earned money and/or lovingly handcrafted, dumped on the floor.  Stomped on.  Treated with so little respect. It makes me question my role as a parent.

Have I really done such a poor job raising these people?  The big bad "real world" is lurking out there and I've done nothing to prepare them for the battle.  For God's sake they don't even know how to pick a towel up off the floor let alone wash it and put it away.  What are they going to do when they have to earn an income and clean and house and feed?

My parents tell me not to worry.  They say I've got good kids even if they don't clean.  But it's not only about cleanliness and sanitation.  It's about life skills.  It's about respect and appreciation.

Appreciation for the sacrifice.  Appreciation for the hard work to a) buy all these things on the floor and b) clean up these things.  It's about being able to postpone gratification and toil at something that might not be ideal (i.e. cleaning a room or working at a job).

Ask these children to do the simplest of chores and they melt to the floor as if I've told them to strangle a puppy.

In short we are raising a bunch of slackers with little or no preparation for real life.  And yet they are fed and clothed and coddled.  And they have the gall to continuously ask for, no, demand things.  And are absolutely and completely flabbergasted when we don't comply.

Where did we go wrong?  Clearly this household would benefit from a full-time and strong-willed manager rather than the two exhausted ones at the helm.  In retrospect I wish I would have stayed home rather than work.  Perhaps then I'd be able to follow through.  To impose real and meaningful consequences for inappropriate actions (or inactions).

I am so jealous of those who are able to stay home.  And yet, ironically, they are also jealous of me.  Oh the joys of the feminist movement. That puts us at an impasse.  And so here I sit; wondering and worrying, questioning and second guessing.  That, folks, is a day in the life.



Anne said...


You sound really frustrated, and you have real reason for that: you have work responsibilities, you have three children, and, in the background, you have an ongoing, worrisome, time-consuming, medical issue,. That's huge.

So--this is a suggestion, not superior knowledge from someone who knows everything about everything.

My suggestion is that you drop the "appreciate and respect" issues. They don't matter. What you need is for the kids to organize and clean up. Then backpacks, etc., will be more likely to be found.

Organization--like cooking, or knowing the multiplication tables, or flossing--isn't a skill we're necessarily born with, and it comes ever-so-much easier to some of us than to others.

What you can do is teach it, in baby steps. For a short period of time (say, one kid, this Saturday morning, after breakfast), you teach one skill. Then you help the kids maintain it. Maybe the first skill is just to organize their socks. Where do the socks stay when they're clean? Is the drawer big enough for all of them? Where are the socks put every night when it's time for bed? Teach this. Re-inforce it daily, or weekly, not by nagging, or guilt-tripping, but by quick co-operative action. "Let's see how the sock thing is working out. Are your clean ones here? Is there enough room? Put those dirty socks over there in the hamper. Are those blue ones too small? We'll donate them."

Or maybe you start with backpack-and-school supplies. The backpacks go by the front door when homework is finished, so it is remembered in the morning. Before they go there, we check that we have homework, books, pocket Kleenex, and sharpened pencils (or whatever).

Next week you teach another skill. You do not do it all at once, and you do not spend solitary hours on doing it all for the kids.

I think that when we invest time and effort in something, we value it. You invested time, effort, and money in school purchases, so you value them. When Child invests time and effort in organizing his/her possessions, s/he may well value them more.

And your kids may need more shelves. These don't have to be expensive new purchases, they can be brick-and-board, but check with Child. Does s/he need more space, or are there possessions s/he has outgrown and wants to donate? Is the clutter there because there is no place for it? You can't have everything in its place if there isn't a place, or enough room, for everything. And you don't have to clear out all the excess at once. "Are there maybe one or two board games here that you've outgrown?"

You can also teach organization skills by asking for help. "Help me organize this yarn, and then we'll put all your pens and pencils in these pencil jars." Or: "While I'm cleaning up the kitchen, how about you organize this knife drawer for me? I want the paring knives, and the vegetable peeler--the stuff we use all the time--in the front."

And I think that if you do baby steps, and maintain them, in a laid-back, matter-of-fact, easygoing way, the kids will like being more organized, and will know how to do some of their own.

Finally, I suggest that it's likely that at least one of your children could well be like me in this respect (sorry; I know it is hard on other family members)--"out of sight, out of mind." If the task isn't calendared, or stacked visibly, or on my to-do list--well, let's just say that visibility is really important if something is going to be done. Ever. So a letter to be answered, for example, needs to be on my desktop. Bills to be paid go into a visible plastic container, not in a drawer. Etc. And you may have to allow for this. Child may need to have things-to-do put out in a row.

And if all this sounds too know-it-all, just don't post, or just delete!

In any case, good luck, and good wishes.

Anonymous said...

From a fellow mom, with one in the nest and one flown, all the things I tried but failed,
flown is having to learn all by himself.
and you know what?
the appreciation, for all the things did and sacrificed is NOW being seen , understood and appreciated fully.
One of the life lessons , that if it's given, demanded and received, there is no respect, appreciation or gratitude.
but work a 60 hour week, and struggle to make ends meet, and Low, the flown now sees!
have hope!