“Put it down, mom. Put the marker down. Stop, mom. Walk away from the table, mom.”
I am not the kind of woman who enjoys reprimanding her own mother in a room full of 3rd graders, but I will when it’s necessary. And this was necessary. My mother had started to tidy up a dirty table while the teacher was explaining to the students what her expectations were for cleaning up at the end of class. On our walk home, I decided to talk to my mom about why I scolded her. “You were trying to clean up as the teacher was telling the kids that that was their job.”
“Yes, I know but they weren’t doing it fast enough,” mom said.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “The point is Mrs. L wants the kids to learn some responsibility by cleaning up after themselves.” I paused and then a separate thought snuck into my mind. “This reminds me of the time I was asked to iron something when I worked at Banana Republic.”
When I was 19, I worked at a BR store in Las Vegas while going to college. It should be noted that I still lived at home with my parents during this time. One day, my manager asked me to iron some clothes for the mannequins and while I was dressing the dummy, she came up and told me, “No, you have to iron it first.” When I told her that I did, she asked me if anyone ever taught me to iron and it hit me. No one had taught me; I had watched my mom iron hundreds of times but never properly learned. When I started ironing my own clothes for work, my mom would always come up to me and say, “Give me that! You are doing it all wrong.”
This issue of teaching responsibility to our children and my mother’s need to take care of us has been a battle- a passive aggressive one. When Mark and I came up with an established and publically viewable (if you are ever in our hallway) list of rules, my mom was a little upset by them. You would think that we are running Rikers Island. And what are some of these rules? Besides the obligatory “don’t be a little shit” ones (be kind, use nice words), we have rules like “Your rooms are cleaned up every Sunday” and “The living room will be straightened before bath time every night” and “You need to put away your own laundry.”
After discussing those rules with my mom, as the children played in their room after dinner, I caught the woman blatantly cleaning up the living room. When I asked her what she was doing, she told me she was trying to help the kids. That is when I told my own mother to sit down in a chair and think about what she had done. She had to stay in time-out for 68 minutes (since we base the punishment time on age of the offender).
I know we do not run the strictest of households. This is apparent every time I hire a new babysitter and she asks me to go over the rules of the house. After much stammering, my answer seems to be: “Don’t do anything that hurts yourself or others. Also, if you break anything, it better not be something precious like the television or a bottle of wine.” It helps that we have pretty good kids- confirmed by friends, babysitters, and their non-existent juvenile parole officers. Hence, most of our rules center on being a responsible member of our household.
But there is another reason why most of our rules center on taking care of things by oneself. I am inherently lazy. For instance, did you know my mom still ironed my clothes by the time I was 19? I will admit that growing up I rarely did my own cleaning or laundry or cooking. Then I got married and found myself with a husband working long hours so I ended up doing all of that. Then I had kids and that workload doubled (tripled during the first year or so). And frankly, I am exhausted.
Yet, there is a method to my madness. The kids’ cups are in the rolling cart in the kitchen, practically at eye level to the kids. And from an early age, I taught them how to grab a cup and then step on their tiptoes to get water from the fridge. My daughter has been dressing herself since Kindergarten. And while most days she resembles a modern day Punky Brewster, I don’t complain because she did it herself. Why do you think I moved her clothes from the closet with the bar she couldn’t reach and instead put it all in her dresser? Because I am lazy.
I know there will come a time when this independence I am instilling in them will backfire. I imagine a day when I am in a fight with my daughter over her choice of a date and she screams at me while slamming the door, “BUT WE ARE IN LOVE, MOTHER!!!” I will be kicking myself for not having the rule that “All marriages shall be arranged by your parents, while we take into account moral character, earning potential, and educational goals.”
Our son is a little more resistant to this “Do it yourself” mentality, with his main complaint being “I’m tired” when he doesn’t want to do something for himself.
“Mommy, I need a bandaid.”
“You know where they are.”
“But I am tiiiiiiiiiirrrrred.”
“Join the club, kid,” I say, not moving. (Be aware, this request is denied only when there is no visible blood for his perceived wound. I would not let my child stand there bleeding all over my floor because I haven’t taught them how to Swiffer the hardwood floors yet.)
But he will learn. He will learn that through mommy’s laziness, I am teaching him independence and responsibility. He will thank me one day, when his boss doesn’t need to correct his work. He will look that boss in his/her eyes and say, “Where did I learn to do this? I learned it at home thanks to my mom not helping me whatsoever.” And as I sit in a comfy chair, having a glass of wine while I watch television, I will smile with pride. As will my mom, as she folds all my laundry fresh from the dryer.