It was Friday and in the back of our minivan was a collection of dirty cereal bowls. Every Friday there’s a collection of cereal bowls because my children drag their feet getting ready in the morning, and the only option to get them to school on time and fed is to allow them to eat in the car. The deal is that they will, after school, bring the dirty bowl in and place it in the dishwasher once they get home. But they never do. Rather, they just let them collect, mostly still partially full of cereal, until I get really irritated (usually on Friday) and drag them out to pick up the mess.
While leaving bowls of cereal is not the worst action ever committed by another person, it is still lazy and inconsiderate. And I know there are a few perfect parents reading this ready to tell me how to fix the problem by laying into them, or getting them up earlier, or cleaning it up myself so they can see the value of a clean van, blah, blah, blah. And to you I say, thanks for the advice.
But that’s not what I’m getting at here. The thing is, my children just don’t understand common courtesy. Were they college age roommates and leaving dirty dishes all over the place without any intention of cleaning them up, a roommate would kick them out, or move, or whatever. There would be a reaction. They would be called assholes on Twitter.
People would know.
But I don’t have any of those options as a parent. Rather, my job is to realize I’m working with a raw product. My job is to coach them into not becoming that asshole roommate. I want my child to be the one picking up after themselves. But here is where it gets complicated. There are so many competing demands around those bowls. Mel and I have to get the kids up and out of bed, and they fight every moment of it. They argue with us about getting out of bed, and getting dressed. They gnash their teeth, and drag their feet, until it comes down to feeding them in the car, because if we sent them to school without breakfast we would be horrible parents. And then, after school, after they are picked up, it is a rush to get them inside to do homework before getting them to sports or scouts or whatever, so the bowls get missed. Although it only takes a few moments to pick them up, we just, frankly have too much going on.
Then, come Friday, I take Tristan and Norah out to the van, point at the bowls, and ask them to bring them in. And every time they look at me like I’m a jerk, which is what children do when you ask them to do something like that. “I don’t see why cleaning up the van is such a big deal,” Tristan says.
And in the moment, compared to the grand scale of big deals, it isn’t a big deal. But then I suddenly feel a tightness in my chest, and worry that they are growing up to be that asshole roommate, the one who won’t pick up after themselves, and I wonder if mixed in with everything we have going to develop our children (sport, school, scouts, dance…) that I am, somehow, still failing to develop them into a considerate person. And I know all of this is ranty and irritating, but it’s what I think about more than I should, and I have to assume other parents share my sentiments.
I argue with the kids for longer than I should about cleaning up the van, we always do. One of the kids might be sent to their room for refusing to pick up their cereal bowls. One might lose a toy. The one who is first to lose something always ends up like some sort of sacrificial lamb, a wake up call to the other, and the one not losing anything picks up their bowls before they end up being punished.
So much of parenting comes down to getting worked up over small things that can eventually become big things. People get divorced over small things like picking up after themselves. People lose jobs over this crap, but my kids don’t understand that sort of severity, and sometimes I wonder how I will ever teach it to them with the demands of raising children in 2016.
This is just one of the little ways that raising children is so much harder than it seems because it comes down to day in and day out fights over little things. But I am willing to do it because I love them. And as much as I like to think loving my kids comes down to telling them that I love them, and much of it does look that way, the reality is a million little lessons instructed a million times in a million different ways with a million things going on, just so my kids can learn something as basic as picking up the bows they left in the van.