Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Lost Chores

If the Saturdays of my childhood were a television show -- Billy Saturday -- my parents would have barely earned cameo roles. Their names would show up in the “Also Starring...” section of the credits, and you’d see runs of two and three episodes where they don’t even have a line of dialogue.

In my recollection, my parents’ Saturdays could be wrapped up in a single word: chores.

To them, that’s what Saturdays were for. Weekdays were built for earning a salary; Sundays were spent honoring God and family (which meant we all ate dinner together either in front of the TV set or around the kitchen counter); Saturdays were for domestic maintenance.

My mom’s Saturdays had a definite routine. She would enjoy a quick breakfast and then slink downstairs in her housegown to take care of laundry and ironing. The ping pong table piled up with the folded clothes and towels. She would then go about changing all the sheets on all the beds. She washed windows and mopped and vacuumed. It was an unpaid part-time job that regularly took eight or more hours.

My father was similar, although his duties were more spread out and intermittent. He’d come home from work every night and tend to his garden for an hour or so. On weekends, he would engage in yard work -- landscaping, gardening, hammering away on something or other -- but would frequently take breaks to watch an Auburn football game or a round of the latest PGA tournament, his pipe smoke creating this layered fog that stretched from inches above my head to the den’s ceiling.

Never was I a more independent and free-roaming spirit than on Saturdays.

I woke up and watched cartoons. I made myself breakfast, lunch and, on occasion, dinner. The only factor they played in was in assigning chores. If I had to rake or mow, clean or wash, or paint or till, they would give me the assignment fairly early, and I was not allowed to make plans until their assignment was completed.

In my pre-teen and teen years, I believed any chore was too much to ask of a hard-working college-bound student. In spite of knowing how good I had it, I whined and moaned at even the thought that I should be expected to mow a lawn weekly, much less anything more taxing. What I thought of as “asking too much of me” amounted to one or two chores three out of every four Saturdays, chores that rarely took more than a couple of hours from my day. If I could go back in time, I’d bitchslap myself right good.

Rarely if ever did my chores involve working with or assisting my parents. They would merely come along at some point and ensure that I was doing what was expected with some degree of quality, and that was that.

Here’s my point: I don’t recall feeling neglected by my parents.

Sure, at times I wished my dad would throw the baseball with me a little more, or play a game of ping pong or shoot pool with me. But these were fleeting and vague, wistful complaints. They’re a question of fractions of a degree, problems “easily within the margin of error,” as the pundits love saying. Most of my childhood and teen years were so immersed in activities with friends -- from sleepovers to movies, role-playing games to bike-riding adventures -- that the thought of relying on my parents to entertain or even occupy my free time was laughable.

Whenever my house here in 2012 passes the Mess Tipping Point-- the level of mess where I’m compelled to invest 30-60 minutes of “doing what I can” to pull and pile the mess and my stress back down to acceptable levels -- I inevitably drift back to memories of my own childhood. You see, my wife and I are mid-level slobs.

“Slob” doesn’t mean “hoarder” or “call DFACS” or “rats breeding under the beds” or any such degree of disrepair. It merely means that anyone obsessed with high-level tidiness -- OK, or even B-level tidiness -- will turn their nose up at the general state of our house.

I often say to myself that we have chosen to prioritize active parenting involvement over the upkeep of our home and the more passive parenting of my own folks. This is my defense of our slobbery, yet I can’t help but wonder if this defense holds no water, if it’s just a convenient excuse for me being a slob.

It’s an awkward pickle, because I never grew up eager to one day need to tidy things; I did grow up eager to be a parent. But maybe the part of being a parent where I need the most work is in modeling the value of tidying things.

Ah, such a vicious circle we weave. And for that, awkward as it may seem, I give thanks.


Bob said...

I enjoyed reading this. I thought maybe you were headed a different direction. Though none of us liked chores, I'd guess, they were central to our values, especially finding the balance between work and play and between immediate gratification and earning something.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing..