Column: Instill a work ethic? Now that's a chore

By JASON RECKER

I have seen the chart and it makes me want to puke.

There are magnets and there is a grid and there is a list. It’s what happens when too much Pinterest meets too much Army Rangers. The display of organization, stationed on the wall right there inside the front door, would make Captain Von Trapp envious. All that’s missing is the hot nun.

The chart cloaks me in a cloud of incompetence. The family I’m talking about has three children, each of whom takes on tasks such as clearing the table, cleaning the bathroom and dusting the furniture. The kids complete their duties then slide the corresponding magnet into the place that indicates they’ve again served their parents and continued to stockpile karma while laying the groundwork for a successful future.

Based on the alignment of the magnets, I presume the kids whistle while they work, pat each other on the backs with toilet brushes as they pass in the hallway and display empty cans of Pledge on the mantle like trophies. May 16, 2015. Caroline’s 100th career can. First member of family to reach 100 cans before 11th birthday.

My kids will dust only when given permission to wear a fancy cloth mitt.

And even then, they put “Hard-Knock Life” on repeat.

’Steada treated, we get tricked! ’Steada kisses, we get kicked! ...  Don’t it feel like the wind is always howlin’? Don’t it seem like there’s never any light! Once a day, don’t you wanna throw the towel in? It’s easier than puttin’ up a fight.

The anthem of mistreated orphans forced into housework has become the fight song for America’s middle class elementary schoolers asked to lift a finger. That would be cute, maybe even humorous, if the kids in question weren’t my own. Moreover, it’s not just the compliance of my children we’re talking about. At some point, this is a reflection of my parenting skills.

I want a home full of subordinates because isn’t that how it should be?

Except that I am Bob Knight without the victories. Sound and fury signifying nothing.

The closest we have come to a chart is the Morning Champion Trophy, a recycled award that, back in its glory days, was presented to whichever child I did not wish to offer for lease by the time I dropped the kids off for school. Sadly, less than three years after its inception, the trophy is broken — I threw it, probably after somebody refused to pick up pajamas — and the daily contest is mostly forgotten. Besides, we had a Morning Champion, but that left each day’s sunrise winner feeling as if she could slap a sister before lunchtime and hide underwear in the couch during the evening while still feeling a sense of accomplishment because she’d been presented the trophy before she finished her pineapple and Pop-Tart.  

I’d rather not issue free passes.

My wife grew up with three siblings and was stuck with the weekly obligation of cleaning the bathrooms. I was an only child who dusted shelf upon shelf and dried dish upon dish. Rent ain’t free, kids. And Mom and Dad are paying the bills. Grab the Swiffer and count your blessings because back in the day, while Mom was elbow-deep in the john and Dad was high on Murphy Oil Soap, Grandma had to actually scoop dirt off the floor with a dustpan.

Cotton blankets, ’steada of wool! Empty bellies, ’steada of full!

Except here’s the major problem: I’d rather do it myself than tell a kid 12 times how to properly fold towels.
It’s the group project mentality from high school: Just give me all the work and back off, because I have faith in only myself. Routinely trust a kid to dry the dishes and you end up with a cabinet stocked with moldy cups. Routinely trust a kid to dust her dresser and you’ll eventually have a surface that’s accrued enough filth that you can scrawl instructions into the buildup: “Dust me. Brush teeth. Brush teeth again and actually try this time. Be more like Caroline.”

I know, I know. In the scheme of life, clean furniture really doesn’t matter. Dust if you must, but bear in mind old age will come and it’s not kind. And when you go — and go you must — you, yourself, will make more dust. A lady named Rose Milligan wrote that, and I presume she shares her home with live chickens. Her poem made me feel guilty but also made me want to smother her with an old, cut-up T-shirt caked with Minwax.

Listen, Rose, I’ll ditch the dusting now and then so I can jump on the trampoline with the kids. But somebody else said cleanliness is next to godliness, and I’m rolling with him on this one. What would Jesus do? He’d make a chart. It’s go time, kids. Cue the music.

Santa Claus we never see. Santa Claus, what’s that? Who’s he? ... It’s the hard-knock life.

Jason Recker is the news editor at The Herald. His mom made him watch “The Sound of Music.” His email is jrecker@dcherald.com.




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