Thursday, June 21, 2012

Chore Galore

We are well into the third week, here at Miser Mom household, of doing chores three hours a day, four days a week.  (Orthodontia has taken the place of the fifth weekday, and weekends have been full of other events).  Here are three reflections and lots of pictures on this process.

Reflection 1: Trash.
As in, cleaning seems to generate a lot of it, although, really, I know that what cleaning reveals is actually just how much trash we've been willing to live amid.  Our compost bins -- both the primary and the "back up" -- are both overflowing.  We've made several trips to the cardboard dumpster.  The recycling bins are full to the rims.  The Give Away pile is vast.  Our trash outlay has gone from one large can every other week to TWO AND A HALF cans this week. Shocking.

Pear tree: before.
Reflection 2: There's a lot of work to be done.
No, seriously.  A week ago I was worrying about running out of chores.  Silly me.  Now I see how much time we've spent on the home and how much there is still remaining ahead of us, and I wonder, "Why did this home not fall down around my ears in decay?"

Pear tree: after.
In one of his books, Dale Carnegie describes a man who confronts his grief over the death of his daughter by making a long list of everything that needs to be fixed around his home, and then spending a year doing it all.  Grieving, I'm not.  But the list I have always understood, and the year I'm beginning to appreciate in a visceral way.

Hedges: before.

The chores began outdoors.  Lots of weeding.  I wrote earlier about how surprised I was that the boys (led by C-son) got way, way into this task.   Weeding was followed by mowing and then (power-tool-delight) hedge trimming.  Followed by even more weeding.

Hedges: during.

 I've often grumbled to my husband that our yard was just too big for one or two people to take care of.  But with three boys and me working three hours a day (plus significant voluntary overtime), we had basically finished off my outdoor list in a week.

(Fortunately, as we all know, the garden is a sustainable source of additional chores in the future.  Nature provides.)

Hedges: after.
Once outdoor chores had reached the natural we're done point, we began indoors.  At this stage, I again worried I would run out.  After three days of this, no longer do I worry. 

What I realize more and more as I tour my home is that it's not the things we actually use that makes the mess.  It's all that stuff we once used, but don't anymore.  Dozens and dozens of cassette tapes, gathering dust on the CD shelves.  Cans of old paint.  Childhood toys.  The corners, the back of the closets, the nooks and crannies: these have all become fair game this summer.

Dog crate: before.
For my younger boys, N-son and J-son, I've been giving them the kinds of things that are hard to mess up.  Jobs that can't lead to, oh, for example, burning down the home or tearing large holes in the walls.  One of N-son's favorite tasks was cleaning out the dog crate; our dog had shredded his cushion into little pieces.  We left it that way for several months, calling it his "nest", but really, it was time to clean out the foam and put in something a little more aesthetic.

Dog crate: during.
Any activity involving squirt bottles works well with those two boys.  J-son cleaned all the dusty baseboards; scrubbed light switches, took fingerprints off of many walls.

N-son loves to have a go at mirrors.  He is passionate about squirting and scrubbing them.  The mirrors seldom look much different after he's "done", but while he's whiling away his time there (so to speak), he's happy and occupied.  And then I can turn him to other tasks where he actually makes a difference.

Dog crate: after.
But C-son, our new son?  Him, I keep giving harder and harder jobs.  The more I see him work, the more I think that of all my kids, he's going to be the one taking care of me in my old age.

I handed him sharp objects and had him un-caulk a previously sealed bathroom window.  Then he got out a ladder, protective eye gear, and cleaner, and scrubbed mold off of the entire room: ceiling, floors, and everything.  In a second bathroom, he's been sanding and prepping a cabinet, helping me get ready to repaint it.
They made him, they broke the mold.

The house is looking better and better, but the to-do list keeps getting longer and longer.  I did not realize until this summer that, really, I live in a mansion.

Reflection #3.  There is satisfaction in a job well done.  And even in doing the job.

Cinderella?  No,  N-son.
For myself, I had no doubt of this.  For my boys?   I was expecting surly resistance to this project.  Let's get the unmentionable out in the open:  the term "slave-driver" applied to a white woman supervising three black teenagers?  It didn't appeal to me.  And yet, I'm working them hard.

So, what do they think of all this?  Well, it's true that there are mornings where they start off surly.  Grumpy.  Huffy.  I remind them sometimes that they are not supposed to huff at me, but rather to say, "Yes, mom" when I ask them to do something.  I have had to ask N-son, "If I huffed like this [huff] when you asked me if you can have yogurt, how would that make you feel?"

One of his favorite jobs so far:
wiping the dust off of CDs.
But on the whole, they seem to have taken real pride, even joy, in their work.  Often, when they take a break because their tennis camp is about to start, they will ask, "Can I keep cleaning this when I come home?"   C-son is right now intent on knowing when we will be able to paint the cabinet.  All three of them are angling for the first shot at sewing curtains.

In contrast, the summer pool passes that I bought for our family?  We've only used them twice.  Not as much fun.  Go figure.

Ten more days until my husband comes home from Army training.  Two more months of summer.  We'll have enough to keep us busy.  And happy.  Chores galore.

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