Ten years ago a neighbor child appeared at our door, wondering if my oldest son, then 6, could come out and play.
I said, "As soon as he's done with his chores." At this point in his life, that meant he had to pick up his dirty clothes and feed the dog.
Neighbor child asked, "Why does he have to do chores before he can come out?"
I offered, "Somebody has to pick up the dirty clothes and feed the dog."
And then the bomb dropped: "But that's YOUR job."
Kid, go ask your mother. The way I see it, my job is to lead the fight against entropy. The way I see it, my job is to raise a child who knows how to pick up his dirty clothes. The way I see it, it's my job to make sure that he doesn't grow up thinking that the phrase "washing the kitchen floor" means "take a wet dishtowel, step on it, and shuffle around the linoleum for a while."
Best case scenario, the way chores should work is that the denizens of Casa de Chaos will be conscious of their environment and clean up any mess they make. Next best: Said denizens take daily stock of the home, and say, "Why, look! Someone has thoughtlessly deposited a dripping wet towel on the new hardwood floor. I believe I will carry it outside to dry and then clean up the moisture on the floor so it does not leave a mark."
Experienced mothers are howling hysterically now, so I'd just be grateful if I could present my fellow Chaoticans with a list of necessary chores and they would thoroughly carry them out. That hasn't happened yet, so I'll trade "thorough" for "cheerful, game effort," which means that when I come home from work the dog hasn't died from starvation.
There's an apparent shortage of "cheerful," let alone "game," and a paucity of "effort," so I figure I'll hold out for "grudging attention."
All I've gotten so far is "grudge."
There's a school of thought that says I shouldn't be getting on anyone about housework, that I should crawl in after a hard day's work and start scrubbing toilets because nothing says "Mother loves you" quite like a nice spritzer of Scrubbing Bubbles. That same school says that if I uncomplainingly shoulder the cleaning burden as an act of love I will be ultimately rewarded with a family who will, through osmosis, value a clean home and spontaneously metamorphose from Oscar Madison into Felix Unger.
I attended that school and drank the Kool-Aid for a solid year, and you know what I got? Five people who really, really loved the maid service, and who were genuinely shocked the day the housekeeper flipped out of the tank and the clean underwear pipeline dried up.
The fact that I get up every morning, do the chores I can, start dinner, and then haul myself across town to my job and then haul myself home to do yet another round of chores is, in my opinion, a huge act of love.
And not turning my children loose on the world thinking that little fairy elves are going to pick up after them? That's my act of love for you.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Elizabeth Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears monthly.