As Little As Possible

While I love my children dearly, sometimes I wish they had an interest in doing more than the bare minimum to get by. Many parents will probably laugh and say that this is perfectly normal, that my children are not unusual. That’s probably true but this minimalist approach to tasks has manifested itself in some crazy ways in the Bright Spots household.

First, there’s Daryl and the yard work. He’s responsible for mowing and weed-eating. The mowing he accomplishes reasonably well – it’s a riding mower. The weed-eating, on the other hand, is another story. After he claims to have finished, we will stand in the yard, looking at the tall grass along the edge of the sidewalk, driveway, house and other buildings, along the fence, around the mailbox and telephone pole and swing set and wonder what, exactly, he cut with that whirling string.

Around the trees, he’ll explain. The trees, at this point, still have visibly taller wisps of grass around them too.

There is a grass covered ramp leading up to one of our buildings and a ledge along the front. The grass along the ledge had topped six feet and the grass on the ramp was knee high. So one weekend we told him he absolutely had to weed-eat and he especially needed to make sure he got the ramp.

We came home to a ramp basically knocked down but the tall grass on either side still present. When asked, he claimed that was an area he gets with the mower. Of course, when he mows, he claims it’s grass he gets with the weed-eater. And if it was mowed grass, it wouldn’t be so much taller than all the other mowed grass.

“Daryl,” I said. “Every single piece of grass on this property has to get cut. Every time. By either the mower or the weed-eater. By you. Every blade of grass. Every. Single. Time.”

He looked at me like I was crazy.

Then there’s laundry. I had a load of “whites” dumped out on our bed. That load has towels, my husband’s undershirts, and Hal’s white socks. I asked the boys to please go fold the towels.

When I returned home, the towels had indeed been folded. But not the 2 dish towels, 1 washcloth, and 2 hand towels. And the towels still sat on our bed even though every single time I ask them to fold the towels, I then ask them to put them away in their bathroom. And Hal’s socks were strewn all across my bed. Even though he knows he’s responsible for matching up his socks and putting them away.

I mean, I guess I should have said, “Please fold the towels – and that includes towels of all sizes and all destinations so don’t forget the washcloths and dish towels. Make sure you put them all away when you are done too. And, oh, Hal, go ahead and take care of your socks.”

But quite frankly, that’s exhausting. And I’ve tried that before and I think they zone out and I get no more work out of them then when I just say “fold the towels.”

Curious about just how far this apathy goes, I set their stack of towels just outside their bathroom door. Would any of the three children pick up the stack, walk the three feet to the bathroom cabinet and put them away? It’s been a few days. You tell me.

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Parenthood Summed Up In One Evening

Last night perfectly summed up what day-to-day parenting really is. It’s not staring at a peacefully sleeping newborn. It’s not watching your kid hit the winning home run. It’s not celebrating your kid making first chair, making the team, winning the tournament, or a getting a perfect grade. It’s not watching your kid making friends at the park or learning to read. Those are the mountain-top moments. The Zen moments. The times that idealize parenthood and sell it to those without as an attractive proposition.

No, day-to-day parenting is a grind. Pure and simple.

Parenthood is working all evening to clean your bathroom while supervising your children cleaning theirs. It’s seeing the gleaming white porcelain of clean toilets, glistening floors, mold-free showers, and thinking about which bottle of wine you will open in a few minutes to sip luxuriously while reading your book – a guilt-free relaxation after great accomplishment.

Parenthood is then hearing a sound in the bathroom, followed by “Mom!” Opening the door and seeing that your youngest, who had eaten way too many cookies that evening, had emptied his stomach. And not just into the toilet bowl. Vomit all over that gleaming white porcelain, all down the sides, all over that freshly mopped floor.

Parenthood is wiping his poor mouth before retreating into the hallway to gag and collect your wits and wonder why, why, why tonight while the parent who can deal with this without upchucking himself is not home?! It’s cleaning up the vomit while your vision of a glass of wine fades away.

But it’s also having your heart go out to the poor little boy who looks up from his crouched position with dripping mouth and miserable little eyes and says, “I just cleaned this toilet!”

Parenthood is rough. But sometimes childhood is rougher.

Selective Idiocy

The serial nature of the teenage mind never ceases to amaze me.

Sunday morning, as we prepped for church, I found my son sitting on his bed wearing shorts but no shirt or shoes and watching videos on his phone.

“Why don’t you put a shirt on?” I asked.

“It’s in the dryer.”

“Okay, well we need to leave in 15 minutes or daddy will be late to choir.”

“Okay.”

Fast forward 15 minutes.

“Come on! We need to go!” I called out.

“My shirt is still in the dryer. It has another minute on it.”

“It’ll be fine. It’s close enough. Go ahead and put it on. Let’s go.”

“But I still need to put my shoes on and brush my teeth.”

“And why didn’t you do that while you were waiting on your shirt?”

*Shrug*   (Seriously, no words. Just a shrug.)

It’s like his brain went: Must get dressed. Underwear on. Shorts on. Shirt wrinkled. Put in dryer. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait….

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Like it absolutely couldn’t proceed to any other step until the shirt was on. Even though they aren’t sequential steps. There’s absolutely no tooth-brushing dependency on wearing a shirt.

Encore performance – later that afternoon. He came into the house claiming to be done mowing and weed-eating. I dragged him back outside to point out all the places that I knew had not been touched. (He’s yet to get all the grass cut in a given outing. Or in two or three redo’s for that matter.)

Among other things, I pointed out the basketball goal.

“I weed-eated that,” he said.

“Where?” I asked, staring at the taller-than-the-other-grass-around it blades surrounding all four sides of the goal’s base.

“There,” he said, vaguely pointing in a circular motion around the base.

Exasperated, I retrieved the weed-eater and in my shorts and sandals, demonstrated a proper, albeit slightly unsafe, weed-eating job. “That’s how it is supposed to look,” I said.

He just stood there with the mad-at-the-world-you-are-so-incredibly-mean-and-unfair teenager look he has perfected in recent months.

Since the weed-eater ran out of gas as I finished, I told him to get it filled up while I moved the cars off the grass so he could mow. After an attempt to open the tricky gas cap failed, he moved to sit on a bench and wait it out.

“Go get your dad to help you fill it back up with gas,” I said.

As I finished moving the first vehicle, I saw him sitting on the bench.

“Where’s your dad?”

“I’m going to mow first.”

“Seriously, Daryl! Don’t just sit there. You can still get him to help you fill up the weed-eater while you wait for me to move the cars. Otherwise, it will all take longer because you’ll have to go get him after you mow instead of doing it now while you are waiting anyway.”

He went back in the house in a huff.

I think I’ll call this condition Selective Idiocy. When a capable person knows they must complete an undesirable task yet deliberately engages in steps to draw it out as long as possible, as if they are too dense to put together the most efficient way to complete the task. Add that to the general teenage conditions of moodiness and disconnect from the world around him, and you have the perfect recipe for Parental Frustration Overload.

When Parenthood is Like Solving a Mystery

One day, shortly after Daryl had allegedly mowed the yard, I noticed a large patch of uncut grass about 8 feet by 20 ringed completely by a strip that had been cut.

“Daryl,” I asked, “why didn’t you mow this?”

“I’m going to cut it with the weed-eater,” he said, a response that I found patently absurd.

I said as much. “That doesn’t make sense. It’d have taken you 1 minute tops to cut it with the lawn mower. It’ll take considerably longer than that with the weed-eater.”

“Not really,” he said in that droning teenager voice, this being the response I get every time I say something he disagrees with but won’t give reasons to support his position.

“Yes really,” I said. “Besides that, the weed-eater won’t cut it evenly. It won’t look as good. Always cut as much as you can with the lawn mower.”

“OK” – same monotonous drone.

“Did you see that patch of grass Daryl didn’t mow?” I asked my husband next time I saw him.

“I did,” he said. “I told him he should have mowed it.”

There wasn’t much we could do about it though because the lawnmower had returned to our friend’s house. Rats had chewed through our wiring harness so in a desperate pinch, we hauled hers out to our house.

About a week later, that friend was sitting at our dining room table.

“Did Daryl run over some telephone wire or something when he was mowing?” she asked.

My shoulders sagged as the pieces started to fall into place. “He didn’t say anything,” I said cautiously. “Why?”

“Well, we couldn’t get the blades to spin and when we got to looking under it, there was this telephone wire wrapped tight around the blades. I don’t see how he could have mowed with it like that.”

My husband and I stared at each other silently for an extended second or two before simultaneously calling out in a stern tone, “DARYL?!”

“What?” he asked as he sulked into the room.

“Did you run over something with the lawn mower?” I asked, now understanding why he had inexplicably stopped mowing before finishing a section he had obviously started.

“No.”

“Really? You just stopped mowing even though the mower was just fine.”

“Well, it started smoking…”

“It started smoking and you didn’t say anything to us?!”

“Well!” His tone got defensive. “I thought it was just out of gas.”

“Seriously, Daryl,” my husband said, “you are smarter than that. It doesn’t smoke when it runs out of gas. And you are supposed to tell us when it runs out of gas anyway.”

“This wasn’t our lawnmower, Daryl! We were borrowing it and you knew that! You have to tell us when something like this happens, especially if it isn’t ours.”

“Sorry…”

This scene played out again a few days later when we discovered that his recent abysmal weed-eating performance was due to there not being any thread in the weed-eater. Rather than telling us as much when we got home and questioned his completion of the task, he just kept repeating that he had weed-eated. Even though every tree and fence post and porch or sidewalk edge had tufts of grass surrounding them. Every. Single. One. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later when we set him to weed-eating again, that the truth was uncovered.

Seriously. I don’t know how they expect to get away with this stuff.

When You Talk and They Only Hear the Teacher from Peanuts

Children are impressive creatures. And not always in a good way. I’m surprised by how much they continue to surprise me.

My husband and I were preparing to leave the house. I searched out the boys and found them huddled on Daryl’s bed, Daryl playing a game on his phone and Hal on his Kindle Fire.

“Boys, listen to me,” I said to get their attention. They glanced up quickly and then looked back at their screens.

“Daryl, I want you to put this basket of laundry in the washing machine. Are you listening?”

A brief nod.

“And then I want you to move it to the dryer when you can. There are clothes in the dryer. I want you to dump them on my bed. Do NOT leave them in a hamper – they are delicates, okay?”

He looked up and nodded.

“I also want you to fold your laundry that is in the green hamper at the end of the couch. Okay?”

He nodded.

“Both of you. I mean it. If that laundry isn’t folded when we get back, you are both losing your electronics for the rest of the day. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” said one, looking up.

“Yes,” said the other.

“Don’t put it off. Don’t think you can just do it later because you’ll get busy and distracted. Go ahead and do it soon. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

When we returned a couple of hours later, the first thing I saw was two boys sprawled on the couch watching TV. The second thing I saw was the Kindle Fire in Hal’s hands. The third thing I saw was the green hamper still full of clothes at the end of the couch.

“Give me your electronics. Right now – hand them over. And turn off the TV. Now!”

“How much is left in the episode,” my husband asked as he passed through.

I ignored him and picked up the green hamper and shook it in the general direction of the boys.

“I told you. I told you I’d take away your electronics if you didn’t get this laundry folded.”

“Oh,” said my now clued-in husband who walked on.

“Did you put the other laundry in the washing machine like I told you to?” I asked as I headed toward their room to find out.

“There wasn’t any laundry in our hamper!” protested Daryl.

“That’s because it was all in the white hamper in your room,” I said as Daryl continued with, “and we did fold the laundry. I didn’t know about that hamper!”

The pieces all fell into place as I heard his words and saw the empty hamper in the center of their room.

“Did you fold the laundry in that hamper?!” I asked incredulously.

“Yes.”

“But that was the DIRTY laundry! Seriously, guys?! Did you put all the dirty laundry away in your drawers?”

“We didn’t know! You didn’t say!”

“I most certainly did! And you didn’t notice any of those clothes were dirty? So where are the clothes that belonged to…”

My husband called from our room as intuition led me to head that way, “So what are all of these clothes?”

“They’re dirty!” I exclaimed.

“You told me to put your clothes on your bed,” tried a defeated Daryl.

“The clean clothes from the dryer!”

“You didn’t say…”

“Yes I did.” And I proceeded to recount my original instructions as Daryl looked on in confusion and Hal looked like he was going to cry.

“I didn’t hear all that,” Daryl said.

“Yeah, I picked up on that. How could you not notice that any of this was dirty? The clothes on our bed stink to high heaven!”

“That’s because they are workout clothes,” laughed my husband.

My initial anger abated and I started to see the humor and need for grace in the situation. Daryl and Hal were both ill, Hal very much so. They had nevertheless attempted to follow what they thought my instructions were and had put away some laundry.

“Listen guys,” I said, taking a more conciliatory tone and hugging Hal. “I won’t stick to the punishment if you will get all your dirty clothes out of the drawers and put them back in this hamper and fold the clothes in the green hamper.”

“You tried to do what I said,” I added, laughing.

Then I turned to the closet, where a pair of dress pants were hung very neatly. They were hung so neatly that you would have thought I had done it. Hal never hung his pants so well. But this time he had. He had very nicely hung up the pair of pants he had vomited on the night before.

“Hal, you even hung up your vomit pants, buddy?”

“Well, I thought you had washed them,” he said as I looked at all the obvious spots along the front.

No, dear, I don’t think you thought at all. You or your brother – the entire time we were gone. Bless your little hearts. I think I’ll blame it on the fever.

Laundry Minefield

{NOTE: I wrote this back in December, but… pay close attention to the first paragraph… it got lost in the shuffle. So I’m running it now. Hope you still enjoy it.}

I did laundry on Saturday, just like I usually do when life is running like it should. Life wasn’t exactly running like it should however… I was on day 2 of a debilitating head cold. I was stressed about an upcoming doctor’s appointment that I might not be able to keep if still sick. Between the two boys, we had three basketball games and two basketball picture sessions. And Christmas was rapidly approaching. But still, I stuck it out and got all the laundry washed and dried, if not folded, between sessions of resting and running to-and-fro.

Or… I thought I got all the laundry washed and dried. After insisting firmly that everyone was going to bed at their usual time because I simply couldn’t handle folks staying up late even if it was Christmas break, I headed into the boys’ room to tuck them in for the night. As I carefully picked my way through the debris on their floor to approach their bed, I noticed that a considerable amount of that debris was stuff needing to be laundered. I looked around in dismay as I gauged that there was at least a full load of laundry on their floor: half a dozen towels, several pairs of pants, oodles and oodles of socks and underwear, even some sheets and blankets and coats!

Now, illness often makes us terrible parents. We are much more likely to make the children fend for themselves at meals, to yell at them for trivial offenses, to let them do all sorts of things they shouldn’t because we are too tired to intervene. That didn’t happen this time. No, this time illness gave birth to parenting brilliance. I hatched a plan and carried it out the next day.

While lying in bed wishing I could breathe, I instructed the boys to get one of the empty hampers out of my bathroom. I then told them to gather all the clothing and other laundry from their floor and place them in the hamper. After checking their (lack of) thoroughness, I had the older one carry the hamper to the washing machine, load it, add detergent, start it.

When the machine finished, I called them both into the laundry room. I pointed the older one to the dryer and told him to clean the lint catcher. The younger, I told to take the basket from the top of the washer, place it on the floor, and pull all the laundry out of the washer into the basket.

At almost the same time, they each touched their respective items and… also at almost the same time… recoiled from the touch. Hal looked up and said, “Oh, it’s wet.” He then pushed the item back into the washer and prepared to close the door.
“No,” I said. “They are all wet. They’ve been washed and now they need to go into the dryer. Pull them into the basket.”

To the eleven year old trying to remove the lint without actually touching it, I said, “No, like this” and demonstrated how to do it. He still acted like he was touching raw sewage and didn’t get as much of it off as I would have, but he got it done.
After the six year old finished the arduous job of getting every single wet item out of the washer, I told him to pick up the basket and hand it to his brother. That’s when he discovered that a basket full of wet clothes is heavy. Too heavy for him to pick up, in fact. His brother took over and between the two of them, they got all the clothes in. I stopped them from shutting the door until they added a dryer sheet. I told them how to start it.

When the dryer finished, I watched from the recliner as they struggled to fold it all. I reminded them that I do that entire routine a minimum of four times every weekend and unless they just really enjoyed themselves, they should make sure they get their dirty clothes in the hamper next time.

They might remember. Or it might take some more lessons. But if their sister (who is responsible for her own laundry) is any indication, they will eventually decide a little extra effort when removing their clothes is worth not having to do the laundry.

Elite Family Laundry Club

We were away from home for nine days and got back home about midnight Saturday night.  Even though I had done 2 loads of laundry while at my mother-in-law’s house, there was still more to be done when we got home.  So I started a load Sunday afternoon.

And then I joined the elite family laundry club.

I was sitting at the dining room table playing Candy Crush while Hal watched Max Steel, Daddy (our primary driver the day before) took a nap, and the older two hung out at friends’ (that didn’t take long, did it?).  I heard water that didn’t match the tone of the show Hal was watching.  Daddy must be using the hall bathroom, I thought.  The water stopped.  Then it started again.

“Hal? What are you doing?” I asked.

“Watching Max Steel.”

The water stopped.

The water started again.

I got up to investigate and realized the sound was coming from the opposite end of the house.  As I tracked the sound toward the laundry room, it suddenly hit me what I’d done.  I rushed into the room and punched the pause button so the water would stop pumping out of the drain tube onto the window sill and floor.


Yes, I had followed in the illustrious footsteps of my daughter and husband.  Of course, I had a good excuse.  I had spent the last week doing laundry somewhere that I didn’t have to snake a drain hose out a window first.  Then again, they had good excuses too.  The husband rarely does the laundry – that’s my chore.  The daughter rarely does laundry either.  She should do it more often… but she doesn’t.

Ok, I thought. I need to do something about this.  We can’t keep mopping up water with towels and running fans all night.  The real solution would be to fix the drain line for the washing machine.  But I don’t realistically see that happening anytime soon.

So I came up with a solution.2014-08-10 23.27.26

The solution was simple enough: covering the power button with a contraption built from a milk jug cap and some duct tape.  In Sharpee, I drew a red stop sign and wrote “Drain Out Window!”  You can lift the bottom of the button cover to push the button.  The assumption is that this action will be enough of a reminder to check the hose.

I’d like to think I went all MacGyver on this, showing my ingenuity and ability to use materials on hand to solve a problem.  Unfortunately, I think it may be more along the lines of “You may be a redneck if…”

Oh, well.  At least no one is likely to pump the laundry room full of water again.