When I was teaching ninth and tenth graders, the students had a couple of choice phrases to throw at me whenever I asked something of them. I might have asked them to do something that exceeded expectations, but more likely, I would have asked them to meet an everyday expectation-- adhere to the dress code, bring their own pencil to class, take notes, or-- whoa!-- clean up after themselves. Invariably they would say, "Miss, you're being extra," or, "Miss, you're doing too much!"
According to the Urban Dictionary-- my source for clarifying all things teen slang-- doing too much is defined as "the act of overachieving without any results or purpose."
I've had that phrase hurled at me by teenagers hundreds of times during my work day. At home? No so much.
But why not? It's so fitting as it seems I do all of this stuff, day in and day out, without any measurable or lasting results.
As evidence, I offer up my Sunday morning routine: I'm up at 5:30 am to be the first in the laundromat when it opens at 6:00. Clothes are churning in the washer by 6:15, in the dryer before 7:00, back home (which is in walking distance, but I drive) for coffee along with the paper and CBS Sunday Morning or I Love Lucy, back to the laundromat before the dryer stops, load the clothes in the car, lug them up the stairs, warm socks from the dryer on and feet up for the Sunday morning pundits.
Another cup of coffee, fold the laundry, clean up from what looks like a party the night before to which I was not invited, dishes, clean out the fridge, clean the bathroom, carry out the trash. All while Thirteen and The PhD are still hugging the sheets.
No lasting results, you see, because I do it again the next Sunday.
I used to fool myself into thinking it was better to get all of it done with them out of the way. When they were smaller, that might have been true. I said might. But now, they are bigger and their stuff is everywhere. Everywhere. Even when they, themselves, are nowhere in sight.
Recently, as I readied to go out for the week's groceries, I looked at my children who had finally made their way into the living room to attach themselves to the sofa and their electronic devices, through a new lens. And for the first time ever, I thought, "I'm doing too much."
We Know This, Right?
In a 2015 article, the Wall Street Journal reported that in a survey of over 1,000 adults 82% reported having done chores as kids, but only 28% required that their own kids do chores. What's up with that?
We don't need experts to tell us that chores are good for kids. Nevertheless, articles abound on the internet extolling the virtues of chores. Google and skim any one: chores improve self-esteem and coping skills, teach the value of delayed gratification, and contribute to success in school. On a related note, some have found that kids doing chores results in less yelling to come get your socks!, fewer trips up and down the stairs, and chronic smiling and sighs of relief when one comes home and finds the dishes washed and put away and the trash taken out. (Or, is that just me?)
I Must Confess
I was one of those kids that did chores when I was growing up, but have asked very little of my kids. The result? I spend unnecessary energy grumbling and complaining about doing everything and find that, after working all day, I have little time for myself, or for fun. Even worse, because chores aren't a given, I get shocked disbelief in response when I ask them to chip in. "What? Do the dishes?! But, I'm busy!"
I try not to resort to profanity in those rare instances. Really. I try.
More importantly, though, I know that I'm shortchanging my kids. Thirteen (who will be sixteen in July) will be off to college in two years. (Yikes, by the way.) The PhD will be right behind her. I've fallen down on the job when it comes to getting them ready to function as basic adults. Separate your colors from your whites unless you want pink undershirts, wipe out the sink because those globs of toothpaste are yucky, and be familiar with the business end of a dust rag because dust is just unattractive. And while Thirteen can actually cook a healthy meal and has become a smoothie expert, The PhD has become a self-proclaimed expert on toast. Plain toast. No butter.
I feel a cooking and all-things-domestic boot camp coming on this summer. If you'd like to send your kid, or register for the online version, check back on these pages. We'll be washing, cleaning, cooking, and generally learning how to not be a mooch when you leave home and, likely, have roommates. Bonus: I get to stop doing it all.