I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. I’m guessing it has something to do with a mother’s natural inclination to try to do everything herself. I mean, it’s hard to juggle 37 things at once by yourself. But it can often be harder to ask someone to jump in and match your exact rhythm to help you keep all those balls in the air.
Mom: I need help!
Random family member: Sure. What can I do to…
Mom: AH! WHY DID YOU LET ALL THOSE BALLS DROP!?!
Random family member: *lying on floor, dazed* Because you just threw 18 things at me in rapid succession.
Mom: Never mind! I’ll do it all myself! *murmurs what sounds suspiciously like curse words under her breath*
But after the 2,091st time cooking breakfast while trying to set the table while constantly hurdling small children and animals and toys while on a tight timetable, I finally realized something had to give. And that’s when I had my epiphany.
“Riker, come here, please!” I hollered to my 3-year-old from over the baby gate that separates the kitchen from the dining room.
“What, Mommy?” he said, looking up at me with those big, liquid, beautiful, trusting, brown eyes.
“Can you put this ketchup and butter on the table for me?”
“Oh! Sure, Mommy!”
And off he ran to do my biding, his little feet pitter-pattering and a giant smile on his face.
But that’s not the best part. Oh, no. Because the best part is he came BACK. And asked “what else, Mommy?”
“Holy crap,” I thought to myself. “How have I not thought of this before? Children are just glorified servants. I can make him help me…Sweet patron saint of stressed out mothers, I can pretty much make him do anything. FOR I AM HIS MAKER!”
And so, after suppressing what can only be described as an evil laugh, I handed him the plates. And then the silverware. And the napkins. And the baby’s bowl of gross, healthy mush. And our grown-up platters of unhealthy carbs and animal lard.
And just like that, my child set the table. I was so happy I could have cried (if I still felt any emotion other than “tired”).
Of course, don’t get the wrong idea. We aren’t “those” parents or anything. My husband and I make our son pick up his toys every night before bed (which requires heavy supervision) and we ask him to get the occasional diaper for his sister (which occasionally results in him actually getting us a diaper for his sister). We are firmly in the “kids should clean and do chores” camp. That whole “but children should just enjoy childhood” ideology is a completely foreign concept to us. I enjoyed my childhood, despite being forced to vacuum the world’s ugliest carpet with the world’s most ancient and heavy vacuum cleaner. And don’t even get my husband started on his childhood job delivering newspapers, which involves a story where he fell asleep under a tree during a snowstorm but, by God, everyone got their paper that day. And yes, it was uphill and 17 miles. Barefoot.
However, the concept of making my toddler do things that are actually helpful and not just things so he doesn’t grow up to be a horrible, entitled brat? That hadn’t occurred to me until that very moment.
Admittedly, it is strange it took me this long to piece it together. America is a country built pretty much on the concept of two people having kids JUST SO they would have help on the farm. Or with the family business. Or to bump up ratings on their reality TV show. In fact, I bet if you go back throughout all of history, there is evidence that every civilization exploited their kids for labor.
Viking mom: Ragnar! Come help me put this decapitated head on a pike!
Roman Empire mom: Remus! Come help clean up all this Caesar blood before it stains!
1920’s flapper mom: Ricky! It’s your turn to stir the bathtub gin!
But although this is new territory to me, I’m quickly getting the hang of it. Now when he spills something, I make HIM clean it up (and then clean it up after he cleans it up because he’s three and awful, just terrible, at it). When I dust, he gets a dust rag too now (as does his baby sister because fair is fair and she likes chewing on it). And just yesterday, he helped me fold (throw) laundry into a giant pile and sweep (hit his father with a Swiffer) the house.
It’s enough to make you wonder if we should maybe have more kids.
Just kidding. I’d sell a kid before deciding to make another one. But this has opened our eyes to a whole new world of opportunities.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a power washer and some duct tape to attach my toddler’s hands to it because our porch is looking pretty dingy.