“Daddy Daddy DADDY!” My son, abruptly, screams from the bathtub. This is normal: the kids have baths every night, a nighttime ritual. Nels will play for the better part of an hour by himself and then suddenly be overcome with either fear or imperious need for my husband. His scream makes me want to hammer my own skull in.
I’m tidying up in the bedroom and I watch Ralph pause in the living room. My husband has his back turned to me so it’s impossible to tell if he’s irritated or resigned or perfectly happy to enter the bathroom. Nels’ demanding scream is a near-nightly occurrence. He doesn’t do it to me, oddly, which is just as well. Tonight Ralph waits a few beats then travels to the bathroom and addresses whatever it is our son needs.
A few minutes later while Ralph vacuums the living room (a near-daily necessity for a wife who spends a lot of time on the sewing machine) the kids find an online video game, something based on the old Space Invaders (or perhaps Asteroids) and called, unbelievably, Arse Race – including floating human posteriors that need some sort of rescue (the game is perfectly PG, just asinine). I get praise from my friends and family for my mothering, but truth be told I am often rather torn. Sometimes I feel like kids “should” be doing chores, “earning their keep”, washing dishes or sweeping if we’re doing the same. Other times I think, fuck it, why not let them play Arse Race? My brother and I did very, very little in terms of housework growing up. I remember feeling a vague disapproval from my parents – sometimes a sarcastic remark from my father or a wheedling plea to do a chore from my mother. And really, what of it? We grew up, learned what it was like to keep our own lives, and we both do fine.
So when I think of it that way I often come to the conclusion the best thing we can do as parents is model cheerful, hard work when it comes to the house. The kids can partake or not; if they don’t want to help in the evening, when they’re tired, they must also wait for the nighttime snack of homemade applesauce – or get it themselves – and know we won’t be snuggling up with a story or a B-movie until our work is done. For the most part, cheerful, hard work isn’t hard for me during the day because I enjoy keeping house; especially when it’s part of my daily rhythm, of running, sewing, swimming, cooking, running errands, reading, cuddling with the kids.
It seems it’s the evening that housework can be the hardest; Ralph and I are tired but committed to order. One day – and honestly, it will come so soon – our children will be out of our house and we will likely have all the freedom we occaisonally pine for now. This is something I should try harder to keep in mind.