Friday, September 26, 2014

Creating A Home Culture Of Co-Operation. Some Ideas.

Our eldest turned 18 this summer.  Oh my goodness, I spent the day looking at YouTube videos like Sunrise Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof and Abba's Slipping Through my Fingers.  Several boxes of hankies were gone through that day, much to my daughter's bemusement.

She's legally an adult now and though she's still under our protection, we interact with our older children in different ways than we do with tots.  We're still guiding and worrying and looking up the Internet for some sort of instruction book (oh believe me, we're doing that) but the bulk of their character formation and basic life skills really should be in position by age 18.

A few years ago a well known university did a huge survey among it's students on precisely that topic-the ability of 3rd level students to perform basic life tasks like grocery shopping, cooking simple and healthy meals, laundry and so on.  The results were quite simply shocking.  A huge number of students, clearly with enough intellect to get into college didn't know how to plug in an iron or cook a simple dish.  

No matter what path children choose in life, it's the rare person who won't have to look after themselves at some stage.  Not to mention look after their future homes and children.  I was chatting to another mother at the school gates some time ago and the topic of children (middle school aged) doing housework came up.  She said that the children were far too young for housework at that age and that it was a bit mean to ask them to clean. My own opinion was that if the children aren't doing housework at that age there's little to zero hope of them suddenly becoming efficient and willing helpers when they turn 16.  Like all good habits-manners, diet, sleep, we must begin with tiny children. 

I can't say that any of my children would choose to clean, or tidy up or indeed that they do so willingly. No big surprise there.  I can't say I was over enthusiastic as a child being expected to do my share.  However, it wasn't an optional activity so whining and complaining was always to no avail.  I can't once remember my mother saying "Oh I'll do it myself" apart from when she'd half stand up from her chair and you knew you'd better move fast because there would be consequences. Children pulled their weight and that's just the way it was. How quickly that has changed.

Being a human being isn't optional.  Acting like a human being isn't optional.  Animals in the wild teach their young how to hunt for themselves as soon as possible.  I don't think I've ever seen a nature programme where an adult animal was being cared for by his Mammy. I think we sell our children far short with our low expectation of them. Going to bed at night, washing ourselves, eating healthily aren't, as some of my children regularly try to convince me, punishments and unreasonable demands, they're part of being human.  So too is pulling our weight. All the more so in a family.  Ask any child what's Mom's job and plenty will reply to clean the house.  Actually, while she may well clean the house, nowhere does it say that's Mom's job. Pope John Paul asked families to 'become what you are-a community of life and love'

A community. Not a collection of individuals, each man for himself, each child seeking maximum comfort and entertainment and Mom and Dad facilitating it.  A community is one where everyone watches out for the other.  

When Mom finally convinces herself that children doing tasks aren't 'helping her' but rather it is an act of justice, then things will fall into place. It is a matter of justice that everybody helps out, even when Mom is home full time. It teaches responsibility, consideration and so many other human qualities, or virtues if you would like to call them, that will turn good children into good adults. 

Anyway, once we're bought on the benefits for children when they do their share and how much they personally lose out by not doing so, we'll definitely find a way. Each family will find their own unique path but as promised, here's what has worked in our house. 

Make It Fun.

Yes, they have to help but where's the rule that it needs to be drudgery? Nowhere. I've invented all sorts of games over the years around cleaning.

Music is your friend.

See how much you can do while dancing to a favourite song or two.

Play song games while working.

Lucky Dip:  I've done this quite a lot especially for about 7-10 year olds. While they are having breakfast I go around the house with a notebook and literally write down every..single...job that needs to be done. There can de dozens, hundreds even, which would be overwhelming for a child to tackle en masse.

For example:

Pick up the pink nightdress on Isabelle's floor and put it under her pillow.

Pick up the Lego and put it in the box, put the box on the shelf.

Take the six empty shampoo bottles out of the shower and put them in recycle bin.

You get the gist. Bite-sized specific jobs they can't misunderstand or forget.  Then I'd cut them into individual bits of paper and pop them into a basket for a lucky dip.  On goes the music and off go the children.  Back and fro to the lucky dip until the house is sparkling. 

Now a word of warning-you still need to supervise to spot the child that moves that bit slower than everyone else or slinks away never to return.  You know which child that is don't you?
I'd always include little jobs which would read something like 'Find the little chocolate bar in my drawer and eat it.'

Have fun equipment.  

I have managed to get the whole house sparkling and cobweb free simply by introducing a novelty bit of equipment such as ostrich feather dusters and fluffy gloves for wiping down furniture.

TKMaxx is a treasure trove of colourful and novelty cleaning 'stuff' which children will love.

Our 4 year old is asking Daddy to make her a low clothes-line so she can help hanging out laundry.  How did I never think of that before?  It's a great idea.

Keep it Finite.

There's a popular efficiency guru whose philosophy is basically anyone can do anything for 15 minutes. I completely agree with this.  My husband and I recently sorted out our out of control attic using this method, we can all find 15 minutes a day or twice a week to tackle those dreaded tasks. Children are no different. Don't have the entire Saturday morning dedicated to cleaning and scrubbing, it'll put them off housework forever. However, bite sized sessions will show them how much they can achieve in short amounts of time.

Advertisement break during TV shows?  "Quick everyone!! Kitchen!!"

They know the cleaning frenzy will last just two or three minutes and when Mom and Dad join in (partly to supervise for the same reason as above) it's much more fun. Nobody misses their show and you have the extra advantage of less exposure to junk TV ads.

Do X number of things.  I use this method a LOT with my teens. If I am going to the shop I'll call in "will you each do 100 things (or 50 or 20 depending on the level of chaos) before I come back?" Now one thing might be putting a yogurt pot in the bin, two might be putting the yogurty spoon in the dishwasher.  They're on a countdown and the end is in sight. 
I do the same with ironing, ask the teens to each iron ten or twenty items. This has the advantage that they can watch TV at the same time if they wish.  With three teens that's up to 60 items and nobody's had to be overworked.

Before they have access to computer/ go out to play / watch TV I usually say "OK, just first do X or Y" some small job like brush down the stairs or something quick but useful. Seriously, sometimes their friends have helped to hurry them up so they can go outside quicker.

Divide a room into sections assigning a section to each child.  The added advantage to this is that the harder workers don't end up doing the hog's share of the work.  When their bit is done, off they go leaving the slackers behind.

Show Them How.

Children don't automatically know how to clean or how to spot what's out of place.  I've had children proudly parade me into a room to show off their spotless masterpiece only for me to find the room in the exact same state it was in before they started.  Children aren't adults.  We need to show them how. 

Clean with them when they're small. It can be special time doing something together. 

When they're a bit bigger make a laminated chart for each room with bite-sized instructions how to clean that room.  I always had as the last instruction Ask Mammy or Daddy to check the room. This was a good opportunity to teach them how to finish a job well by helping them with the final few touches and letting them experience the pride of a job well done.  I've always found that a room stays tidier a lot longer when a child had cleaned it than when Mom does. They take ownership. 

When they're a bit bigger again have a laminated chart of what's expected from each child as regular chores. 

Follow through and check on their work.  As we all know, the only laws that are obeyed are the ones that are enforced.  When police are absent the The Lord of The Flies effect kicks in. Same with home laws. If rules or standards are not followed through they may as well not be there at all.

Now and again when they really try my patience I still assign a relative deep-cleaning task like tidying a shelf of the hot-press (airing cupboard) or scrubbing pots or baking trays. It keeps them out of trouble,  usually restores harmony between whichever two were at loggerheads and has almost always resulted in them doing more than I asked.  Even dirty jobs can be fun.

Praise Them.

All the same, a carrot is better than a stick.  Praising a job well done, or done on time goes a huge way to ensuring willingness to repeat the effort.  Show Dad when he comes in. Tell the child you're proud of them. Let them overhear you telling Grandma.  Tell them God notices their efforts, reminding them of their earlier morning offering- 

"O my God I offer you today,
All that I think and do and say..."

It makes their little prayer something that they live rather than just rattle off. 

Well I hope that's a bit helpful anyway.

Remember, becoming efficient, and fast at doing the essentials of life frees up so much more time for the fun things...make use of that extra time.  Believe me, before long you'll be singing Sipping Through My Fingers into your hanky.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Our friend died.

What stark words that say something in a few letters that could not be explained in a million. 

When a friend dies it changes a person in many ways.  There's a hole left. There's grief of course.  To feel real grief for the first time as my husband is doing is a profoundly painful, disconcerting thing.  It sets off so many trains of thought about times gone by.  Things said and left unsaid.  Trains of thought about the future and what it holds with that one hole there.  The compassion of grief for the family, also friends, who are left with an even bigger and forever un-fillable absence. 

But amongst all the turmoil and tears of a lost friend, something constructive.  Not every funeral inspires us to want to be a better person precisely because that person's path crossed ours.  I've really only attended two and both of those have been within the last year.  One, that of a beautiful man who died in an act of un-speakable evil and horror...nobody ever gets over that.  The other, the farewell to another beautiful man whose death, as deaths go, was idyllic only for the fact that it came 40 years too early. He died in the intimate love of his own home, cared for and loved by his wife and in the company of his three far too young children.

Now here's the thing.  The illness and death of our friend has triggered so many close conversations between my husband and me.  Conversations about life's biggest issues really, but not in a woe is me sort of way.   About how none of us is guaranteed tomorrow...about how all we have is today.  I know I've blogged before about treating people kindly, but now I'm touching on something deeper.  Our legacy.   

Our friend was a wonderful man.  I overheard my husband recall of him the words applied to Jesus...He did all things well.  he was a wonderful doctor, husband and father.  As an effort of consolation (though I know there is none) to my grieving friend I have said more than a few times that her husband has done all his parenting in the time he had.  His children have a legacy to live up to.  Something noble to justify. 

Now this is what my own husband and I have been saying.  Neither of us is guaranteed tomorrow-or even the rest of today.  Yesterday our family both immediate and extended, and numerous friends (some of you who are reading this) were caught up in an incident involving a very possible and immediately imminent gas explosion.  It didn't happen and the fire officer told John later that nobody was in any real danger, though none of the dozens of adults evacuating children to a safe distance, grabbing tots that weren't theirs and shoving preteens behind walls knew that.  The urge for survival and to protect the tiny kicked in in a way I've never witnessed before. Incredible sight. 

So if John or I were to die tomorrow, or next year, or any time really...what legacy have we left?  Have we done our parenting well enough for it to be considered complete?  What would our children have to live up to and to anchor them through their lives?  What if we don't die?  Same question.  

We have to think long and hard what we want our children, or our spouse, or colleagues to say about us, to remember us by.  We need to then BE that person, or at least try. 

Surely write a bucket list.  I want to achieve certain things, ride in a balloon, write a book, speak French.  I want to visit Castle Leslie in England where Brideshead Revisited was filmed.  No harm in those dreams.  No harm in hoping they become reality.  But really, what matters if they don't?

I had a relative, now passed away, my father's cousin (first cousin once removed?) who,  just a few years ago, returned from a very very far away country for a visit and it was my honour to host a little family gathering in my kitchen.  One thing he said will always stick in my head.
Before he came home people asked him was he visiting Connemara, Cliffs of Moher, Dingle Peninsula?  His answer?

"I've seen scenery, I'm not interested in scenery, I'm only interested in people".

So the two of us have come to the conclusion that great ideas are only that, ideas.  It's actions that count.  In honour of and to live up to our two passed friends we are doubling up our efforts, ( and I emphasise effort, because we'll never realistically achieve what we wish to be) to be the person we'd like to be remembered as.  To be the spouse who made the other feel loved.  To be the friend someone could turn to.  To be the parent they'll boast to their grandchildren about.  

"My Dad/Mom was the best..."

We'll try anyway. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Little Mystery

A few days ago I found a little old dog-eared prayer book in a shoebox of little old dog-eared prayer books in my attic. My husband and I had accumulated them over the years from childhood prayer books to second-hand bookshop finds.  At some stage between moving house and de cluttering this little collection got packed away. Too many and too impractical for downstairs shelf space as they would be vying for position with Meg and Mog and Green Eggs and Ham and would most likely be torn to shreds by sticky little hands. This little book caught my eye as I was packing away last year's schoolbooks and I tucked it in my handbag to use during the little snippets of time I glean throughout the day as I wait in my car outside schools, ballet classes and sports grounds. The language is old but the sentiment is as new and untried as ever.

1929.  Who bought this? I love wondering about things like who carved this stone rope knot on the doorway of Selkirk court building in Scotland's Borders?



 Were they related to the man who runs the chipper there where a fish supper will literally feed our entire family.  No stomach could physically fit in the amount of delicious chips and battered fish wrapped in newsprint paper. Beautiful Selkirk where Sir Walter Scott sat in his courtroom just a stone's throw from his Abbotsford home in Melrose, a little village which God placed there for no other reason than to delight the eye. 

There are no useful shops in Melrose, just lovely places to pass the day like a little antique shop where my father stocked up on vintage sheet music, a toyshop selling handmade delights fit for Santa's elves...and best of all a pie shop which I knew I shouldn't enter but whose inviting window displays and a combination of pregnancy cravings and pregnancy laziness overcame the thoughts of cholesterol and heart health. 

I've digressed, the prayer book...

(But those pies...ooohhh).

Well I was sitting with it this morning and I found this in it:


What is it? There's the ever-so-slightest aroma of pipe smoke off it, or maybe it's the smell of a turf fire? It has been carefully cut off something and placed in someone's prayer book. Who did it remind someone of? 

I turned a few more pages and this fell out...a piece of a letter used as a bookmark.

Such beautiful handwriting. How many of us have such lovely scripts today? Not many. It's almost a relief that documents are printed out nowadays, one of our children's birth certificates is handwritten in such untidy immature writing that barely stops short of a heart as a dot on the i's.  such a shame for a document she'll have for her entire life. Oh well. 

Then on the other side an address:

I know of no relative on either side who lived in Liverpool so long ago.  Then again maybe my husband bought this on one of his many student hours spent (usually with me) rummaging in Greenes Bookshop when he should have been studying.

So I looked up Google Maps.  It's a funny old street.  On one side council terraces and the other beautiful red brick detached homes.  Of course everything in Liverpool is red-brick. Which side of the street was home to the writer of the letter? A simple council flat or a comfortable home with perhaps paid help?

So who was it? Who wrote that letter and who received it?  Who snipped the piece of fabric and placed it in his or her prayer book.  How did the book end up in a little  old bookshop in Dublin.  To be bought by a medical student almost 70 years later. 

One last discovery...


I recognise the handwriting...the same one that wrote me little notes every day (when he should have been studying). He was praying not only for the short falling 'other' but for the short falling self. Reminds me why I married him. 

To there it lies...