A quick item of blog housekeeping: I have set the links to open in new windows.
We’re trying to instill a sense of personal responsibility in our children, even though they are very young. Fortunately, having Smudgie in our midst gives us a tremendous opportunity to teach them about adverse consequences in ways that will not scar them for life. It will probably come as no surprise that the tribe has a ridiculous quantity of toys; my home decor scheme has often been described as the collision of Toys ‘R’ Us with an F3 tornado, sprinkled liberally with dog hair and Cheerios.
Whenever we’re heading off in search of adventures with the tribe, anyone passing by our house hears my full-throated reminders to the tiny people that, should any toys or books remain on the living room floor, they are fair game for the Smudgie-nator, and that it is their reponsibility to make sure their prized possessions are safely stowed in cupboards, underbed drawers, toy boxes and bookshelves. It is a rare outing that begins with every single object of canine interest in an impregnable (or at least discouraging) location, which means that upon our return home, I bolt up the stairs, Baby Guy in my arms, to survey the carnage and ensure that there are no sharp shards that might inflict physical injury on small hands and feet before the three ambulatory munchkins hit the living room.
In my own defense, if I see something that’s truly a treasured possession (or that would actually harm the big lummox if he chewed it), I do make it a point to help its owner put it in a secure spot.
At any rate, it is a genuine gift that all three of the kids who are able to help keep the house from completely falling to pieces really enjoy doing so. I generally have to fight Mr. Man for the vacuum (he loves to run the vacuum); each child has his or her own personal little broom and dustpan, and we wash the kitchen floor as a team, using baby wipes. It’s probably helpful that I offer a prize of a few M&Ms to the child who presents me with the filthiest wipe.
There is the occasional problem of, as the song says, the kind of help we all could do without. This occurs when Mr. Man decides to clear the table by hurling glassware into the sink, or Bugaboo decides to help sort out the toys by yanking things away from her younger siblings, often knocking them to the floor in the process. Frequently, one of the girls will decide to use the “Mommy voice” to upbraid one a sibling for a relatively minor infraction, which usually results in freshets of tears from the one thus corrected.
Mr. Man also has the unfortunate habit of trying to help cook by sliding metal utensils underneath pans full of boiling water or hot oil. I’m very thankful for the blessing of good reflexes. Having a twenty-two month old son who is nearly three feet tall presents a special set of challenges.
Still, I’m glad to have a tribe that, with the exception of cleaning their own rooms, stands ready to aid in whatever household tidying is on a given day’s agenda. We usually sing while we work, anything from silly rhyming songs to songs about railroads (they are all train fanatics) to Sunday school songs to my housekeeping twist on a certain Red Hot Chili Peppers tune.
While there are practical aspects to our insistence on each child cleaning up his or her own mess to the extent he or she is able, there’s a parenting aspect to it as well. We are observant Catholics, and one of only ten rules the Lord gave His thick-headed children is that we are to honor our mothers and fathers. According to Christian teaching, this is applicable to all those in authority, but as with all very important lessons, it begins at home. It is our expectation, which we reinforce with lots of hugs and praise and as little hollering as possible, that if an adult they know asks them to help with something, they will cheerfully oblige (don’t worry, we’ve warned them about strangers with lost puppies).
It was, therefore, with no small amount of pleasure that I received a little tidbit of information from Deedaw last night. We spent Sunday afternoon over at Nonno and Deedaw’s house, visiting with some out-of-town relatives who were staying there for a couple of days. While I was talking with Deedaw this morning, she related to me that my husband’s aunt had instructed Bugaboo and Beanie to pick up the toys they had scattered all over the family room, as this aunt (who is a wonderful and loving lady) perceived that my husband and I had our hands full with one tired and cranky baby and one tired and cranky toddler. They did so without complaint, and without so much as a word to their parents.
This seems like a small thing, and perhaps it is. However, it made my heart sing to know that they do understand that they are responsible for the messes they make, and that while cleaning up those messes might not be on their lists of favorite activities, they still do it without a lot of backtalk and whining. They showed respect for their great-aunt and their grandparents, and were unstinting with their hugs and kisses when it was time to go. Somehow, some way, we’ve managed to get it across to them that the people who love them best will also be the ones who make sure they do the right thing.
Today’s prayer: Lord, it has to be through Your grace that Your blessings came to understand that teaching them to act responsibly is something we do because we love them. Thank You for these beautiful children who are quick to offer whatever help they have to give, and thank You for their understanding that one of the best ways they can show love for their parents and grandparents is to give the help for which they’re asked. As our parents age, Lord, please help us remember that our wee ones are looking to us for an example of how to help those who need steadier hands and stouter knees. Let us offer help gracefully and lovingly, and avoid the “helps” that cause anger and sadness. Keep us mindful that our parents and our children both require patience, and that directing our anger and frustration at them is a poor way to repay the love they, and You, have shown us.