Organization is not a hallmark of our family life, but over the years we have managed to stumble on a few rituals. Lately, it’s been Taco Friday – neither kid objects to it because they make it themselves. When Mom is dieting it’s Meatless Monday (the diet almost always begins and ends on Monday). Six-year-old Thing2’s addiction to Shake ‘n’ Bake means at least one night of the week is dedicated to pork chops. Saturdays are dedicated to morning sports and breakfast at Bob’s Diner in Manchester, Vermont in the winter and dragging the kids to the latest free art exhibit in the summer. Sundays have been a bit nebulous, however.
We’re not religious, so our Sunday mornings tend to be wide open. Some weeks we head to back to the diner, other days the kids will ‘inspire’ the Big Guy to make corn cakes. Yesterday, however, we thought we might have found on a new candidate for our Sunday routine.
Our boys, twelve and six and affectionately nicknamed Thing1 and Thing2 after the imps in Cat in the Hat, still share a room whose hamper not long ago acquired magical properties that prevent dirty clothes from entering. A recent ruling by the Big Guy made indoor Dodge Ball with the smaller, ‘softer’ red ball in their toy box permissible, and now a carpet of clothes and dodgeball casualties litter the room. Still, until Friday night, I had put the mess at a mere Defcon 4. Level 4 usually causes a double-take when I walk by the room but doesn’t inspire me to intervene. Friday, however getting from the door to the bunk bed for a goodnight kiss had become an act of death defiance, and I raised the alert to Defcon 2. After a snuggle with Thing2 and an almost-deflected kiss for Thing1, I let them know it was time to engage in cleaning maneuvers before I had to go nuclear and clean everything OUT.
Hoping to encourage them to manage their own time a little and recognize that mother and maid are not interchangeable terms, I gave them the weekend to get the room presentable. It didn’t have to be Grandma-and-Grandpa-are-coming clean, but the mess couldn’t just move under the bed either. And I set a deadline – high noon on Sunday or there would be consequences. There would also be no access to electronic media Sunday morning until the work was done.
Saturday morning we had basketball practice and went to breakfast. The boys decided that was an iron-clad excuse not to clean in the morning. They had a few hours in the afternoon, but decided to use it dawdling until we went out for a brief visit to friends. By the time dinner rolled around, they had rationalized the entire day away.
By seven A.M. Sunday, the procrastination began to acquire heroic proportions. Zero hour was approaching so they woke early and immediately began arguing about how to divvy up the work. Between settling rounds, the Big Guy and I began quietly debating what the consequences should be. Then, shortly after a breakfast of thoroughly-chewed cereal, the room at the end of the hall became eerily quiet. I wondered if victory might be in our grasp as griping morphed into the sounds of things being picked up.
Then it stopped. I got up to lay down some law but was stopped by the opening riff of ‘Ticket to Ride’. The Big Guy is usually the source of homemade music, but his guitar was still in the utility room. The radio was off, and as I got closer to the minefield, I realized that Thing1 must have rediscovered his guitar under a pile of clothes or toys. I knew this was just another diversion on his part, but this was the first one that was remotely constructive. Suddenly Thing2 bolted out of the room and into the utility room. He emerged with his guitar and bounced over to the Big Guy.
“Daddy,” he breathed, “can you show me how to play that Beatles song?” The Big Guy is always happy to pass on his love of all things Beatle to the boys, and obliged. Thing2 disappeared into his room, and I sat down on the couch with my co-parent, marveling at how, deprived of all privileges and electronic entertainment these two had finally found something creative to do.
“I think we should make them do this every Sunday,” I said. The Big Guy nodded, and we both listened to the chirping (Thing2) and picking (Thing1) in the other room. For a few brief moments sanity reigned. We both agreed the noon deadline should still stand, and, for the moment, I thought we had found a new ritual.
Two minutes later the chirping stopped, and it wasn’t long before the picking ceased and cries of “You started it” resumed. The Big Guy and I closed our eyes. I think he was the first one to speak after an exasperated minute.
“So, how about the art museum next Sunday?” He said.