maarmie's musings

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Whistle while you work

Growing up, chores are a part of life for most kids. I think chores are a good way of teaching kids about responsibility and getting them involved in the daily or weekly care of the home. The completion of chores is also a good way for children to learn about taking pride in their work and allows them to earn money to buy some of the little extras they want that aren't supplied by the parents.

Though I think chores can be a positive thing for kids, I think the demands parents can make on their children can be unfair and damaging if taken to the extreme.

My story:

Whenever I tell people about the chores I had to do on a daily and weekly basis, they come away from the conversation comparing me to the same fictional character: Cinderella. I'm sure the evil stepmother in both stories aids with the comparison, but what was required from me (and my brother) was way over the top - especially considering the meagre compensation involved. I come away from the experience feeling like little more than cheap child labour, keeping in mind that my parents and I didn't have much of a relationship outside of the context of what was expected and required from me to keep them off my back. When my brother lived at home, the chores were just about split 50/50. When he moved out, all the chores became mine until I got a job after school at which time my parents hired a maid who worked one day a week for 12 years until she was let go with a note on the kitchen counter.

Daily chores:

  • Make my bed (before school)
  • Check the post and put it on the desk outside my parents' bedroom
  • Empty and clean dirty ashtrays
  • Empty coffeemaker of used grounds and put in fresh filter and grounds
  • Boil teabags and make a pitcher of sweet iced tea for my parents, if needed
  • Dry and put away dishes out of the dishwasher
  • Clean my bathroom (countertop, sink, toilet, mirror)
  • Set the table for me and TV trays for my parents for dinner
  • Wash the dinner dishes and pots/pans and clean up the kitchen after dinner
  • Brownie points were given for massaging my stepmom's feet (with lotion - cringe!)

Weekly chores (completed after school on Fridays):

  • Dust my bedroom and my brother's old bedroom
  • Clean my bathroom top to bottom (including bathtub and sweeping/mopping the floor)
  • Dust the two lounges and my parents' bedroom
  • Clean my parents' bathroom top to bottom (including shower and sweeping/mopping the floor)
  • Windex all sliding glass doors inside and out
  • Vacuum entire house
  • Clean entire kitchen (including stove/microwave and scouring sink and cleaning under cupboards as well as sweeping/mopping the floor)
  • Dustmop parquet entrance hall
  • Sweep/mop laundry room and dust off tops of washer/dryer
  • Vacuum back screened porch and dust porch table
  • Empty and sweep entire garage and sweep out area housing outside garbage bins
Weekend tasks

  • Fold and put away empty paper grocery sacks
  • Help with dinner prep if needed
  • Set the table for me and TV trays for my parents for dinner
  • Wash the dinner dishes and pots/pans and clean up the kitchen after dinner

Plus, there was the immensely exciting Spring Cleaning Bonanza every year that involved lots of cleaning of baseboards and window blinds and closet louvered doors and tons and tons of daily hovering around the edge of the kitchen offering to help and being rejected while my stepmom loudly sighed and made it clear that she was so completely overburdened and why wouldn't anyone help her? And let's not forget all the holidays when the family would gather together, the women busting their asses in the kitchen and the men making jokes about women and black people in the living room and later watching football while the women cleaned up the entire mess. I was the only child/nonparent expected to contribute to all this misogyny/general unfairness.

I could literally go on forever. But I digress.

My stepmother did all the laundry and ironed their work clothes. They both cooked dinners and made meals on the weekends. My dad did all the yardwork (but I had to sweep the driveway and sidewalk after he finished the edging). Cars were taken to a carwash. As far as I know, neither one of them did a lick of housecleaning. How much was I paid for this hard, hard graft? Three dollars a week, an amount that never increased through the years. Our maid was paid at least $30 a week for doing the same or less work, and I was paid $10 a pop for helping my neighbour with her housework sometimes, a task that required far less of me than I was doing at home.

In my house, cleaning wasn't just cleaning. It was CLEANING. Lucky for me, my stepmother was (is) an OCD clean freak who pretty much reviles me. Any fingerprint on the phone or crumb on the kitchen counter was met with scorn and derision. Any drop of water left in the kitchen sink (it has to be dried every time it is used) was met with...I'm not sure. It just didn't happen. In my house, you were scared to move. You were scared to breathe. It might leave a mark.

Floors were mopped on hands and knees with a rag, and everything was cleaned to perfection or you'd be hearing about it later. And hearing about it. And hearing about it. And maybe, just maybe, she'd grab you by the back of your neck and push your face down to the countertop so that you can better see the crumb that you missed cleaning up earlier.

Really needless to say, my brother is a packrat filthmonger, and I live in a house full of wet sinks. I hate clutter and massive filth, but a light layer of dirt is nothing to get worked up about. I've got better things to think and worry about than dust. I wonder what I'm going to require of Elliot when she reaches chore-doing age.

I'm currently of the mind that less is more.

1 comment:

Ellen B. in Tennessee said...

I hear ya...life is too short and precious to worry about the house being clean and "perfect" all the time.