Award-winning writer: Jackie Papandrew
Airing My Dirty Laundry!
Chewing On Chores
My daughter, the one with a recently discovered allergy to the vacuum cleaner, was sitting at the kitchen table eating her favorite brand of sugar-in-a-bowl and reading the back of the milk carton. It’s organic milk, and the carton depicts blissful-looking cows reading Thoreau while emitting environmentally friendly methane gas. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you certainly get the idea from reading the carton that life in this bovine boudoir is pretty darn good.
"Why can't we live on a farm?" my daughter asked, displaying a newfound interest in agrarian life.
"People have to work hard on a farm,” I said. “There are a lot of chores to do." I watched her shudder at the dreaded word.
"Farm ch… ch…. chores would be fun,” she said, struggling to get the word out of her mouth. “They wouldn’t be like regular chores. I could feed the chickens. And milk the cute little cows."
This from a kid who develops sudden, crippling pain in her legs when asked to take out the trash. This from the child caught flinging the dog poop over the fence into the neighbor’s yard instead of disposing of it properly. I inform her cute little cows like to be milked very early in the morning, at an hour she’s only seen once when she stayed up all night at a sleepover.
"I'm sure the cows wouldn't mind waiting until a more reasonable hour," she countered. Clearly, she didn't understand the reality of life in the country. I, on the other hand, am an expert in farm life, having watched endless hours of Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons when I was young. I attempted to enlighten my delusional city slicker.
“It doesn’t work like that,” I told her. “The cows can’t wait. And sometimes, they even kick over the bucket of milk just when you’ve got it filled.” I distinctly remember this happening to John Boy and his siblings on many occasions. I remember thinking the cows should have to milk themselves when they acted like that.
My daughter appeared to chew this revelation over carefully, much like an organically fed Daisy Mae would chew its cud. Then she brightened.
“I know,” she said. “You could milk the cows, since you like to get up early anyway. I could pick crops and stuff like that.”
This from a kid who can’t even pick her socks up off the floor.
This conversation got me thinking about children and chores and TV shows that leave me chewing my own figurative cud while I wallow in maternal guilt. It was so easy for Ma Walton and Ma Ingalls to do everything right. Their children did chores happily, ecstatic at being able to contribute to the family. I know this was true because I saw it for myself, right there on the TV.
No wonder Ma Walton and Ma Ingalls were always smiling and baking and making quilts. They had so much more time on their hands.
Ma Papandrew, on the other hand, hasn’t been quite so successful in getting her young’uns to cooperate. It’s not like I haven’t tried. I’ve had job charts and task wheels complete with stickers and brightly colored posters. I’ve initiated elaborate incentive programs that would rival a political candidate’s election platform in complexity (and uselessness).
I’ve issued dire threats and made dark predictions about the fate of those who fail to do their chores. I’ve offered allowance money and taken away privileges. But my carrot-and-stick approach has simply not worked. My wily children have worn me down. Every day, I have to remind them to make their beds, pick up their dirty clothes, take out the trash, wash their dishes. That’s why my daughter’s vision of picking crops made me laugh.
Did you know the original carrot-and-stick metaphor referred to a boy sitting on a cart being pulled by a donkey? The boy held a long stick to which a carrot had been tied, and he dangled the carrot in front of the donkey but just out of its reach. As the donkey moved forward to get the carrot, it pulled the cart — and the boy — so the carrot always remained just out of reach as the cart moved forward.
That’s a pretty accurate picture of me, my children and their chores. As you might guess, I’m the donkey, always chasing my TV-created ideal. Come to think of it, maybe I belong on a farm.
~ © Jackie Papandrew 2008 ~
Jackie Papandrew is an award-winning writer, syndicated humor columnist, coffee addict and mom to a motley crew of children and pets who provide a steady stream of column ideas and dirt. She's also wife to a very patient man who had no idea, years ago when he still had time to escape, what he was getting himself into. Visit her website at: JackiePapandrew.com
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