The tired woman with one hobbling crippled nerve left sighs loudly. For the love.
"What is it?", the tired woman asks in a tone that holds no genuine sense of care for whatever it is, short of a life-threatening emergency (which clearly it was not).
"I forgot to put a sticker on my chore chart today. Actually, today AND yesterday. And I did all my chores. I think."
Great. He's pulling the old "Chore Chart" excuse. "We will get caught up tomorrow, OK??? Now, for the last time, PLEASE, I love you BUT JUST GO. TO. BED."
Darn chore chart! Just another excuse for their bedtime-stalling tactics. Whose bright idea was THAT, anyway?
Oh. That's right. It was mine.
Chart-fulls of chore listings have been reinvented and reestablished more than once in this home, all to the cheers of children who love stickers and the promise of a reward. A well-thought out and densely-populated-with-stickers chore chart is a paper monument to good mothering. At least, that's how I imagined it to feel in my personally constructed Land of Make Believe. Our charts have never lasted long enough to for me to know for sure.
This endeavor for domestic regulation can happen at any time during the calendar year, but no season provides a riper breeding ground for Sharpie-inscribed structure than the good old summertime. Every early-June I make a resolved trek to the school supply aisle of my local Dollar General and gobble up neon poster board, markers and colorful family packs of stickers. THIS will be the summer my offspring learn the value of work, I say to myself, inhaling marker fumes with satisfaction at the thought of chubby little hands peeling off fish stickers with efficiency and resolve well into August.
Every time I sit down to construct such a form, I can feel the near-future failure staring at me from the crosshairs of the chart and yet I continue. Somewhere in my head, this is a sign of a good mom, so I soldier on. Being the kind of mom that has to deflect my instinctive resistance against children participating in domestic activities that would take me considerably less time (and save twenty steps) if I just did it myself does not bode well when coming up with and assigning age appropriate chores. Usually by Assigned Chore #5, my nervous tick flares up as I think about a small child (times five) going about messily attempting a household assignment. As one can plainly see, I run out of ideas and the chores soon fall under a very "General" category:
This summer, I stopped at writing out five items for each child to be responsible for each day. There is nary a calendar chart affixed to the poster or sheets of stickers hanging from a nearby string. I have thought it over and have come to accept that I need to let my Chore Chart fantasy go. Yes, I will enforce working around the house. Yes, I will shower gratitude upon the child who accomplishes their tasks, encourage those who are unmotivated and I will even allow them to paste a sticker when they are done if that makes them happy. No, I will not be basing rewards on a consistent row of stickers. There will be no "prizes" at the end of the week for work done around the house. I am reestablishing that doing chores comes with being part of a family. Rewards for the good that we do are rarely tangible. I don't put a sticker on a chart every time I prepare, serve and clean up from breakfast, lunch and dinner. I do it because I am part of a bigger organism that depends on me to provide nourishment. We all do our part.
Don't get me wrong. Chores (or any kind of) charts can be a great thing, especially for the mother who has been given a personality that is naturally disposed towards consistency in detailed record-keeping. For my sanguine self and the children I've been so generously given on-loan, working at life together is going to take an honest turn this summer. Instead of half-heartedly trying to keep up with stickers/rewards it will be working together with a consistent smattering of verbal encouragement/high fives. We all roll differently, and I roll better when there aren't charts and stickers hovering over my head, making a mockery of my struggle to fill in squares of a chart. I'm a convincing cheerleader, but I'm an awful chart-keeper-upper. So be it.
One idea that I have tried and feel is actually beneficial to our brood is the writing out of a "Summer Wish List", an idea given to me by a very wise woman. It's broad, yet it's specific. It requires time together and the rewards are intangible (and far more lasting than stickers). By God's good grace, it is actually possible that we will be able to check off everything, down to the last item on the list. Thus, I am sticking it to the chore chart and calling it a summer. It is freeing and it feels good.
LET'S TALK! I want to hear your BEST SUMMER TIP for a HARMONIOUS HOME. Or WHY YOU LOVE (or how you SURVIVE) SUMMER. Or HOW MANY CHORE CHARTS YOU HAVE LAID AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS. Really. Let's hash it out together. Come on, neighbor...it's YOUR turn.