She Did It
“Who left this mess?!” I scream from the doorway of the bathroom. At 7:15 in the morning, the place looks like it’s already been visited by every child in the neighborhood. The bathtub is full of water, the floor is littered with wet towels and the sink looks like it’s forming a toothpaste bog. The half-drunk, stone-cold cocoa that my daughter swore she brought to the kitchen counter, teeters on the edge of the sink waiting for just the right moment to splatter onto the floor.
“Girls!” I shout.
All three of my children form a semi-circle around the doorway. They follow my gaze inside the bathroom. I fold my arms into a tight bow across my torso, “well?!”
In unison they point to one another, “she did it!”
I sigh, “which she, did what?”
“Come on,” I prod.
The bickering begins.
“She’s the one who left the towels on the floor.”
“Well, you are the one who decided to paint the sink in toothpaste.”
“I didn’t do anything Mommy, make them clean up!”
Grumbling, I declare, “this is the last time I am cleaning up after you all!” I gather the wet towels into my arms and place them into the washing machine. My cat blinks at me from the pile of clean laundry left on the floor from when one of my daughters helped me change over the wash. He yawns at me and places his head down on a sock.
Fluffy is right to doubt my threat. This is not the first time I have made such a declaration. I’ve declared a cleaning strike almost every time they leave a trail of unclaimed destruction in their wake. And my girls do clean up, each in their own way.
I have one daughter who always cleans when she is told to but disappears before the job is done. Another tells me, “I’ll clean later Mommy,” though now is when I need help the most. And the third daughter cleans the room from top to bottom, without a word of complaint when and only when, the mood strikes her. None of these three cleaning styles has ever worked for me, so I consulted the great mother of sages, the internet.
“Promise a reward,” is the first suggestion I read. I think about all those sticker charts and trips to the ice cream store that resulted in exactly one day of clean living. Next!
“Make it a game,” was the next suggestion. That had some merit, who doesn’t love a fun game? So, I set the timer for fifteen minutes and declare: “Whoever has cleaned the most by the time the buzzer goes off wins, ready set go.”
The girls scatter from the room. They’re really getting into it, I think, while I’m washing the dishes. The buzzer goes off and I glance around the room. Shoes are still on the floor, dishes are still on the table, and a candy wrapper sticks out its tongue at me from the couch.
“Nobody wins,” I shout.
“Nobody cares,” The silence seems to shout back.
And that is the problem. In my children’s eyes, a clean house is my problem, not theirs. If they had it their way, their bathroom would be littered with dirty laundry, dishes would stay dirty in the sink, and shoes would stay scattered over the floor, waiting to be tripped on.
Seeing that the great internet Mommy expert’s ideas weren’t going to help me motivate my crew, I came up with my own system. I decided that I would give out allowance once a month, for any child willing to do the chores I tell them. Anyone who refuses or argues loses that month’s wages. I have to say, for a few shekels a month, my house has never been cleaner.
Call it a bribe, reward, business plan, or internship for the future it is, by far and away, the only thing that I have found that works for us. I tell my girls to pick up their towels, and they pick up their towels. I tell them to wash the dishes, and they wash the dishes. I tell them to tidy the toys in their room, and they tidy up. On special occasions, I find them cleaning their things themselves, which I reward with a song and dance, until they yell at me, “Mommy, stop please.”
There is still plenty of finger-pointing and whining, and very sadly, the constant bog of toothpaste I still find in the sink every morning. But at the end of each month when I call out, “who did their chores?”
They line up in front of me and say in unison, “We all did, Mommy.”
I smile and hand them their allowance. It is the answer I have waited for all along.