Yesterday, an unseasonably warm day, Alistair and I washed my car. Paul and I both own white cars, mine a great deal dirtier than his — on the outside because I leave more often than he does and on the inside because children are animals. Cute ones. Honestly, we came by white cars as unexpectedly as stopping at the grocery store end caps to grab several cans of beans on sale. Not on your list but what a great find. White was there, both times, ready for the high stakes game of grab-and-go purchase at our local car lots.
Have you watched a three year old wash a car? Oh my. It is absolutely everything. Their blissful ineptitude and beaming enthusiasm. What’s not to love?
I like white. White gets dirty fast and even when it appears minimally grungy, the small effort of wiping suds on and off with a happily soppy rag yields the most satisfying clean in an instant. We’ll steer clear of the detail work needed on a white car in what is the front face and under belly of the car, still satisfying but five times the elbow grease required.
Every morning I clean the living room first for the same reason I like a white car. It’s a quick win. I fold a couple blankets, rearrange the pillows, and stack up a few books neatly. The blinds have already been opened by Thomas, a habit of his I see no need in obstructing. My brain is like a child’s. See. Not so hard. Let’s clean more things.
I love a clean home, a clean room, a clean kitchen. Workplace zero. That’s what they call it. The people who name such things because it fits into our hustle for an ever-fiercer grip on productivity. What I know is that I’m still astounded after all these years how much a clean kitchen inspires a new recipe, a clean sunroom a fit of chasing the kids, a clean bedroom an earlier bedtime which always can only mean good things.
The clean is so we can make the mess. And so the dog chases its tail. As soon as I clean something up, I’ve got an urge to go on and shoot it all to hell—let’s pull out those puzzles I put high up in the closet or make bread from scratch or do something with the glue gun and those beady eyes I bought from Hobby Lobby two years ago.
This year, the kids are being invited (against their will) to partake tenfold more than before in the “cleaning up” part of this creative process: clean then messy then back to clean again. Sure, they’ve been expected to pick up their toys and then some, do what we ask and them some, and then some more of little bits and things from time to time. “Look, Paul. Don’t they look so cute hauling those logs?”
But no. We’re headed to destination Roll Up Your Sleeves, Kids where there’s always a toilet to clean and you are old enough to yield the brush. Where the intricacies of laundry are important and you are smart enough to get it. Where you are never too short to reach because we’ve got step stools and are eager to oblige.
Already, Thomas <totally shocked> turned to me and said, “THIS is what you’ve been cleaning up this whole time??!!” Yes, son. Very much. Yes.
The Anderson boys are in for a real treat, and so am I. I’m sure teaching them how to pull weeds and scrub the tub will look oddly similar to me lounging on the patio with a cool drink. I KID! C’MON. You know how this is gonna go down. I’ll be right in there with them, eye-twitching at their feigning incompetence and reminding myself why we decided to rope the kids into more work.
I think that whole “happiness is all that matters” fad is fading… right? Simple living—pretty sure that’s cool still, and I’m ok with that. Decluttering by the bag loads and cute green plants set against a white wall for the win! (I don’t have white walls, but I still like all of yours on Instagram) But all the noise and books and podcasts and promoting of happiness as our essential objective is such a crock. Happiness with a capital H. Yeah, okay. That’s just so not honest about real life and what’s truly good.
My primary goal as a parent is not to make my kids happy. I’ll be glad when they are and I’ll help play a part surely in making some of those wonderful, warm memories bloom. However, what I really strive for is opening up the door to goodness for them. A good life. Just like my blog name suggests. Hard work is good for you. It builds confidence. Giving to others is good for you. It builds brick-by-brick empathy and open-mindedness, gratitude, humility. Screen free time is not always fun. Boredom sits beside you, sometimes, but then other times new ideas saddle up too. And so I don’t choose things to see them happy now, I choose things to hopefully give them a shot at becoming their best self later —and maybe even five minutes later… as was the case last night when Thomas beamed at the dinner table like he was playing the part in a 1950’s tv show, “Gosh, I feel really great about the work I did in the bathroom today!”
This is all to say we are in another new parenting season. They come at you fast, don’t they. We are a bit beyond sleep-deprived days of treading water, also known as “Where do all these toys keep coming from and will somebody SOMEBODY help me put them back???”. Last year ushered in more and more routine and order. And here we are with our boys sudsing the car, picking up sticks, learning where to put the detergent in the washing machine and “Yes, you have to re-sanitize that whole counter. You just put the plunger there.”
Our kids are very capable. I imagine a lot more capable than I know. This year I intend on doing a little “research” to see just how capable they really are.
“See! Not so hard. Let’s clean more things!”