My twelve year old is like any pre-teen boy. There are times that he can be very helpful around the house, and other times it's like pulling teeth just to get him to carry a plate to the dishwasher. Recently, he was on a helpful streak. I’m pretty sure there was something he was wanting me to buy for him, do for him, or forgive him for, but I never did figure it out. The problem was, the more he helped, the more chaos he created.
It started with a thunderstorm. I looked outside and noticed that one of my fall plants had blown over. Not wanting to get soaked to go pick it up, I asked my son to do it for me. He dutifully agreed, slipped on his dad’s sandals, and went out into the downpour to pick up the plant. My son has many wonderful qualities, but grace is not one of them. Rather than delicately tiptoeing through the yard to pick up the plant, he tromped through massive puddles and slipped in some mud. His dad’s shoes were covered in mud and there were now mud pies all over our walkway and front stoop. I couldn’t even be too upset, though. He picked up my plant and I didn’t have to get wet. It should be noted that the wind blew the plant back over approximately 1.2 seconds after he came back inside. He felt bad and apologized and said he should never take care of my plants again.
The next day I was running late on my way home from work. We had our usual schedule of an absurd amount of activities to run to that evening, so I was worried about the kids getting dinner before we had to hit the road again. I called my son and asked him to start boiling some water for pasta. We have recently moved into a new house and now have a gas stove instead of the electric one we were used to. When I walked in the house, the smell of gas was so overpowering I was pretty sure we were about 2 seconds away from a massive home explosion. He had turned the gas on, but the burner didn’t light, so he was basically just running straight gas for the 15 minutes it took me to get home. He felt bad and apologized and said he should never turn on the stove again.
The following day I was again late coming home from work. My husband was out of town and so I had asked my in-laws to pick the kids up from school. I walked in the house at 6:45 and the house was in utter chaos. There were bags and papers all over the kitchen, the kids were wrestling and screaming in the living room. The dinner that I had made the night before needed to be put in the oven, my youngest was crying about some travesty that had occurred against him, and my 12 year old asked about 78 times if we could all go in the backyard and play kickball.
“Buddy, I have to change my clothes and we have to eat and then we can play.” I kept repeating.
My 9 year old was impatiently waiting for me to look through her backpack. I managed to throw some dinner on the table. When we were finished eating I started to look through her backpack at the island in our kitchen. Why in heaven’s name do 4th graders bring home so many papers?!? My 12 year old was again asking about playing kickball.
“Mom! It’s going to get dark out and we won’t be able to play!”
“Okay, bud, but I’ve got to help your sister now and then clean up the kitchen and then we can play.”
Before I knew it, he had taken it upon himself to clear the dinner table and put the dishes in the dishwasher.
“Mom? Where does the soap go?”
My back was turned to him and the dishwasher as I was still looking at the mountain of paperwork on the island.
“In that little square box thingee that closes” I replied without turning around.
By the time I had finished looking at all the paperwork, the kitchen was all cleaned up, dishes were done, the table was washed off, and the floor was swept.
“Wow! Thanks, buddy! That was really helpful!”
“Well, I want to play kickball. Let’s go!”
We all tromped off to the backyard to play a game for which I am much too old to play.
The sun was just starting to set and it was a bit chilly. My five year old went back in the house to get a jacket.
“Ummmm…. Guys? I think we have a problem!” he cried from the kitchen.
We walked in to find this:
“Hey? What kind of detergent did you put in the dishwasher?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“What do you mean detergent? I used the dish soap.” he pointed to the bottle of Dawn. Thus ensued another 30 minutes of kitchen clean up. The only silver lining was that the floor in front of the dishwasher is now the cleanest it has been since we moved into the house.
At bedtime that night, my son was feeling sorry for himself.
“I just feel like every time I try to help, it turns into a disaster. It would be better if I just didn’t help at all.”
“Oh no, my friend! You aren’t getting off the hook that easily. You must just need more practice.”
By his disappointed look, I gathered that not being asked to help again may just have been his goal all along.
When my husband returned home, I told him that there was bad news and good news.
"The bad news is that we almost lost our home to a gas explosion and a dishwasher-induced bubble flood. The good news is that we didn't. Oh, and the other good news is that your son really has been listening to you and is trying to follow in your footsteps."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing. Hey, can you fold this laundry?"
"Are you sure? You do it so much better than I do. I always mess it up."