Thursday, May 09, 2013

the kitchen waltz

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Chores are an important way for kids to participate in family life and learn important life lessons, but kids don't always see it that way. Sometimes how we handle their reluctance to do those chores teaches them more than do the chores themselves.

Growing up, my brother and I were always included in what was going on and expected to pitch in as we were able. But our first official "chore" was helping to wash dishes. Which is probably why dish washing is still one of my least favorite things to do.

Washing dishes has always seemed like such a Sisyphean task to me. You tackle the mountain of dishes in front of you only to turn around and find you have to do it all over again. Endless. Especially when your mom is an excellent cook who uses a lot of utensils.

Our first house was tiny and didn't have a built-in dishwasher. When it was time to clean up after dinner, my brother and I would moan, "I wish we had a dishwasher!." Our parents reply was always, "We do - we have two, and y'all need to get to work!"

In our second house we had a lovely large kitchen complete with a spanking new dishwasher. But, according to my very frugal dad, it sucked up too much electricity and water, so washing dishes by hand was still the preferred method.

Now teenagers, my brother and I took turns washing dishes but still moaned about how much homework we had and how unfair it was in an attempt to get out of it. That rarely worked. Usually it just earned us a sharp talkin'-to...and maybe another chore for good measure.

I recall one night when it was my turn to wash. I piddled around in the kitchen while the rest of the family watched TV in the den. I knew I couldn't join them or even go to bed until all the dishes were washed, dried, and put away, but I kept procrastinating until I was completely overwhelmed by the mere idea of the dirty dishes in front of me.

Because everything is a big deal when you're a teenage drama queen, I rested my head on the ledge in front of the sink and I tearfully mumbled to myself about how I would NEVER get all these dumb dishes done.

I heard the door between the kitchen and the den open, and someone came to stand beside me.

"Oh great," I thought, "now I get to hear how lazy I am and get in trouble on top of having to do these stupid dishes."

"Come on, it's not that bad. I'll help you and we'll knock these out in no time."

It was my dad. Maybe he got tired of listening to me complain, or was ready to go to bed and felt guilty leaving me up, or just had pity on me. But next thing I knew, dishes were organized, soapy water was in the sink, and the washing of dishes had commenced.

While we washed and rinsed and dried, we talked. We laughed about how silly my little pity party had been. He told me jokes and asked about my day. We discussed the latest episode of "The Cosby Show. " We started singing songs and harmonizing together.

And then, apropos of nothing, we waltzed around the kitchen, dish towels in hand.

Before I knew it, the chore was complete. It was like magic. In my head, the chore had seemed insurmountable...until Dad came alongside me and showed me not only was it not really that bad, but it could even be fun.

Even more than that, in what could have been another throwaway moment, he gave me a special memory that has lasted a lifetime.

When I married many years later, we had a simple outdoor reception without music, so my dad and I didn't get a father-daughter dance. But that's ok. I will always treasure the kitchen waltz and the night he taught me that sometimes parenting is about knowing when to discipline your children and when to waltz beside them.

This Saturday, May 11th, would have been my dad's 74th birthday. He's been gone 16 years and I still miss him like crazy. But I was blessed to have an amazing man as my father for even a short time and I'm thankful to have such memories to keep him alive in my heart.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

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