In our household, the boys take the word “vacation” literally. To them it is defined as “the absence of any activity that could remotely be construed as work.” Never mind that the house is now getting dirty at twice the normal rate. Never mind that they are generating a pile of dirty dishes that is roughly the size of an Appalachian foothill. And please disregard the fact that they are daily wearing clothes that get dirty and need laundering. Doggone it, they’re on break.
According to author Kevin Leman, the way to build self-esteem in children is to teach them to give back to the family. In an effort to promote all kinds of self-esteem in my children, I do a very cruel thing. I actually make them work. On vacation! Oh, they’ve tried every trick in the book. “It’s not my turn,” is a classic. “He’s closer,” is another one. Then there’s the old standby, “None of my friends have to do this much work.” They think they’re being original. Ha!
To further hammer in the importance of this principle, we have developed a family creed. It goes like this, “You live here, eat here, sleep here – you work here.” This has, needless to say, earned me the title of “Original Egyptian Slave Driver.”
I overheard our second son on the phone with his grandmother one day. “We’re working like dogs,” he moaned, “And mom just got a new tip for her whip.” Unfortunately for him, his grandma has had plenty of her own experience with little shysters who didn’t want to work (my brother and sister), and she didn’t fall for his tale of woe.
Another inalienable right they claim whenever they are home is unlimited pantry access. Left to their own devices, they would eat us out of house and home. By noon. Their father has a brilliant speech he delivers on such occasions. “If a cookie disappears, if a piece of bread is crooked, if a cracker is missing without mom’s permission…” He doesn’t fill in the blank, leaving their bright little minds to imagine the worst. Three Adams apples gulp up and down in unison.
When I recently mentioned to a friend that I was seriously considering hiring an armed guard to intercept pantry poachers and did he know any, he helpfully suggested a Doberman Pinscher. My creative imagination instantly conjured up visions of a seedy junkyard with a sign, “Pinschers R Us, ” hanging on a rusty fence. This would, of course, be run by a guy named Jim Bob with three teeth, two brain cells, and severe halitosis. In my mind’s eye, the pinschers are emaciated, snarling, flea-infested creatures of death.
I shuddered. No, no. Better stick to the original plan.
I cannot lie. There are moments when my offspring think their mother is a witch on a broom. There are moments when I know I’m a witch on a broom. This does not make me proud. However, in between flights I find myself reveling in the fact that my chickies are all around me. I love our traditions – the cut-out cookies (the boys turned out an anorexic cardinal, a double-amputee cow, and a tumorous sheep), the annual slumber party with stocking stuffers, opening gifts in our jammies on Christmas morning, and staying up way too late every night.
There have been raucous board games with accusations of cheating being flung, denied, and then proven followed by uproarious laughter and protestations of innocence. During the hullabaloo, the chief of the tribe is booing the Nazis on the History channel from his favorite spot on the couch. To add to the confusion, the baby is toddling hither and yon redecorating the Christmas tree for the umpteenth time, hauling Blankie around, or being plucked from a standing position on the back of the couch by an alert older brother. It’s a circus, complete with clowns, ringmaster, and the person who leaps through flaming hoops (guess who). All we’re missing is the fat lady, and if I keep eating like this, she won’t be missing for long.
Any minute now, the little clowns will be storming the pantry. Maybe, if they recite the family creed three times before building some self-esteem (i.e., doing the dishes), I’ll put off writing up that “help wanted” ad for an armed pantry guard (Fort Knox experience preferred) and give them some Christmas cookies. We have a cardinal, a cow, and a sheep that need to be eaten.