At least this is a pandemic so it was a virtual lecture rather than an in-person class.
But still...three hours.
Three hours of talking about how dangerous this can be for baby and mom, three hours of talking about diet and exercise, three hours of talking about the best method for lancing yourself four times a day. I wasn't particularly grumpy about this diagnosis until this class because I'd been doing everything already (aside from carefully measuring and recording both my glucose levels and everything I put into my mouth). I've been carefully balancing my meals and making sure I exercise every day for months now.
I just don't like...feeling pressured about it, I guess.
Anyway, yesterday morning I went downstairs to look at our yarn collection so I could decide on a baby blanket to make in the few spare minutes I'll be able to grab here and there throughout the next semester.
The cat's litter box is down there and when I saw it...I got mad. It was in a disgusting state.
"Benjamin!" I hollered.
It's his week for the litter box.
He thundered down the stairs to join me in the basement.
"What?" he asked innocently.
"Have you even been cleaning out the cat's litter box?"
"A little bit," he said.
I was incensed. Every day this week he's gone down after dinner like a perfect little angel, spent enough time in the basement to have done his chore properly, and returns with a bag to throw away in the garbage can. Yet the litter box was full of poop. And the poop scooper was just sitting inside the litter box as well.
"Have you been scooping the poop?"
"A little bit."
"Why is it so full of poop?!"
"Oh, I usually just scoop out, like, one poop, then shake out the sawdust, and call it done."
"No," I growled. "On what planet is that acceptable?! You have to scoop out all the poop."
"I didn't know!" he sang innocently.
"No." I growled again (because he did know).
He hung his head in shame.
"And what," I thundered, "Is the deal with the kitty litter all over the floor and..."
"Well, that's not my fault! The cat likes to dig!"
"I understand that, but your job is to vacuum it up every day. That's why we keep the shop vac down here. But you obviously haven't been doing that. And—AND!!!—there is poop on the floor! See that big log of poop! Someone dropped it on the floor and just left it! AND I know that it's been there all week because I asked you last week to help Zoë vacuum it up and you said that you would. You went downstairs. The vacuum was on! The vacuum was on for several minutes! You reported that you had taken care of everything. In fact, the vacuum has been run down here several times this week and yet it doesn't look like anything has been vacuumed up at all. This is disgusting! WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING DOWN HERE?!"
"Nothing," he said.
"I've just been...turning on the vacuum and holding the hose so you think I'm vacuuming."
Friends, Romans, countrymen, I will spare you the tirade I went on. It was not my finest parenting moment I'm sure. Let's just say that it ended with Benjamin losing several privileges and being saddled with a long list of chores to complete. He spent seven hours weeding the front flower beds yesterday, for example, but that was mostly because he kept slacking off (the flower beds aren't that large), so he woke up this morning and started finishing up that long list of chores.
He had to do everyone's dinner chore last night (Zoë is on dishes, Rachel is on clearing the table/leftovers, Miriam is on floors, Benjamin is on litter box) and he'll do them again tonight.
But I just...didn't think that long list of chores was enough for him. I needed something long term. Something that he would be responsible for, something that he could prove his dependability with, something that his parents (who sometimes have issues following through with things themselves) would remember to check in on every day, something that we couldn't just "take his word" for, something that he had to prove to us every day.
But what was that thing?!
Like, I say that Andrew and I sometimes have trouble following through with things. That's true. We forget punishments because, well, we don't particularly enjoy punishing our children. And we often trust our children (weird, I know) that they'll just, like, actually do the things they've been asked to do or that they have sworn up and down that they've done (the nerve of us, trusting our children). With our attention split between this many kids, we have to trust them sometimes (preferably all the time, honestly) because we simply can't check on everything always.
Did you really wash behind your ears and between your toes?
Did you really practice every song on the piano while you were practicing with headphones on?
Did you really check the mail?
Did you really clean your room?
Here's the thing...quite often they haven't done these things. All kids lie about having done things. All kids have stuffed everything under their bed rather than cleaning their room. All kids have merely gotten their toothbrushes wet and then lied about actually brushing their teeth. No kid ever remembers to wash behind their ears. Whatever.
All of these things eventually catch up with them. Eventually we check under the bed. Eventually we have their next piano lesson and they have to admit that they didn't practice. Eventually...the lies catch up with you. Always.
Here's the thing: Lies always catch up with you.
They're impossible to maintain (and the longer you maintain them, the bigger the pit you're digging for yourself gets). Let's just say that Benjamin dug himself a pretty deep hole here. I was very unhappy because, I mean, shoving stuff under your bed is one thing, but it mostly just makes themselves unhappy, right? Like, when they can't find any clean socks or that book they were reading or their favourite toy sword...
Well, let's look under the bed...oh.
Guess what you get to do now! Actually put this stuff away.
Here's another thing: It often takes about the same amount of energy to actually complete a task as it does to cover up the fact that you refuse to do the task.
Making it appear like you cleaned your room (when you, in fact, shoved all your junk into random crevices) only makes more work for you in the long run. Because you don't have to shove that sock under your bed. You're already holding it! Just...put it in the laundry basket.
Otherwise, you'll have to pick up the sock twice. Once to shove it under your bed, and again after Mom or Dad pull it out from under your bed and make you put it in the laundry basket.
May as well only touch that dirty sock once, am I right?
And as much as I may be a perfectionist in other aspects of my life, I am not a perfectionist when it comes to housekeeping. My standards aren't high. Like, when I ask my kids to clean they're rooms, I am not expecting perfection here. Our house has never and will never look like a magazine. And I'm cool with that.
But I'm also not okay with it looking like a garbage dump.
Or a dung pile.
Which brings us back to the cat.
When you metaphorically sweep the kitty litter under the
bed rug (or...in this case...simply stand there holding the vacuum), you create a health hazard for the cat as well as the family. It's cruel to the cat and unfair to the family.
And the whole elaborate process of lying—doing just enough that you can "prove" you did it, turning on the vacuum every day so that Mom thinks you're really doing something—just seemed so disrespectful and, in a way, manipulative, that I just...I couldn't stand for it.
Like, no, thank you.
Will not tolerate that.
So, yes, he lost privileges. For example, we didn't have a family movie night last night because of his behaviour (instead Andrew and I watched Brooklyn 99 with the older girls after putting the little kids to bed; Zoë and Alexander got to watch a show of their choice earlier in the day while Benjamin was still "weeding" the garden).
And, yes, he also had to complete a long list of one-time chores.
But still I needed something long-term that would teach him some dependability.
And then last night it hit me...
For the next 100 days or so (if all goes according to plan), I need to have at least a 1 oz serving of protein with my breakfast, which I usually take in egg form. I also have to eat breakfast within an hour of waking up, which is sometimes hard for me because when I wake up I'm immediately bombarded by children who need me to help them get their breakfast and I'm in the habit of getting our school day started by reading to the kids while they eat their breakfast.
So I usually don't have breakfast until after everyone else has eaten, I've read to them from our read-aloud book, and have settled them in on their writing work.
That's kind of a hard system to break away from. It feels weird to remind myself that I must think about what Phoebe and I need first and then worry about everyone else.
So why not make someone else worry about us?
That way I'm freed up to do the get-the-breakfast, clean-up-from-breakfast, start-the-school-day routine and my food just magically appears for me! It's perfect!
Benjamin is now in charge of making Mom an egg every morning. It's a job he can't slack off on without anyone noticing because I must have that egg (not only for my nutrition, but also because being diabetic and having to micromanage every bite I put in my mouth makes me terribly grumpy, so...what I'm saying is...just don't mess with my food when I'm pregnant (in other words: there will be no forgetting to check in on this, no possible way to simply sweep it under the rug)).
He's rather excited about it because he's been wanting to do more around the kitchen (we've all just been nervous about giving him too much freedom in there because...he is...sometimes an...entropic...force). And I'm excited because this might be the thing to teach him some dependability.
The best way to learn that is by having someone depend on you, right?
I hope so.