Monday, 18 April 2016

When the Children Help with Housework

Watch out! Who's about?
The Age of the List (for details, see my last post) hasn't quite started yet. The list itself is still at the 'planning' stage and my dear wife keeps proposing new and dreadful things to put onto it. 'Dusting' was mentioned: I explained that the surfaces were far too cluttered to permit anything in the nature of real dusting to take place but I don't recall getting a reply. She also suggesting 'ironing': my cordial answer to this was that if she would demonstrate how the iron worked I would consider the matter. I got a reply to that remark - a somewhat scornful one. Personally, I lay the blame entirely upon my university years; I shared a house with three other lads and although we possessed an ironing board I don't ever remember seeing the iron to go with it. Consequently I was never able to get any practice and I fear these youthful misfortunes may never be redressed. Sad, very sad...

But to return to my first point. The 'List' may still be merely a concept on a spreadsheet but I felt that there would be no harm in attempting to set the new regime in motion without delay. And the new regime was already a day behind; Tuesday's cleaning was still not done, there was mud on the doormat, crumbs adorned the dining room and unidentifiable flecks of 'stuff' were ground into the lounge carpet. It was enough to give a truly conscientious, house-proud Dad sleepless nights. Fortunately I'm not one of those and therefore slumbered peacefully.

Even so, I arose on Wednesday morning determined to do as much catching-up as possible and having dumped one son at pre-school I hauled out the vacuum cleaner from under the stairs and plugged it in. My second son immediately rushed over to have a look. Isaac likes vacuuming. He likes munching on the hose and pulling the electric cord out. He is also good at standing in my way. He stood in my way as I tried to vacuum the hallway; he stood watching as I pulled up the rug in the lounge to clean underneath it, then immediately sat on the rug so that I couldn't lay it back down again and finally he planted himself on the second step when I tried to vacuum the stairs, efficiently barring my path. All this was done with an expression of lively interest spread across his small features. Daddy was doing something with a machine that made strange whooshing noises and he wanted to see what was going on.

In between this innocent blockade he happily did his favourite thing of all: playing with the on/off switch. This can be helpful - usually it isn't. When you're halfway up the stairs and a small boy has just switched off the vacuum cleaner at the bottom, for example - the question of how to switch the machine back on again without trudging back downstairs to do it is one that would baffle the finest of minds: it was definitely too difficult for me.

Occasionally, inevitably, it was Daddy who had the temerity - nay, the audacity - to turn the vacuum off himself. This was not OK. Once, Daddy even went so far as to pull the plug out and wind the cord back in which created quite a puzzle for his infant lordship. After flicking the switch several times without success he noticed the bare plug sticking out. Eureka! He took hold of the plug and pulled it down the hallway, cord trailing behind him, until he reached the plug socket tucked away around the corner; there he placed it on the floor, very neatly, and toddled back to see if he could get the contraption to co-operate. Strangely, it refused to do so.

All of which brings us to the subject of childish help about the home. It's a knotty problem. Should we embrace it, or discourage it? When Graham offered to wash up on a recent visit to his grandparents, for instance, should we have welcomed his suggestion - and borne the possibly disastrous consequences - or treated it with hilarity? Tricky. And then there's Isaac. Now I would be the last to claim that his activities while I was vacuuming could adequately be described as 'helping' but it was displaying interest which surely should be promoted, even if it does mean the job takes twice as long. Again, not an easy puzzle to unravel. Hamlet, I believe, had a similar predicament in Act III, Scene I of Shakespeare's famous play that bears his name. It all ended badly for the tragic Prince of Denmark and parents may be forgiven for thinking that it could all go horribly wrong for them as well, whichever course they pursue. 'To be, or not to be?' 'To inspire, or tell 'em to go and play?'

Um. Anybody got the answer?  

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