Should have made the The New York Times, the lead story on the nightly news on all the networks. The international press should have been clamoring, lines of paparazzi photographers camped outside our home.
On January 25th 2021, my younger daughter loaded the dishwasher without being asked.
How did the momentous happening come about? Parenting expert that I am, I can make no inference, pose no guesses. I can only relate the occurrences immediately preceding. The interested reader may draw their own conclusion.
On the day of the event, I had awoken to a typical scene: in the shared space of our living room were the detritus of an apparent celebration shared by dozens of participants: ubiquitous brownie crumbs, crumpled soda cans, pizza crusts to satiate a regiment. No fewer than six half-empty glasses were festooned randomly. No extra children had been in the house—I have little interest in joining the ranks of the infected, thank you just the same. My youngest child had managed to import a landfill of rubbish all by her lonesome, young-adult self.
My typical, tried and true reaction was to go thermonuclear, reciting the following script: Are you out of your selfish mind? We are going to overrun with roaches and rats. I am sick and expletive deleted tired of cleaning up after you every single solitary day. Have you no sense of shame? Don’t you realize that we all have shared responsibilities in these Covid-infused times? Do you think I want to live with your any more than you want to live with me at your age and no, I don’t know when the stupid dorm at your stupid college will reopen, do I look like an infectious disease doctor to you?
Not Hamlet. Admittedly. But I knew my lines well having delivered them for over a hundred consecutive performances dating back to the start of the pandemic. Matinee at 2:00, Saturday evening show at 8:00.
As it happened, I had some work responsibilities requiring my immediate attention, so I was unable to fulfill my commitment to screaming psychotically at my child. Maybe my union contract allowed for a day off from rage and gesticulating. As important as I felt it was to get on my horse and “ride off in all directions at once,” I didn’t have the time.
I can always get back to shrieking uncontrollably tomorrow. I have to imagine that in another 24 hours, there will be new left-over pizza crusts and crumpled soda cans everywhere. I guess one day without my eyes bulging out of my head and vacuous screaming will be okay.
And then, as you doubtless saw on one of the major networks, the child loaded the dishwasher without being told. And gave the dog a bath. And helped her mother in the yard. And was pleasant and helpful throughout.
Social scientists are taught not to make a causal inference from a correlation. Swinging a dead cat over your head three times at midnight isn’t responsible for the paucity of zebras in your neighborhood. But the coincidence is worth noting: the one time I didn’t descend into a writhing rage over the outrageous mess in the living room is the same day that the kid made a significant contribution to the necessary effort of the running the sequestered household.
I may have to give this brazen coincidence some more thought. Maybe there is something to be said for not yelling at my child. Or as Walter Barbee put it: “If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still doesn’t understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.”
None of the above hyperbole is to argue that young adults living at home during the plague should be absolved of doing housework, only that when you find yourself in a hole, it may be time to stop digging. And that a different attitude may be an improvement over an approach that isn't working.