Our three-year old hid from uncles and smiled despite herself at a family birthday party, while our five-year-old bounded about joyfully. So many people to play with; so little time. She’d been tickled and chased and teased until she was giddy with attention, her breathless laughter trailing behind her wherever she went.
I was sure nothing could interfere with her mood. Then I heard her great-aunt ask her to help wash the dishes.
Outwardly, I smiled, but inside, I fretted. In the midst of so much excitement, I was positive she’d either accept out of mere politeness or simply refuse. Which could then lead to irritation or grumpiness, neither of which would be welcome at a family birthday party.
I was happy when she agreed to help, and only hoped the exercise wouldn’t end with a bored little girl. She was so pleased with the day so far, though, that I tried to be optimistic about the possibility for dishwashing to be entertaining. The two dishwashers set off for the kitchen. Beside me, our younger daughter became animated about something, and I forgot all about both dishwashing and its ability to put a damper on partying.
Before I knew it, my big girl came prancing from the kitchen, her shirt drenched with soapy suds. Her smile was wide enough to encompass pride and joy and silliness; she was, indeed, still happy.
Of course I knew she loved bubbles – I’d filled sinks and tubs and buckets with them dozens of times for her and her sister to play in. Of course I knew she gained satisfaction from being helpful – I’d let her enthusiastically help me bake and fold and organize for years now.
So why had I been so sure she’d become bored and irritable from a short stint of dishwashing in the middle of a party?
Because I hate washing dishes.
The monotony and everyday-ness of the task makes me resentful of innocent pots and pans. I see casserole dishes as enemies. Glassware as fussy adversaries.
If I had to leave a party to attend a sink of dirty dishes, I wouldn’t have liked it one bit.
But my daughter is not me. She is joyful and ready to make any experience a good one. She is fulfilled by being helpful. She is proud of learning new skills. And since I’d never really let her wash dishes, this task became an awesome new opportunity for excitement.
As far as chores are concerned, she knows how to put her dishes into the dishwasher, how to empty her cups into the sink, how to clear her place. But in my assumption that the actual chore of washing dishes would be met with disdain, I’d successfully made a decision for her rather than letting her see for herself. In my sure knowledge of how unhappy the task is, I’d foregone any chance of finding out where her true feelings lie.
And missed out on some fun in the meantime.
When it comes to doing chores with young kids, it appears that all it takes to make it enjoyable is to let them try it, and not squash their inherent delight in being helpful. It seems that a chore is only a chore once we view it as such.
Otherwise, it’s only another opportunity for fun-loving activity. Which is certainly the case when you’re allowed – encouraged, even! – to splash bubbles all over yourself in pursuit of clean dishes.