No, this will not be a post about how my girls are growing up, starting to date, drive, and apply to college. I have a few more years before that life-chapter smacks me in the forehead. Actually, by comparison, what I’m going to talk about is rather trivial. It may, perhaps, prove to be a good first step towards those larger moments. I’m talking about letting go of the reins a bit when it comes to how things are done in my house. I’ve found when I don’t let go and insist things are done my way to the letter, the decibel level in the house rises – screaming, crying, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. When I let go a bit, the decibel level drops and things actually get done.
In particular, I’m going to talk about Lucy helping me wash the dishes.
Lucy loves bubbles, you see. Perhaps not quite to the degree that Bubbles from “Finding Nemo” does, but still. So, when I ask her, “Lucy would you like to help me wash the dishes?” she drops whatever she’s holding, screams “Yay! Bubbles!” and runs for the dining room. She then proceeds to drag one of the chairs from the dining room to the kitchen so she can stand on it and reach the sink. Keep in mind that our dining room chairs are taller than she is and weigh about as much.
I then chase after her as quickly as I can to prevent her from pulling the chair down onto herself, but I am not usually allowed to carry the chair into the kitchen by myself. Here is the first place where I have learned to let go a little – I must help her carry it into the kitchen and set it into position. Once that is complete, and she’s clambered up onto the chair, I can then proceed to fill my side of the sink with hot soapy water. When my side is full, I turn the faucet to a much cooler setting and a much smaller stream for Lucy to use to rinse.
The second place where I’ve learned to let go is my previously-unwritten requirement that the dishes, the sink, and my hands are the only things to get wet. You see, clean dishes are merely a side effect of Lucy dousing her hands, her arms, her tummy, the sink, the counter, the front of the cabinets, the chair she’s standing on, and the floor under that chair with sudsy water. She’s not malicious about it – she doesn’t intentionally take whole bowls of water and dump them on the floor – it’s just that sometimes she fills a container with water and then dumps it out into the sink, toward herself. While trying to hold the container at eye level.
My eye level.
So, I’ve had to convince myself that errant H2O will not actually erode the delicate fabric of the space-time continuum, and can be cleaned up with a simple towel after the kitchen’s bath is complete. I’ve also tried to show Lucy where the water should be dumped out by gently moving her hand with the container down into the sink and saying “Low, Lucy. Down here.” Lucy is much better about this now and she definitely knows what the word “Low” means. When it’s time for bed, she will frequently hand me a book, sit down on the floor in front of me, and when I open the book to read it says “Low”, gently moving my hand with the book down to her level.
The third place that I’ve let go is the requirement that the dishes emerging from the rinsing side of the sink will actually be rinsed. When Lucy first started doing the dishes with me, I would get more than a little irritated when she would rinse the inside of a cup and then leave the outside covered in soap bubbles. That mild irritation grew with every dish, until I announced rather abruptly “Ok, dishes are done!”, which immediately set Lucy off because we had only washed three cups. I’ve learned to let her rinse the dishes however she wants, and when I’m done washing a load I’ll rinse them again. I keep waiting for her to get upset because I’m repeating what she’s doing, but she is a remarkably good sport about it. In fact, she will frequently hand me dishes from the sink – ones she hasn’t touched yet – and say “Daddy wash”. Daddy gets a cup to wash and Lucy gets a cup to wash – we have to be fair here, people.
Finally, I’ve let go of the all-or-nothing approach to accepting Lucy’s help. Most of the dishes that I wash by hand are the plastic containers that are too lightweight for the mechanical dishwasher, or the very large items that just don’t fit. Instead of denying Lucy access to helping with any of these until she can handle all of them, I’ve decided it is all right to let her help me with the little ones, and I will handle the heavier ones by myself. I had feared that she would argue with me when the former category was done and she was being asked to leave, but what I’ve discovered is that usually by the time we get through that former category she’s pretty much ready to move on to something else. I can’t remember the last time she actually threw a fit when I said “Ok, Lucy, we’re all done. Let’s dry your hands now.” She willing holds her hands out to be dried and then looks down at her tummy and says “Yucky”, just now realizing that the front of her shirt and pants are completely soaked. We change her clothes and part as friends.
By me letting go, we both learn something. No one ends up curled on the floor crying any more – even me. And some dishes get washed.