Dear Drudgery: You’ve Been Outsourced!
Ah, lecturing. The joy of knowing things that the children do not, and telling them all about it. How lucky you are that I understand so much, is the subtext of every parental lecture. And that I am willing to share my wisdom with you.
We have talked some in this series about nagging, but lecturing is nagging all growed up. Nagging lives for the moment: Clear your dish. Get your backpack off the couch. Lecturing takes the long view. It’s not just this dish, this minute. Lecturing understands that the left-behind dinner dish is merely a fleeting symptom of a deep character flaw—our children’s selfishness, thoughtlessness, and senses of entitlement are problematic, and so we must lecture them out.
“Pick up your backpack,” is a nag; the lecture is more like: “The world is not just about you, sweet cheeks. It’s time you realize what it means to be part of a family.”
Because we’re not just creating a tidy living room; we’re creating people. In procreating, we have taken it upon ourselves to send children out into the world, and I don’t want mine to get out there and be assholes. This is a reasonable fear! Perfectly adorable children grow up to monopolize conversations, be sarcastic to the elderly, and talk loudly on their cell phones on public transportation. And so I lecture, for a better world.
My parental lecture series has many installments. Your Life is Cake and You Should Appreciate It, is a biggie, as is It’s Actually Pretty Easy To Be Helpful, So Why Not? My most artful lecture, Why You Should Share, is one I stole from a friend several years ago. This beauty is pithy, concise, and in just a few short sentences manages to turn standard childhood pettiness into a life-threatening character flaw:
“Sweetie, I can see you don’t feel like sharing the toy with your sister. And I understand—it’s yours! But remember this: That girl is the closest genetic match you have on this planet and one day, you might need a kidney. When that day comes, your sister might not feel like sharing.”
By definition, my lecture topics are rarely pleasant. This makes lecturing a prime candidate for funnification.
I share this truth with you now:
The very most absolute fun thing you can do with lectures is to outsource them.
Here’s how it works.
You take a standard lecture, and you give it a name. And then you open it up.
At our house, the This is Dinner speech as delivered by me went roughly like this:
“Guys, this is dinner, and I’m just making the one. If you don’t like this dinner, that’s fine, but I don’t need to hear about that – you’re welcome to cheerfully make yourself something else. If you don’t finish your dinner? Also okay. But when you come back hungry in a couple of hours, don’t expect snacks until you’ve eaten some growing food.”
One night when Eldest was frowning at her asparagus and gearing up for god-knows-what, I turned to Middlest. “Think you could give the This is Dinner speech tonight?”
COULD HE EVER. Standing up, Middlest made his eight-year-old windpipe go very deep. “This” he intoned, “is Dinner.” He embellished. He listed myriad alternative dinner options available in the kitchen. He made sure we took this very, very seriously.
And we were off. From that moment, I could always say “What lecture do you think I’m about to give right now? Think you could do it?”
“Oh! Oh! I want to! Let me!”
When we lived in Costa Rica, the biggest linguistic milestone of the year came the evening that Youngest gave the This is Dinner speech in Spanish:
“Esta es la cena. . .” she began in her five-year-old lisp, standing on her chair to get everyone’s attention. “Mama he hacerlo. . .”
Do the kids think it’s kinda dumb? Of course. Do they do it anyway, and is it better than having to do it myself? OH YOU BET. And here is a point, a very important one so probably I will harp on it for a while because, you know, it’s what I do: Standing up against drudgery is not actually about whether the kids are having fun. Here in the 21st-century U.S. of A., parenting is already hyperskewed toward ensuring these children are living marvelous, fun, enriched lives every minute of every day. My anti-Drudge campaign? That’s about ME having a good time.
Bottom line? Each of my kids still has to share/pick up their stuff/not be bratty about having to share a bedroom—whether I’ve written a limerick about it, made them pick a task out of a jug, or just become slightly unhinged. It’s the journey, darlings, I say to them. And I want to enjoy it, even the tedious parts. Do I want the kids to enjoy the journey, too? Oh, so much. But believe me: When I’m having more fun, all of us are.
All three of my kids babysit, now. Not long ago, Eldest came home, tired but glowing, from a long summer day with the three adorable girls she takes care of. “I taught them a speech,” she told me. “We called it ‘This is snack.'”
Illustration by Christine Juneau