“But, mom!” the living-back-at-home daughter protested. “You have to TELL me these things.”
These things include, but are not limited to, extracting long strands of brown wavy hair from the bathroom drain. Curbing her ten-dollar-a-day grapes habit, or at the very least, replacing said fruit. Completing a cycle of laundry before the mother comes along with the next three loads and angrily folds what has been left in the dryer, because, contrary to popular belief, she’s not mean enough to throw it in a crumpled heap on the daughter’s bedroom floor. Which is exactly where it came from.
As the revolving door on Grove Street opens and closes to my adult offspring, I find myself marveling at how little they know about basic household concepts. Or, in other words, how much I failed to teach them. I take most of the blame. Most. Not all. Because, I always had a valid excuse.
When they were growing up and I was schlepping them from field to field, house to house, school to school, I just didn’t have the time. It was so much more efficient to do it myself than to redo what they tried to do.
If I had it to do over, here’s what I would have taught my teens before they left home:
1. I would teach my children that sheets should be changed more than once a year. That toothpaste droolings in the sink are not attractive. And that toilets don’t get cleaned by themselves.
2. I would show them how to lower the shades at night and how to open them in the morning. Where the outside trashcan is. And how to take the recycling bins to the curb on alternate Tuesdays.
3. I’d explain why it’s not a good idea to leave a plastic bag on top of the toaster oven when it’s in use. Why the dishwasher doesn’t remove burnt-on food byproducts. And why baked potatoes blow up in the microwave if not pierced with a fork.
4. I would teach my children to hand wash the ice cream scooper that says not dishwasher safe and not put the Henckles knives in the dishwasher. Or the cash iron skillets. Or the plastic water bottles on the bottom rack.
5. I’d show them how to water the plants on the porch. How to empty the overflowing mailbox that they pass every time they come in the door. How to plunge a toilet. How to tell when cold cuts have gone rancid. And how to use a coaster.
6. I’d explain the reasoning behind bringing deck chair cushions in before it rains. Cutting the grass before the neighbors ask us to. Emptying the (I didn’t even know we had one) dehumidifier before it overflows. Replenishing the milk before it’s all gone.
7. I would teach my children how to use a hanger. How to replace the toilet paper. How to finish a water bottle. And how to vacuum dog hair.
8. I’d show them where the cleaning supplies are kept. Where the car keys are hung. And where the closest Ben & Jerry’s is. Just in case they wanted to pick up some Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream for someone they love.
9. I’d explain the importance of keeping the inside shower curtain in and keeping the outside curtain out. That there’s a direct correlation between round-the-clock air conditioning and over-the-top electric bills. That paid-for car insurance, and cell phones, are not God-given rights.
10. I would teach my children that texting to say “I’m alive” with aforementioned paid-for-by-parent cell phone (because a family plan is so much cheaper) is kind. That saying “Thanks for all you do, Mumsie,” is sweet. That answering a direct question with a blank stare is not.
If I had it to do over, I’d do it all much differently. I’d be stricter. I’d be stronger. I’d do what my friend Barbara tells me to do every time she sees me. I’d charge rent. From middle school on.
When I muddle and muse over these many misdoings, misgivings and misparentings, I can’t help but wonder how the great mothers of the world do it. My soon-to-be 93 year-old mama comes immediately to mind.
And that’s when I laugh.
Because, not all that long ago, she could have written this very same story about my sisters and me.
Betsy Voreacos lives with her somewhat Grown and Flown family in a diverse and culturally-rich town a stone’s throw from Manhattan. An overly-involved mother of three active children, Betsy has always been acutely aware of her shortcomings as a parent, not to mention those of her children. A freelance writer and blogger, she documents her life in the brutally honest OldMiniVansDieHard.