We are at the carwash. It is the awesome kind where you pay $3 for a robo-automatic scrubbing complete with colored bubbles and end up in a bay of vacuum cleaners. The prize is that you can vacuum your car as long as you like. You just keep pushing the button and get another cycle.
This is brilliant for my kids who love to vacuum and for my wallet that cringes while feeding the machine $1 for every four minutes.
So, we are busy tossing garbage, vacuuming, wiping, and navigating the chores. Together. My kids are singing and bubbling over with excitement about how fun this is. They love straightening their areas and spend a half an hour cleaning.
Then I look over at the minivan next to me and see the complete opposite. A mom in sweatpants is working up a sweat while cleaning her car. Her two boys stay seated, ignore her and play on IPads with headphones. They lift their legs to allow her to vacuum under their sneakered feet and reluctantly move for her to pull out boosters to clean around. They are not engaged or interested in this meaningless task.
Please do not think I am judging this mom. She could very well be me on any day when I feel the crunch of time and am trying to hurry to accomplish tasks. No. There is no judgement. Just recognition. I am her as much as I am the carefree, happy mom I am at this moment.
But what a reminder. A reminder of all the things I profess to believe and fall short on many times.
Kids want to do real work.
Kids love to be engaged in family tasks.
Kids will help when given the opportunity.
Kids are capable of much more than one might think, given the chance.
Chores are fun when shared.
I have a better time when I am not trying to do things quickly and on my own.
As she finished, she put all the magnets back on her car that she had removed for the car wash. Little circles announced which soccer league her kids played on, which private school they attended and how many miles she had run in a half marathon. All symbols of giving kids opportunities and privileges that will supposedly help them achieve more in life. To many, these are proof of good parenting.
As our vacuums whirred for the 5th cycle, I wonder, where are the car magnets for just being (seriously - that is much harder for most than participating in an organized activity)? For looking at clouds? For throwing your own trash away and cleaning out your own seat?
When we will we realize that kids who are fully integrated in daily life thrive. That the magnets are a diversion and a weak substitute for the real stuff? That our identities are much more nuanced and complex than logos on a shirt or the back of the car?
I feel like I am making a choice.
Connection or efficiency? Deep, individualized success or societal membership and accolades?
What about you?
(Please know that I am not against soccer or school, marathons or IPads. I question myself as much as I throw the question out to you.)