Get widget

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ask a Cleaning Lady: Can my kids clean?

This one is for people who take care of children.

Here’s the scenario: you’re tired, you’re busy, you’ve got stuff on your mind, things to take care of etc. You don’t want to be bogged down with inefficiency or protracted efforts; you have to prioritize your time carefully. So of course when the abode is a mess, you may not like it, but you grit your teeth and just get it done.

I bet while you’re cleaning, however, you’re noticing every item that’s out of place, every nasty thing that was left behind, every thing that makes the mess you are cleaning right now. You’re thinking about how IF people just paid closer attention and put things away when they were supposed to, then there wouldn’t BE this big mess to clean! Harrumph!

Well there’s your real problem right there; you live with people who don’t bother being tidy, much less clean up after themselves once it gets messy. So here you are, cleaning up the aftermath for everyone else. But wait, you’re the one in charge, right? The adult, the caretaker, the person who decides who does what when, right? So why didn’t you make sure everyone else did this tidying and cleaning? Why are you the only one who seems to care about it anyway?

I’ll tell you why; you’re the only one who cares because you’re the only one who has to deal with it. Nobody else has to clean up the mess later so nobody cares about making the mess in the first place. And why is that? Because that’s what you decided.

I’m not about to try to play armchair psychologist and pretend I have any idea why you decided this, I’m just going to point out that regardless of *why* this is how things are because you engineered them this way.

If you really want it to be different, you have to make a very hard decision: is it important to you that other people in your household start pitching in? Is it important to you that other people in your household at least do not contribute more to the natural disorder that is life? Or are you prepared to go the rest of your life picking up after everyone else?

Allow me to detail some of the reasons why it *should* be important to you that other household members pick up or at least refrain from compounding the mess.

1. Children only learn things by actually learning. That means someone or some thing has to teach them. There are many things genetically coded into our brains like language and smiling and walking, but cleaning up or not being a slob is actually not one of those genetically coded things. It might be a personality trait to *like* a clean environment and some people are more inclined to not be bothered (or even enjoy) cleaning, but that trait is not very common, and you can’t rely on it. Besides, by the time it crops up in development, they are usually moved out of the house meaning yu will recieve none of the benefits of having raised such a person. Thus, if you want children in the house to clean and not be slobby, you must actually be ready to teach them how it is done.

2. Cleaning isn’t just about removing dirt and debris, its about organizing. No one is born organized, least of all children. The world is a huge chaotic place and it takes years to get a basic grasp of how it works so it is pretty much impossible for someone who has only been around for a few years to somehow magically KNOW how to keep an orderly environment. It is a skill that is learned and its best learned slowly, incrementally. Cleaning is a natural complement of being organized: teach one, you teach the other as well.

3. Being clean isn’t just having a nice atmosphere, being clean also contributes to your mental and physical health. It greatly affects morale to have a clean abode. Accomplishing a clean area also gives a self-esteem boost as well.

4. Cleaning is one of hte earliest forms of multitasking and prioritizing.

5. Learning to clean is a matter of character as well; its not pleasant but perseverence brings a future reward. This is a chance for a child to have a long-range lesson in hard work and humility.

6. Cleaning gives everyone a chance to obscure their transgressions.

“But Cass,” you say, “My kids are so resistant! I’ve tried to teach them! Its impossible!”

No, its really not. Its difficult and it seems like a waste of your time (“I could just do it myself and get it over with so much faster and better”) but that’s precisely why you need to knuckle down and push this task. By giving in to their resistance you let them know that its okay to just skip out on the really boring and hard parts of life because someone lower down will just step in and do it for them. Maybe you’re even okay with that lesson but do you really want that “someone lower down” to be you?

There’s a lot of art involved in cleaning. A lot of chances for knowledge and structure to be spotlighted. You wouldn’t miss out on an educational opportunity like this just because its “too much work” would you??

Imagine this were math. (Basic math, I mean) Would you decide it was too much hassle to get your child to do their math homework and just do it for them? Of course not. No matter how much they whine and bitch and cry about it, you’d make them do it. For many very good adult-y reasons that they probably aren’t mature enough to understand right now. There’s many good reason for enforcing this standard upon your resistant child and many of those reasons won’t be apparent to them for a long time but you enforce it anyway. You don’t even get anything out of it yourself!

So why do you let them “win” about cleaning?

Don’t let them win any more. By making the firm choice to persevere in enforcing the lessons of organization, cooperation and humility, you can infuse a level of familial unity and respect that goes beyond having a clean floor. You can put your kids on a path of learning that will lay the foundation of maturity to come. Like homework, you can help your children benefit from unpleasant tasks that have hidden rewards while building positive character traits.

But do not approach this with any less preparation than homework either. Cleaning isn’t something you can just hand them a rag, some spray in a bottle and expect sparkling results an hour later. You must be willing to show them what being clean means and what the goal is.

My parents had a wonderful postcard on the wall above the sink: “There are two ways to wash the dishes, one is to wash the dishes, the other is to get them clean!”

This homily emphasizes the point in unpleasant tasks; not to just do them by rote as if the motions of a task matter but to accomplish the goal of the task itself. Sometimes that means changing how you do things, or allowing someone to approach the task differently than you do but the essential point remains true; you want the goal to be reached, not just the task to be aped. This means you will have to accept a certain amount of imperfection and time drag as well. Teaching a child how to do something they don’t want to do doesn’t sail by on a cloud of happiness and smiles. Children will complain and pout and yell and even have tantrums about being forced to endure menial tasks that have no immediate obvious benefit to themselves. So what? If the task were to accomplish gaining a million dollars, I am fairly certain you would be able to muster the resolve and fortitude to plow through any and all obstacles the children throw at you.

Why is cleaning any less important than having money? It carries lessons beyond a bright environment, as I’ve outlined. It creates habits that can only enhance their lives as they grow, as I’ve shown. Learning to clean and be clean also creates a future sense of pride and accomplishment when the day comes that they realize having cleaned their surroundings actually makes them feel better. Lastly, forcing your children to learn to clean (and forcing yourself to endure the unhappy tedium of teaching them) eventually brings the reward of having a cleaner, brighter house that you *don’t* have to expend extra energy creating all by yourself.

Plus, once you’re old and infirm, you won’t have to worry about them allowing you to live in filth. Now isn’t that thought worth a few months of hassle?

Next month: tips on how to teach cleaning to ungrateful little brats.

A middle-aged mom who cleans houses in order to pay for her education habit. She is currently single and available for dates or tributes. Chocolate, flowers or cruise runs are all happily accepted. While she writes our popular Ask a Cleaning Lady column, she writes about all topics with sensitive wit on


Monday, September 15, 2014

Sibling Anticipation, or "Mom, are you pregnant yet?" - Contributor Post

A few days ago, I had a rehearsal and Mom needed a nap, so I volunteered to take the monkey with me. He loves hanging out at the theater, so it was no problem to talk him into tagging along. In the car, though, the conversation took an unexpected turn.

“Jerry, I just realized that I’m a really lucky kid because I have two dads: my step-dad, and my real dad.”

“That’s right’re pretty lucky!”

“And when we have a baby, the baby will be lucky to have two dads, too!”

This kid is relentless. He’s been dropping hints about wanting a little brother/sister for a little over a year now, and recently he’s picked up the pressure like a closer at a used car lot. It used to be that he would just harass The Cricket about it, but lately he’s expanded the scope of his campaign. And, as you can probably tell, he’s not entirely certain how the whole thing works; he’s under the impression that since I’m his step-dad, if and when his mother and I have kids together, his real dad will be those kids’ step-dad. It makes sense, I guess, if you don’t know about things like divorces and custody arrangements. When you’re six, shit is simple.

So I did what I was always do when six-year-old logic leaves me speechless; I diverted.

“What do you think would be your favorite part of having a baby in the family?”

“Well, I could just teach it how to make paper airplanes and play X-Box games. Oh! Jerry, did you notice that I’m getting better at making paper airplanes?”

Thankfully, the six-year-old logic is coupled with a tendency to randomly change subjects; I’m pretty certain it’s just a tactic to throw us off our balance, and I knew this wouldn’t be the last of the baby talk.

Sure enough, on the drive home from school yesterday, the tone became very serious as he said, “Jerry, I need to ask you something.”

“What’s that buddy?”

“When we have a baby, will we have a baby shower?”

He’s like a CIA interrogator, asking surprise questions and slowly chipping away at your resistance.

“Probably so, buddy,” I replied. “I mean, if we have a baby, that is. *If* we have a baby, we’ll definitely have a baby shower. Why do you ask?”

“I’m just wondering who I’ll invite to the party,” he replied innocently.

“Oh. Gotcha. Who would you like to invite?”

“I’m not sure. Being pregnant takes a long time, so I might know different people by then.”

You have to admire the tenacity, and the ability to visualize an outcome so convincingly, but where the hell is this baby obsession coming from?

Later that night, he was back at it.

“I think we should talk about what name we’re going to call the baby.”

“Well buddy, Mom and I have already talked about what names we would use if we have a baby.”

“Oh. Good,” he said, walking out of the room. “I just don’t want the baby to not have a name.”

Of course, all this talk of babies has me squirming. Divorced at 38, I’d pretty much written off the possibility of being a dad, and I was okay with that. Then I met The Cricket and I got an instant 4-year old son, and I settled into the Step Dude role nicely. I’m still kinda shaky, but I’m learning as I go and getting a little better at it every day.

Now I’m 41, and I’ll be honest: the thought of having a baby simultaneously exhilarates and terrifies me. I know I couldn’t ask for a better partner in the endeavor, but I have all these doubts about whether I would be up to the task. What if it turns out that I’m a good step-dad but a shitty bio-dad? What if I fuck it all up and my kids end up hating me? Or worse, what if I don’t like them?

But none of that matters to a determined six-year old. He wants a baby sibling, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to take no for an answer. So I expect I’ll be hearing more about it on the next drive to school. I know one thing for sure: if this kid ever decides to go into marketing, I’ll be first in line to hire him.


Jerry Kennedy is (in no particular order) a fiancee, stepdad, writer, actor, director, singer, and web dude living in The Greatest City In the World, Sacramento, CA. His hobbies include reading, skateboarding, falling off his skateboard, drinking, karaoke (especially after drinking), and making love at midnight in the dunes on the cape. You'll find his irregular ramblings about life, the universe, and everything at


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ask a Teacher: When should I intervene if my child is having friend / social problems at school?

Resident teacher Emilie Blanton from Teaching Ain't for Heroes helps us navigate the difficult terrain of first friendships.


Q: When should I intervene if my child is having friend / social problems at school?

A: It happens. People stop being friends all the time. For kids, this can become an ongoing issue as they deal with the inability to escape their new Not Friend during the school day and the fact that children are inherently less socially developed than adults. Most of the time, adults don't handle this transition well, so it's inevitable that children navigating this social dilemma will have their own problems.

The best idea is to speak with the teacher before it becomes a classroom issue. If there already are problems going on in the classroom, contact the teacher as soon as possible. Try to use whatever mode of communication the teacher prefers, be it email, phone call, or a note in your child's folder. It's important to try to remain objective when you contact the teacher. It's hard to not be upset when your child is hurt, so planning ahead what you want to say is probably the best idea.

Oftentimes students have group work or work in partners and teachers can assign these groupings. Making a teacher aware of social issues isn't just to blame the other child, it really is important so a teacher doesn't unknowingly pair your child with their former best friend and current archenemy. While teachers can pick up on friendship cues, sometimes the dynamics change so quickly, it's hard to keep track.

At home, talk to your child and encourage them to make the teacher aware of things that make them upset or uncomfortable. This is a good time to go over the difference between tattling and actually needing an adult.

Remind your child that not everyone will want to be their friend and that's okay. They won't want to be everyone else's friend, either. Remind them of the other friends they have and the opportunities to have to make new friends.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Mother’s Hopeless Fantasy -- Guest Post

I don't usually run poetry, but this piece is raw, honest, and spellbinding. Thanks to N. Lei Walker.


Every mother wants to protect their child. 
Maternal instinct will have you be their shelter from the rain
Without any hesitation, jump in front of a train 
Run full speed into a blazing fire
Be their triple AAA, Geico, and spare to their flat tire
But how do you shield them from words?
Words can be more painful than 3rd degree burns
How do I preserve his innocence from the ignorance?
When stigma precedes actual contact
The sad realization is prejudices has too much of a profound impact
Keeps the world all contained but not intact

I guess in a way I want him to stay ignorant to the world
Let him think glass ceilings are actually glass ceilings
No need for it to be broken by a woman or a girl

So what do I say to my son?
A brown little boy with beautiful nappy hair, you know the hair that makes bubbles at his hair line before comb,
The child who knows wherever mommy is, he is home
How do I explain that in this day and age his reality of his beautiful friend who has bold brown eyes, stringy blonde hair that surpasses his chin
has more privileges, to win

I question, should I be the one to invade his candy land with the bitterness of this world?

When it’s the 11 year anniversary of Trayvon Martin would I tell him,
There is no iniquity in humanity
 It wasn't anybody’s fault on that rainy day of February 26, 2012
The gun malfunctioned in the rain
but don’t worry Trayvon didn't feel any pain
Zimmerman’s intent was to simply show off his rocket
In exchange for the skittles that were in Trayvon's pocket

There is something precious about the innocence of child. Who waves Hello on a crowded New York City subway without any intrepidation
And not show bias because of class, race, gender, and or education

I want him to stay inculpable and still manage to defy all odds, crush misconceptions, jump over obstacles, and just taste rainbows
Even the one’s in Trayvons pocket

When its the16 year anniversary of Mike brown 
The summer before college, to get him safely to his dorm
Should I explain to him the respective way to greet the cops?
Post up and surrender
Without mentioning, he maybe the assumed offender

 Should I tell him there is no such thing as the right place at the wrong time?
Its only right place at the right time
But be home a hour before the street lights
And don’t wear black and yellow together, blue and orange, and forget about red
Neutral colors compliment your skin
OH, and there are places where the sun won’t shine
So don’t cross that city line

Inform him, war is a form of protection
From New Orleans Hand Grenades
And the KKK are dressed up as ghost for the city’s Halloween parade

And then I wake up
To realize I will be his biggest enemy
My fantasy world has a huge penalty
Shaping a man to have no identity

In order to recognize the bloomed flowers
We have to be aware of their nonexistence in winter time.

To be continued…

N. Lei Walker


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Competition Hell

Just now, my girls put on shirts they haven't worn in a year. Their daddy made a big deal of it, because he happens to really like the shirts. Everything was lovely. They felt fashionable and chic and cute and happy.

Then it started. One noticed that her jeans were lighter than the other one's jeans. Even though they normally prefer lighter jeans, just now, this one decided she liked the darker jeans better. So much so that she was going to change her whole outfit. Even though we were just about to go out to dinner.

My kids seem to like to be miserable about something, anything, rather than be happy for more than two seconds at a time. If their equilibrium shifts too far to happiness, if they've received too many compliments, if anything at all has changed from the status quo, they will find a reason to fight and tantrum over it in some kind of fit of competitiveness, as if what the one has will never be equal to what the other has. As if somehow one has been slighted.

They live in a state of constant fear and panic that one of them will get more than the other or have a better experience than the other. And to that end, they'd rather make themselves the most sorry, miserable things than have a good time themselves.





Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...