I loathed my list of chores. My mom posted them on Saturday mornings. A long list of things that had to be done. We were told to pick seven things off the list. Get them done early. Then she would make a big breakfast of pancakes, and we could relax and eat. As much as I liked the idea of pancakes, I hated the idea of doing chores.
If you hate doing something, your success in that endeavor is unlikely. I hated everything I was doing, so the quality of the work often suffered. Doing things I don’t like to do on an empty stomach is also a pretty horrible combination. Even to this day, I work better on a belly that has been primed with food. Too much food is no good. I collapse in a heap on a couch. But regular sustenance in a reasonable proportion is a key ingredient in a quality work product for me.
If you didn’t complete your chores or chose to do nothing on your list, there was an option. You could feel free to march outside to the apple tree in the front yard of our home in Salisbury, North Carolina and cut off a reasonable size branch that would be used as a switch on your lazy misbegotten bottom. I never said it was a viable or fun option. Just an option my sister and I had that we were made well aware of during our moaning over the chore list. If we cut off an tiny branch, we knew from sad experience we’ d be sent back outside until more substantial switch material was retrieved.
We usually complained for a bit. Heard a series of detailed threats. Then got down to business. Soon enough, we ate pancakes. Sometimes I ate so many pancakes for breakfast I couldn’t eat lunch and wasn’t even very enthusiastic later that evening about supper. Sometimes I even felt a little odd feeling of accomplishment from my work the way Alice in Wonderland did from imagining at least six impossible things before breakfast.
I had probably swept the front porch, taken out the trash, loaded some clothes into the washing machine, fed the dog, cleaned a few windows, scrubbed down a table and swept leaves off the patio. These things might have taken half an hour if I was serious about them or 15 minutes if I was just flying through them to get them over with. There was sometimes an inspection during which you might get to do a chore over again. If I did it at double time the first time, I completed the redo at lightning speed with a grimace and a groan. But I did it.
We would appeal to my dad. “Do we have to do chores?” we’d ask. “Your mom needs to have the chores done,” he’d say. “Don’t make me the bad guy!” she’d shout if she heard that exchange. “Why am I always the bad guy?” My dad shrugged. The answer was obvious. Probably because he enjoyed being the good guy so much.
We need to institute that sense of discipline in our 15-year-old son Avery. He could do seven impossible things before breakfast in our Manhattan apartment just like I did growing up in my home in North Carolina. I’m sure he could. Someone might even make pancakes. I keep waiting for my wife to make out a list and threaten to enforce it. Why don’t I make out such a list and start issuing threats? Are you kidding?
I don’t want to be the bad guy.