Monday, October 24, 2011

The Hand That Feeds Them

There was a time in our lives when Dan and I were responsible parents, trying to raise responsible, independent kids.  We recognized that our job was not to coddle, or to protect from adversity, or to wait on, hand and foot, but was instead to comfort, to find learning moments in conflict, and to teach the finer points of being able to take care of one's own basic needs.  Then we moved overseas, and it all went to hell.

Well, "all" is a bit of a stretch.  We're still OK on the first couple of points, but on the latter we've really let things slide.  Long before we moved, back when the kids were learning to read, count to 100, and visit the loo sans Mom, they were also learning to be pretty good little helpers.  They did get an allowance, which wasn't tied to chores; they got money because they needed to learn how to use it wisely.  Chores were all part of being a member of the family: everyone was important, and had something to contribute.  The boys set the table, loaded the dishwasher, washed the dishes, made their own beds, and even—wait for it—cleaned the bathroom.  As the only "sitter" in the family, I had reached the point where I wanted to, for once, sit on a pee-free toilet seat; hence, I turned the job over to them, and I have to say, they learned to do a pretty good job.

Since moving to Doha, though, chores have become a bit of a, well, chore.  The kids have a longer day at school here, their activities often start too close to, or too soon after dinner, and really, sometimes it's just nice to have a conversation with one's spouse while doing the dishes together.  So, we pick up where they leave off, and do all things for them that they were so capable of doing themselves a few short years ago.  The persistent culture of service here doesn't help either; there is always someone to whom you can pay a ridiculously little amount of money to do almost any job.  Or you can depend on Mom and Dad to do it for free.

Last Wednesday was an afternoon like any other:  Nick and Dan had hockey practice right after dinner, so as usual, in my solitary efforts to have everything ready on time, to make it easy for everybody, I made a trip to the clubhouse store to buy milk.  I stopped at A.G.'s house to borrow a small bottle of fish sauce for the green curry chicken I was planning to make.  A.G. lives about a block away from me, and about half way home the toe of my flip-flop caught on the pavement.  I stumbled forward, dropping the bottle, and then fell hands-down into the broken glass.

Now, I handle the sight of blood with about as much grace as I handle flying, and when I do cut myself I'm usually convinced that I've severed an artery and that I will surely bleed to death before I get someone to help me.  Lucky for me I've got friends who are much more sane about these things, and after I hauled myself and my dripping hand to A.G.'s, she took me to the hospital and Mary stayed behind to clean up the scene of the crime.

Ben making a cake, 2002
Four stitches to the palm of my hand, a scraped knee, and a bruised ego later, I arrived home to a chorus of "poor Mom" and a lot of hugs.  Their concern was genuine, but you could see, crossing their faces as they looked at my heavily bandaged hand, the dawning realization that that's the hand that does the dishes, makes our lunches, and folds our laundry.  Dan and Nick were leaving for a hockey tournament in Abu Dhabi the next day, so Ben and Jacob were given instructions to help me out as much as possible.

The three of us got through the weekend, and at least I thought it was kind of fun.  Ben and Jacob made dinner both nights—and not just something frozen and heated up:  chicken breasts one night, and homemade pizza the next.  And every dish got washed, but not by me.  I don't think it's hyperbole to say that they were both invigorated to rediscover what they had long been capable of.

I'll get my stitches out on Saturday, and I guess things will return to normal.  Yesterday, when I went to the hospital for a dressing change, the nurse asked me if I wanted a big bandage around my hand and wrist again, or just the water-proof bandage that covered my stitches.  I said a big bandage, reasoning that that would stop me from getting it wet, or getting it all dirty.  And then I thought of all we had regained with that one little bandage:  a little step forward for independence for the kids, and a reminder of what my job as a parent really is.  I might just wear one of these bandages for a little longer than necessary.  I wonder how long it will take the kids to figure out that I take it off as soon as the school buses pull away.