There’s a Dire Straits Song About This

February 22, 2021

I’ve recently rethought my policy of not paying my kids to do chores, and I need to talk about it.

Sometimes, I need to hear my own thought process, read back to me, aloud. My brain can think things faster than I can keep up, and I tend to process things just below the level of my conscious awareness. This is how a person can be smart and incredibly dumb at the same time. My brain processes things, but it fails to communicate this fact with me and fill me in on the action items of any given situation. We may have resolved a ton of past trauma, me and this noggin, but if that’s the case I’ve not been filled in.

This is why I spend so much time spinning my wheels.

Anyhow, as regards chores, I’ve never been a mom who’ll crack open the pocketbook because you took your dinner dishes to the sink. Basic household duties, to me, are just that. One of the many prices we pay to live in a civilized society. No one drops a dime in my piggy bank every time I swab a deck, so why should my children be financially compensated for helping to dig their own hair out of the drain?

I was such a blind and ignorant fool.

Because, as it turns out, sometimes cash money is the only way to make a tiny human remove their own detritus from the dining room floor.

My current job requires me to spend days at a time away from my kids. Many days. In a row, usually. Which means they spend a lot of time with my mom. Now I know I’m about to invoke the wrath of the ticked off, underappreciated grandmothers of the world, but hear me out. Even you, Ethel. You may swing back to my side by the time we’re all wrapped up.

My mom is a grandma through and through. She dotes on those girls. She loves them so much it makes me physically ache. Which is the most fantastic grandma to have, I imagine. If you see your grandma a couple times a week or less.

This, as I’ve mentioned, is not our situation.

Because my kids are with my mom day in and day out, I’ve noticed a certain sense of entitlement and nonchalance when it comes to cleaning up messes they almost certainly had a hand in making.

I say almost because it’s been a well-established fact that we do seem to have some sort of troublesome little poltergeist putting down roots in our home because there are days when everyone clearly agrees on an established set of facts in terms of our shared reality.

Yes, there is in fact a pair of dirty undies on the dining room floor.

No, dirty undies do not, under any circumstances, belong on the dining room floor.

Yes, these do appear to be consistent with the brand and size of undies I currently tend to withdraw from my undie drawer each morning.

But no, sadly, I know less than zero things about why these undies might be on the dining room floor. Because I, personally, know that we do not live in a barn and I am not a baby dinosaur. I know these things to be true deep in my heart, because you, dear mother, repeat them to me a thousand and one times every single stupid godforsaken day after the next. It’s because of your relentless and impertinent harassment, mother dearest, that I would never think to defile your living room floor with a pair of capriciously discarded dirty undies.

You see where this ends up. Everyone can see a mess but no one knows anything about how it got there and, due to some faulty information from a detestable source I have yet to identify, we seem to be under the impression in my house that only she who knows the circumstances surrounding the creation of any given mess is required to deal with it.

If you’re the creep who told my kids this is the case, please know that I am every inch as terrifying when it comes to retribution as Liam Neeson in Taken.

I will find you, and I will kill you.

However this came to be known as the rule of law in our house, the fact remains that it is not an accurate description of how I expect messes to be dealt with.

This is why I was so utterly horrified when I returned home from work one evening a few weeks ago to discover that, not only had my offspring acquired a tidy little sum of dollars in their little patent leather unicorn purses, but that said funds had been disbursed from the bank of Grandma and Grandpa in exchange for services rendered in the realm of household cleaning, sanitizing, and otherwise tidying up.

“We get,” one daughter chipperly informed me, “one dollar per chore here. That is why we do chores here.”

This was in response to my incredulous query as to how they’d come into such a windfall.

“What chores do you do here,” I asked, suspicious.

Because giving hugs and being cute are not compensable services in any realm of any imagination except for a grandmother’s, and I was eager to pop that balloon posthaste should I find it to have been inflated.

“We vacuum, clean our room, make our beds, put laundry away, wash windows, and feed the dog.”


I would like to state clearly for the record that my windows have not been cleaned since last spring.

And, while I also wish to be abjectly crystal on the fact that I do not support irresponsible child labor practices, if anyone’s windows be getting cleaned it should be mine.

I mean, I am the primary physical and sole legal custodian of said children. Given the ultimate weight of responsibility I carry for their continued existence, I would like to think that should some reward be in order I ought to be the first and, perhaps, the only recipient.

These are the types of silly delusions I allow my ego to convince me of, not to mention the source of the great majority of my major life disappointments, by the way.

In any case, after a somewhat contentious line of continued questioning, I came to the conclusion that I may have been a bit shortsighted in my initial policy position regarding the compensation of my children for doing chores thanks to one simple fact:

My children are money motivated.

So this morning, I gave my kids an option. As a woman not in possession of the patience or the executive function it would take to create and maintain something as elaborate as a chore chart, I opted instead for a sort of verbal gentleman’s agreement.

I know, but there’s no such thing as a lady’s agreement, I don’t think, and even if there is it doesn’t sound as fancy and I’m all about them fancy pants.

“I will give you one dollar for everything you do that it sucks to have to do,” I told my daughters, confident that the message would soak into their spongy, Minecraft-addled brains as they stared with black pupils and dead souls into the world they’d been constructing for an hour.

“Hello,” I said when a response failed to emerge.

“Earth to children.”

Still nothing.

“I’m offering to give you money today,” I sort of half-shouted at them as I stepped in front of the television screen.

At last, a blink.

“I will give you one dollar for everything that needs done that no one wants to do,” I repeated.

Fifteen minutes, you guys.

Within fifteen minutes the television was abandoned like a puppy that didn’t turn out to be a cute dog.

By the time I had my makeup applied the entire downstairs had been vacuumed, every stitch of clothing that fit their bodies was appropriately folded and stored, their beds had lost the little rat’s nest vibe they’d been developing over the course of the past week, and I found myself standing in my bedroom feeling like an absolute piece of crap as I tried to assure one daughter that she would still get the dollar even if she didn’t vacuum my bedroom, and that she really didn’t need to vacuum my bedroom, and that if she continued vacuuming my bedroom this exercise in accountability would take a dark turn and I’d have to confront some ugly truths about my own ambition in the area of spatial aesthetics, and that she needed to stop.

Just please, please stop.

All told, I wound up forking out five dollars apiece and I’m currently sitting in a bedroom with a clean floor feeling pretty proud of myself despite the fact that I was shown clearly why my kids don’t like housework.

I clearly don’t like housework much either.

I mean, there’s a reason I pay someone to come do some of it for me twice a week, but I’m not completely ashamed of that fact because I also work what very much feels at times like nonstop and I’m also almost forty, which means a lot of my energy goes to just maintaining the will to put my feet on the floor each morning despite the fact that some people like white chocolate and Nurse Jackie doesn’t just go on forever because I like it, and you can’t go into a store without a thong on your face anymore.

And I’ve spent today evaluating my original premise for not having paid for chores in the past.

I didn’t want to raise entitled kids who became the kids of adults who flagged waitresses down by snapping their fingers or think it’s okay to allow their spouse to do all the housework by playing the “I’m so bad at this you’ll wish you’d just done it yourself” game.

I didn’t realize how motivating it would be to an eight-year-old to have enough money to go into the Dollar Tree and choose any ten things her tiny, beautiful heart desired without anybody opening their mouths to her because she earned that money, harpy woman, and stop telling her her business.

“What are you going to spend it on,” I asked, handing two five dollar bills to my daughters and marveling at the fact that it was nine a.m. and my living room floor didn’t look like the grisly scene of a multiple Eggo waffle murder.

“Nothing,” one daughter said to me. “I’m saving up for an electric blanket.”

I mean, I didn’t expect it to last forever but I was kind of hoping to savor this moment of parental victory before being confronted with a new and infinitely more damning fact about myself, just as a person.

My eight-year-old appears to have more financial literacy than I do.

The last time I saved money it was $1.75 cents. For a soda from the vending machine.

And by saved, I mean dug out of the dusty, crusty abyss that is the center console of my car.

Speaking of my car, I wonder if my daughters are interested in leveling up to detailing.

I mean, I get paid on Thursday…

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