“Your kids play Little House on the Prairie? Wow! Look at them with the brooms and everything… this is how kids should play, you know?”
The kids had gotten tired of the trampoline, so R took charge and announced that they would play Little House on the Prairie. Moments later they were all doing their chores and waiting for ‘Pa’ to come back from hunting in the Big Woods. I happen to agree with my friend’s assessment: imaginary play like this is, in my opinion, the kind of play our kids need more of.
Shortly after that, the back door banged open and K emerged with several bowls and plates. “Who wants to taste-test my weird pasta flavours?” she hollered.
My friend turned to me with a questioning look, so I explained that lately K has started adding different flavours to the water when she boils pasta.
“Wow, that’s really cool. Your kids are amazing!”
“They have their moments,” I replied. “Oh, did I tell you that N is trying to teach himself whittling? I finally bought him a knife so he would leave my x-acto knives alone.”
That morning, sitting by the campfire in our backyard, we probably looked like a stereotypical homeschooling family: the younger children playing “wholesome” outdoor games based on the books they’d read, the independent teenager doing weird culinary experiments for the family to taste-test, and the boy with his own knife who is teaching himself to whittle.
That beautiful picture lasted all morning. Then I went into the kitchen for a glass of water and saw the formerly-tidy countertops strewn with bowls, colanders, and spoons. An empty cellophane pasta package was lying on the counter next to an identical bag that was half empty and wide open. K may have taken the initiative to experiment and share her pasta with others, but she did no cleanup whatsoever. In fact, I asked her to put away the bag of pasta five times throughout the afternoon before she finally did it.
That seems to be the norm these days. This morning I walked into the kitchen and immediately called Mr. December to come in and look. The microwave door was hanging open; there was an empty takeout container on the counter in front of it; a dirty plastic plate was next to that, and a plastic spoon lay beside it, dripping sauce onto the counter. “Who do you suppose finished the leftovers?” I asked sarcastically. Mr. December shook his head, sighed, and cleaned it up himself.
Meanwhile, R (the same one who came up with the Little House on the Prairie game in the backyard the other day) was on her third straight hour of playing Roblox on the computer. When I finally told her it was time to get off, she moaned about how there’s nothing else for her to do.
I’m not saying that my kids aren’t amazing—they are incredible, unique, and fascinating souls who will be wonderful adults one day. I’m saying that they’re kids. They do some wonderfully creative and independent things; they also do some thoughtless, lazy, and annoying things. It comes with the territory.
Every time a friend or stranger comments on something my kids do that is unusually responsible or mature, I feel the urge to show that person photos of the wet towels on the floor or the smoothie cups that went outside one summer day and have been on the ground near the trampoline ever since. You know, in the spirit of keeping it real. But the truth is that seeing my kids through someone else’s eyes is probably a more important reality check than the other way around. Every time I notice a wet towel or a tantrum, I see that my children are still children; when other people comment on my kids’ mature, creative, responsible behaviour, I get to see the adults they will become.