I bet my background is similar to that of lots of other women I see darting in and out of the coveted parking spots in my New Jersey town. I grew up in a four-bedroom colonial on a circle, not far from jughandles, diners and the Garden State Parkway. I went to college in New England, graduate school in New York City, worked there, got married, had two children, transitioned to working from home, scaled back the work almost entirely, and migrated from city to quasi-city to full-on suburb. All according to plan.
Now, I write from somewhere outside the mold. I am divorced and living with my girlfriend. Our five children (ages 8-13) live half time with us and half time with their fathers, who are very close-by. We are what is commonly known as blended, a step or reconstituted family (though this sounds too much like prune juice).
Some definitions of blended don’t apply…we are certainly not a combination of indistinguishable parts. Take a recent conversation the seven of us had over tacos on a Tuesday night – a dinner tradition we fell into – about how we can all (meaning, the kids) chip in more around the house (G, my girlfriend, and I chip in plenty). I mean, our youngest is 8; in some cultures, he’d be shucking corn or making sneakers from dawn to dusk. I’m just talking about folding clean shorts and maybe watering a plant here and there.
So, I introduced the topic: chores. I’ve read oodles of parenting books, every one of which unequivocally supports the idea of children doing chores: it makes them feel like they’re contributing, provides that community vibe, teaches them responsibility, and gives them additional reasons to moan and groan and tell us we’re mean – all part of ever-important character building. I felt armed with my no-brainer of an idea and made a grand announcement that we’d be starting something new, something revolutionary in our household, which had up until now been comprised of five very different, but equally spoiled and entitled children.
I saw it all unfold in my imagination…they would see my logic, appreciate the free ride they’d had so far, and soak up these limits I was often being reminded they crave way deep down in places they can’t see. Well, let’s just say I went two for five.
By way of introduction, I’ll go in order from most compliant to most, let’s say, creatively resistant. Lashes, by far our leader in all areas agreeable and amenable, responded by saying he thought chores were a good idea. On board without so much as a please. Our runner up, Curls, immediately secured a pen and paper to write down the chores he’d like to do. I think it’s fair to say there was a three-way tie for third place. Red, our oldest and only girl, was concise in her reply, stating simply that she had no interest in this idea, and I have to say, I respect her conviction. Blue raised his hand and said, “oooohhh, oooohhh” several times (imagine his teacher’s joy) and asked if they’d be paid for their services. Finally, Dimples raised a lot of what ifs. What if when you ask me to do something, I’m in the middle of a game? What if I don’t hear you? What if I have a cut and am weak from loss of blood?
We basically had to shut down these charmers fast for fear of losing the small degree of positive momentum we’d managed to build. So, there you have it, our five children in a taco shell.
As we know, it’s one thing to set policy, yet entirely another to implement it. Ask Congress. I myself can’t wait to see if the efforts of our fivesome result in clean shorts making their way back into dresser drawers and our tomato plant having enough water to bear fruit.
Liz Kingsley lives in Westfield with her girlfriend and their five children. During the day, she teaches Special Education and Basic Skills at a local elementary school, writes poetry and columns about her family, and directs The Writers Studio. At night, she collapses from exhaustion.
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