When I booked my trip, I knew that it would be a long day. Because I like to be home in the evening, instead of flying up on Sunday night, and back on Monday after my meeting, I figured I could do the entire trip in one day. And so it is, I booked a flight that departed from Houston at 5:10 AM, and returned that evening at 10:14 PM. The way I figured, it wouldn't be too terrible, because I could always sleep on the plane.
My alarm was set yesterday morning for 3:00 AM. But at 2:15 AM, one hour before I was supposed to walk out the door - Charlie flew out of bed and ran to the bathroom. It turns out, my husband had contracted a vicious stomach virus that had hit Henry last week at 2:00 AM, while Charlie was out of town on a business trip.
This virus - I believe (hope?), is the same virus that wiped out Elizabeth, and me, and my mom, and my Aunt Grace, and Carolyn, and William … this past June - less than a week before Charlie and William were slated to go camping with the Boy Scouts in Colorado.
My mind boggles over this, because it was nearly four months ago. But since Charlie and Henry were the only two who were unscathed when it swept through our house over Father's Day weekend - and now those two are the only ones who have come down with it, I desperately want to believe that it's the same virus and the rest of us have immunity.
So yesterday - I'm supposed to be leaving the house at 3:15 in order to make my flight. But Charlie is curled in a ball on the shower floor. The kids are in bed asleep, but have to be up and out for school in four hours and …. ACK!
What does one do??
I'm not sure I was fully conscious in making the decision what to do in that moment - because as I brought Charlie a cold face cloth, packed four lunches, wrote notes for the kids pleading them to HELP THEIR FATHER, set alarms so they'd wake up on time for school, and laid out various items they'd need for the day, it felt like I was in a dream.
Then I was backing out of the driveway, saying aloud, "Am I really leaving Charlie like this?" Soon I was pulling in to the airport and parking, and asking myself, "Am I really flying out of state?" As I locked the car, walked through security, and got to my gate as the plane was boarding, I felt this overwhelming urge to turn around and run home, but yet my legs kept moving in the direction of the plane.
As I landed in Chicago at 7:30 AM, and called home - the fog was lifting and I was stunned that I'd actually left. Carolyn answered the phone, but had to run out the door to the school bus. She quickly told me that there were three lunch boxes on the table, even though she was the only child still at home because her siblings had forgotten to grab theirs. She'd take care of it though - and would bring everyone's lunches to the bus stop.
She then handed the phone to Charlie and he sounded awful. His exact words were, "I'm dying. So sick. No talk." Click.
OY. WHAT AM I DOING IN CHICAGO?!?
In sickness and in health?! I'd totally abandoned my desperately ill husband! And like Henry, who had been sick the week before - and all of us, who had been sick over the summer - poor Charlie would retch every 20-40 minutes for the next eight hours.
While my time in Chicago was very productive... and people who I cautioned needed to lather themselves with Purell after shaking my hand were very grateful that I'd made the trip despite my circumstances at home... I thought about my ailing husband all day.
My flight landed last night just past 10:00 PM. By the time I deplaned, retrieved my car, and drove home - it was 11:00 PM. I walked in to the house, buzzing from the remaining adrenalin of a long day, and was met with a scene that looked like a BOMB had gone off.
The children had made dinner, and left everything all over the counter, including food that should have been refrigerated. Dishes from breakfast [with food still on them] were in the sink, dishes from afternoon snacks [with food still on them] were on the counter. Dishes from dinner [with food still on them] were still on the table. Their unpacked lunch boxes were still in their backpacks, as was uncompleted homework. Glasses of half-drunk milk dotted the countertops. Shoes, clothes, toys, were strewn all over the house. There were empty and partially empty yogurt containers on random surfaces from the kitchen, down the hallway, in to the front living room. Boxes of birthday presents that they'd received yesterday, were ripped open and items were tossed about.
It was like a herd of wild animals had ravaged our house.
Charlie was in bed, sound asleep, wearing whatever he'd been able to pull on that day. Charlie had every excuse in the world. God bless the man that he'd managed to get dressed at all. Our children, however, did not have every excuse in the world … nary a one. It was extremely evident that they seized the opportunity while a parent was down for the count, to do whatever they wanted - including nothing at all that resembled any responsibility. I've been coming down more and more on the children with how important it is that they take responsibility; they must pitch in and help.
Clean up after themselves … turn off lights, take out the trash, wipe down the counters in their bathrooms, take inventory of when they run out of: shampoo, toilet paper, toothpaste, clean underwear. Do a load of laundry. Fold a load of laundry. Load and unload the dishwasher. Sweep up a pile of dirt. Put away their toys. As I've told them countless times, they need to help us keep the boat afloat without our constant asking.
Good Lord. At what point do they just get it?
It is critical that kids learn life skills, including how to take care of themselves and their living space. This is what I call the Fundamentals of Growing Up and it is our responsibility as parents to teach them. It is NOT easy work, I think in many ways it would be easier to just shoo the kids off and do it yourself, or hire a maid to come in and do it perfectly. But if we do that - how are they supposed to learn? When done a little bit each day, the art of keeping up a home, is not overwhelming and are life skills every one needs to possess and yet very few young people do actually seem to possess.
I've lost count of how many ill-equipped teenagers we've hired over the years to come watch the children, and you'd think they've never seen a dishwasher before. After an evening out, there are few things more frustrating than coming home to dirty dishes piled up on the counter, empty pizza boxes, and a teenager sitting with their nose in a cell phone.
Be responsible and clean-up after yourself!
That is my war cry and I'm starting to go hoarse.
While our kids have the propensity to help - they often don't. Or, it will take a considerable amount of urging on my behalf. Urging in the form of, "IF YOU DON'T PICK YOUR LAUNDRY UP I WILL DONATE IT TO CHARITY AND YOU WILL WEAR WHATEVER IS LEFT IN YOUR DRAWER: EVEN IF IT'S JUST UNDERWEAR AND PINK POM POM SOCKS TO SCHOOL."
The kids are now 12, surely they can help out at home. Consider: my mother's father dropped out of school when he was 12-years old and went to work to support his family after his father died. The year was 1892, but the point is: 12-year olds are a lot more capable than we give them credit for in this year of 2016.
I thought about having the kids do it this morning, but couldn't stand the thought of going to sleep with that mess in the kitchen. So after I spent almost two hours cleaning up last night - I climbed in to bed at 1:15 AM … 23 hours after I climbed out of bed yesterday morning. This morning, the kids came downstairs all smiles. Until I told them how disappointed I was with the absolute disaster that they'd left yesterday. Knowing that their father was unable to move, instead of doing something to HELP make the situation better - they made it WORSE. Did they not notice how I had made them lunch, and tried to get everything ready for them?
As I've told them before, we don't have a maid and we won't have a maid. Not because it costs a lot of money, but because when they grow up and they move out, they likely won't have a maid so they really need to know what it takes to care for themselves. (And their parents and each other, should we ever be in a situation when we're flat on our backs with a vicious stomach virus.)
The character traits of ownership and responsibility are two of the most important that they will ever learn. And if they chose not to have ownership and responsibility, there will be consequences. Which may include flunking grades in school - because I'm not going to continually harass them to do their homework. Or maybe it will be the consequence of a wardrobe that consists only of underwear and pink pom-pom socks if they chose not to help with their own laundry.
Tomorrow, I'll teach them how to use the stove, and expect they'll make dinner. But first, they may need to ride their bikes to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients.
I love them to the moon and back ... but that's where I am. As my mother says, "I carried you for nine months, it's time you start learning to carry yourself."