Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Benjamin has a new job. This is what he tells me. And it's fine with me because it's laundry. He loves it. Since it's just the two of us home most of the day, I'm trying to get him more involved in the chores. Now that he's going on four, he can actually accomplish certain small jobs with little enough help that it's not a zero sum game (time- and work- wise, that is; it's always valuable to teach and help him, of course).
Some tasks he is just interested in naturally, because of their novelty and that he get to use grown-up equipment: helping cook, pushing microwave buttons, putting detergent in and starting up the dishwasher, etc. Some need a little more promoting. Lately, I've been using Benjamin's fondness for role-play to get him to pick up. I put on a stodgy British accent and say I'm "Sir Topham Hat" summoning
"Thomas" on the radio. Benjamin — as Thomas — chug-chugs over and I direct him to pick up something or other, or load him up with recyclables, etc. He's made deliveries to the Sodor Recycling Center (recycle bin), Brendam Docks (playroom), east warehouse (toy cabinet) ... the adventures, it seems, never end. Meanwhile, an amazing thing happens, open space begins to appear on the counter, on the floors ... all over.
I tried to pull this today and I was told, in kid-falsetto, "Um ... Sir Topham Hatt, I'm sorry, I'm not Thomas, I'm a hamster." Well, when this happens I have to switch personae and metaphors quick, or the jig is up! (I did manage to get the hamster to tidy up his cage a bit.)
Lately the laundry, as I began to mention, is one of those jobs with intrinsic interest for Benjamin. The washer and dryer are big, intriguing machines to him. (He has that guy-cars-tools-machine gene that is at most recessive in me. Once, maybe a year ago, we went into the basement furnace room for something. He had lots of questions about the furnace, which I answered as best I could. He was fascinated. When Mama got home, his suggested activity for the evening? Let's go into the basement and see how the furnace works.) At laundry time, he climbs on a small-step ladder and sets the controls for me, puts in detergent, and helps load the clothes in. So when, in the midst of all this he proudly announced the other day, "This is my new job!" I knew the right answer, "Yes it is. And you do it well!"
Although laundry keeps his attention now, I'm not taking any chances. I want to keep this activity fresh and hip. So when he loads clothes now, he kneels on the table next to the washer while I take my position over at the laundry hamper. "Ready?" I ask. On a positive answer I begin pelting him with dirty clothes. (When throwing undergarments I do aim lower.) He tries to stuff them into the washer as fast as he can. He's giggling, clothes are flying, work's getting done — even I'm starting to think this is fun. (Note to wife: In this last comment I'm just taking a little bit of literary license here. Laundry is drudgery.)
So this is all good. Don't get me wrong. We do lots of reading, playing, etc., too. Any switch from play to housework Benjamin makes, though, is a respite from him building a hospital in the living room, or a TV studio in the kitchen. That's all wonderful imaginative play, mind you — but a "break" from that is a chance for our household objects to return to their ordinary use for just a couple of hours.
I just don't know how long we can sustain the "Mary Poppins" work-is-fun paradigm. I've been wondering, though, if I could work up some contract. A contract Benjamin could sign making it "official!" that laundry is his new job! Then I could save it, you see, until he's 6 or 8 or 12 and my wife or I tell him to go put in a load of laundry, and he looks at us as if this is the most ridiculous thing we've ever said, and says, "I don' wanna." Then I ask if may introduce into evidence "Exhibit A": "Um ... Mr. Benjamin is that your signature at bottom of this document?" And, "Please, read for the Court, the sentence beginning with the word "laundry" . . .