This past weekend I had the great idea to take advantage of the visit of Deirdre and the family to stage a little photo shoot of a sink piled with dishes and topped off with a high chair tray.
It had come to Auntie Leila’s attention that some moms with lots of kids don’t know how to overcome certain difficulties with the chore of doing dishes, and right away I could see the issue…
Needed pictures for a good old-fashioned DON’T.
But I forgot.
In general, I think you can come to some conclusions from my clearly child-less and possibly redolent-of-retirement-living-with-nary-even-a-teenager-around photos.
First, it’s true: I am no longer in the midst of the chaos of bringing up seven children. I am taking advantage of the briefest of windows between mayhem and senility to try to transmit what I alone have survived to tell you. Then grandchildren come and it all flies out of my consciousness!
Second: Clearly even with the hours that stretch between meals and the opportunity to bring my life into streamlined glory, I am still a person with not much storage (in the kitchen — I do have a ginormous house that swallows the detritus of long-gone children without a hiccup — alas and please come rescue me). The upside is that you can see that — even now — I’m not one of those spic-and-span housekeepers with utterly empty counters (how, HOW do they do it??). So you can relate.
So now I am going to tell you two things.
If you want your children to do dishes, you need flow in your kitchen. I already have an excellent post about this, in which I poured out my primest thoughts. It has pictures and diagrams and is a masterpiece of clarity. You should absolutely study it.
Go ahead. Go think about it in terms of your own set-up, whatever that may be. My kitchen is far from perfect! Doesn’t matter!
F L O W — clean – dirty – clean. Don’t forge a new path every night. Make the path once and for all.
Why? Because if you are tempted to run screaming from your life every single night as you face the dishes, just imagine how it looks to a 12-year-old!
No wonder that kid hems and haws and has to psyche himself up. These “recurring problems” — like doing dishes after every meal — have to be subjected to a process, a system, a set of previously thought-out steps.
Okay, are you back?
My new rule for you: Don’t put the baby’s high chair tray on top of the dirty dishes in the sink.
This is what is making your kid die a little every night. It’s what makes the whole job take so long — the piling.
It’s wicked unfair.
Either get the baby out (we call this “deploying the crack-cleanup team” — one to wash him with a warm washcloth, face and arms, and another to wipe down the chair itself — don’t forget a dog to clean the floor) and clean the tray at the sink before the general cleanup begins — this makes sense because usually baby is done before the meal is over — returning the tray to the high chair, everything nicely spiffy…
or leave the tray at the high chair until the general cleanup is over, doing it last. Just shove the whole thing to the side. But don’t forget it, ew.
But do not put it in the flow. It’s too big! Look! It doesn’t fit in the sink! Even without a photo of a believable post-prandial mess! (And this tray is smaller than most.)
Get this kind of soap dispenser:
I have had this for 30 years. Why do I love it? Because it’s heavy and doesn’t tip over easily. Because when it does tip over, it doesn’t break — it’s heavy pottery. Because I can get soap out without picking up the bottle with my other hand. Because I can replace the pump with one from any bathroom soap dispenser (which then has to be sort of cemented in, which you can see there that we’ve done, maybe a little messily).
Where do you get it? I don’t know… my neighbors got it for me as a souvenir from their Alaska cruise (random but very appreciated!). Do you make pottery? Make us some of these!! Just pay attention to the size of the top.
A lot of us would really like the kid doing the chore to… use… dish soap.
But it’s hard to figure out how to do it as you are in the throes of washing when you need both hands.
Another thing: Figure out where you will stage things.
You can’t handle a sink full of dirty dishes and neither can a kid. You need a place where you will put away food (that’s someone else’s chore, by the way!) and stack things so that they are scraped and ready for the dishwasher or soapy basin.
Know how to do dishes and then teach your child how to do them. Don’t just burden him with a problem that you yourself can’t solve.
All this is explained in that post! Go read it! Read it before you comment, because all the details are there!
But now I have something else to tell you about this chore, something that my friend Therese was telling me the other day. Something that also addresses that vexing issue of how you are dying to go to bed but somehow, for some reason, your older kids can only bring themselves to talk to you after 10 pm.
Suddenly the deep dark concerns come out… so late… so desperately late…
Well, Therese was telling me how her mother (of 8 children) always “helped” whichever kid it was who was doing the dishes. She didn’t want to have a dishwasher (machine) because she knew that it was during that time that the conversations would happen.
She remembers one sister or another saying, “Therese, I’ll do the dishes with Mom tonight.” And that was so they could talk.
You don’t have to get rid of your dishwasher, but do realize that much of the time, not only do you need to be in there to be directing flow, putting away food (so that you can put it to best use later as a good manager), and overseeing this not exactly easy chore — you will also have a chance to have a little conversation with your child.
Yes, that moment after supper is sometimes when baby needs to nurse, and you can send in an older child or Dad to take your place in the kitchen. But as you get good at this game we call parenting, you can also use the time when others are clearing up to nurse the baby and then hand him off to another child for play or bath… just at the opportune time to be there for the kid who needs you by yourself.
Some nights, it’s not deep consultation, but just singing songs, and suddenly you’ll have a lot of help! And even if the kid is there by himself, it’s okay because it’s a doable chore. It’s not the aloneness that is terrible, it’s the impossibility of the thing. Which you are now mitigating.
That’s family life together. The very things that seem like the worst drudgery create the best memories — when there is someone loving who will put thought into how it will go.