"Oh, my word, I've got it!" I shouted, leaping from my bed. Lying there in the dim light of the new day, I had devised a new sort of chore plan that would revolutionize that most painful task of parenting and surely would land me in some sort of parental hall of fame. So decisively brilliant was this new idea that I could actually see myself explaining and teaching it on countless talk shows. Other parents would sigh in relief and implement this new method in their own homes and it would be taught in universities for students of early childhood development.
Continuing to bask in the glow of my unprecedented brilliance, I quickly went to my laptop and made a slideshow, spreadsheets, diagrams and a handbook for each of our children. I could not wait to present it to our family that evening. All day I walked around with a smile on my face like the cat that ate the canary. It made the children pause in fearful anticipation.
After dinner, chores were completed and we all gathered in the living room. I was given the floor to present my plan and present I did.
"Zoning — the new method of chores for children," I beamed proudly.
"Don't you see? OK, just follow along in your handbook. Each of you, rather than rotating traditional chores, will be put in charge of one particular room of the house and that will be yours to maintain. You will each have a 'zone' that you are responsible for overseeing. That way, you will learn so much more. You'll understand what it means to maintain, to manage, to supervise, to oversee ... you will have complete stewardship over one small island in our home.
"Living room: Tanner, this is yours. Make sure that nothing is left in there by anyone, it is vacuumed and dusted, windows clean, things like that.
"Downstairs bathroom Hannah, that is yours. Just make sure the toilet and sink are clean and that the trash is emptied and no one leaves things in there.
"Dining roomGrace, you take care of that room. When people finish their homework, make sure they clean up after themselves and that all places are cleared after dinner. Sweep the floor and vacuum the carpet underneath the table. Dust the buffet."
I continued down the line of children and zones, having them highlight in their handbooks the chores involved in their particular zone so that they understood completely. They all smiled at the idea and I was completely and utterly pleased with myself and ignorant of the plans they were devising behind those smiles. After our meeting was adjourned, we all had a snack and played a game and then we dismissed everyone to get ready for bed. That's where the fun began.
"Mom, you left your clipboard in the living room," Tanner grinned. "Please take it with you when you leave."
I looked him in the eye and I could swear he was channeling a foreign dictator. He was smiling, but his eyes had a sort of ominous glow.
The next morning, when I descended the stairs to the kitchen, I noticed that each child was standing at the doorway of their zone with feet shoulder-width apart, arms crossed in front of their chests, and wearing the blank but resolute expression of a palace guard. The only thing missing was a beret and sniper rifle. Their whole demeanor screamed silently, "Just you try and leave a gum wrapper in my zone."
I crept past each one and made my way into Rose's zone: the kitchen. There she stood in rubber gloves, mop and bucket at the ready, just waiting for me to spill or drop something.
I began making breakfast, but watched my back with every move. It was like cooking for a militia and fearing they might not like what I make. I cracked an egg and immediately disposed of its shell. I whisked the pancake batter, and right away washed the whisk. I was beginning to buckle under the pressure of scrutiny. What had I wrought?
I decided to hold my breath and see what the rest of the day brought. I could not have foreseen the disastrous results of my revolutionary new method. No one could do anything without eyes following their every move. Nerves were fraying. I could sense a battle of epic proportion brewing. I called the children into my office and let them watch me delete the slideshow, the manual, the spreadsheets ... and my self-nomination letter for mother of the century.