I hooked my 13-year-old nephew up with an email address back in August so we could communicate more regularly. A weird pattern then emerged where we would email each other intensely for several days, and then I wouldn’t hear from him for a week or so at a time. At first I thought, “Oh, so this is what it’s like for others when they email me.” But when I asked my sister about this, it turned out my nephew wasn’t doing his chores in a timely or satisfactory manner. So my sister was taking away the internet from him.
Chores? It’s so weird to think about it “then” versus “now.” “Then,” as a kid, it was like some unfair punishment keeping me from chillin’ out whatever. “Now,” as an adult, it’s what I do to keep my house from devolving into a giant cat trash nest. And that’s when the epiphany hit: chores aren’t something adults do to “teach children responsibility,” it’s training for when you’re an adult and have to take care of yourself. Teaching your children “responsibility” by giving them chores, well, fuck it, man, that’s just too fucking abstract. But using chores as training so a kid will know not to mix his Brooks Brothers dress shirts with his stanky-ass workout clothes in the laundry, so he knows how to load a dishwasher so he’s not getting food poisoning from plates with caked-on food particles, and so he’s not afraid to walk barefoot on his own floors–now that is what chores are about! Why don’t we explain this to kids? Why don’t we lay it out in such concrete terms for them? Why we gotta go for the nebulous “so you’ll learn responsibility and respect” bullshit? Kids know that’s a bullshit reason, and that’s why they don’t do them.
When I visit the kids for Christmas next month, I’m going to spell this out for them. Then we’ll see, by my sister’s words, if my nephew’s “attitude improves.” Hopefully it’ll be enough so that we’re able to sustain an email conversation for more than a couple of days at a time.