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Friday, July 15, 2011

Of Dishes and Death

We are not very good at doing the dishes in my home. I suppose there are others with the same problem, but if you don’t have ten people in the household you don’t really have the same problem. It just takes one meal to have lots of dishes stacked on the counters. After one day there are piles of dishes. After a week the situation in the kitchen is precarious. You can be sitting in the other room and hear things in the kitchen shift and slide all by themselves. I had to dig my six-year-old son out once after a particularly nasty shift. He was just trying to get a drink of water. Okay, that would be an exaggeration—actually he could have gotten out by himself.

This “dishes” situation gets old very quickly, but the solution is a difficult one. The obvious answer is that somebody needs to do them. But who has the strength and stamina to do the dishes for ten people day after day after day? Solutions I tried were: 

  1. Pay. I tried to bribe the children with money to wash the dishes, but the children quickly discovered that the amount I could afford to pay just didn’t’ make it worth it.
  2. Punish. I made dish assignments with consequences, but I soon found out that there were no consequences motivating enough short of physical violence to tackle the daily mountain of dishes. I can freely admit that physical violence is not a part of my parenting style so I failed again.
  3. Do the dishes myself. Out of desperation and disgust at the state of the kitchen I tried this, but there were just too many and it took too long. There was also the humiliation of my twelve-year-old bringing me a spoon back because it was “still dirty, dad.”  I tried what seem to me to be a hundred other ideas and all of them failed. I would always end up back at “just let them pile up because surely the family would tire of having to hunt for a fork and plate to wash before each meal in order to eat.” They didn’t get tired of it. Oh, they didn’t like it, but it was easier than washing a mountain of dishes each day.
  4. Death. I finally hit upon a solution—it involved death. No, the solution did not involve an animal sacrifice or the death of any family members; the deathly answer was in literature—the Abhorsen series of books by Garth Nix to be exact. I could not get the kids to tackle the dish problem on their own. I could not tackle the dish problem on my own. But if I was willing to get after the dishes myself I learned that the kids were willing to  help me. I also learned that if I had a good recorded book playing during the assault on the dishes it was much easier to get the kids in the kitchen and keep them there while we did dishes together.
What is Abhorsen you may ask? In this series of books an abhorsen is the person whose job it is to keep the dead out of life. My kids were quite taken by Sabriel who, at 16, finds herself the abhorsen and in a battle against Kerrigore, a power member of the greater dead. In Lirael the kids are enthralled by this 19 year old misfit who unwillingly discovers she is Abhorsen-in-waiting. She is joined by the magical and delightful Disreputable Dog and others in a battle for the salvation of the world against the necromancer Hedge and his army of dead.

The kids are mesmerized by the story and since we only listen to it while doing dishes they are quite willing to join the work. It won’t be long before we are finished with the third book in the trilogy. What will I do then? Bring on another book, of course. There are so many wonderful books out there. I know the next one already—Ella Enchanted. They have all heard that book, but they love it. And so we will continue to slay the dirty dishes with the help of the dead . . . er, literature.