My youngest son is nine, and he’s trying really hard to get to ten. By the calendar he has a few months, but every day I see him struggle to grow, mostly by the sheer act of willfully, purposefully thinking.

Washing dishes has been a task that everyone shares on days designating that day for that chore for that person.

The duties of the day also include putting Mama and Daddy’s dinner dishes in the dishwasher, as well as cleaning anything used to prepare the meal – mostly putting that stuff in the dishwasher with perhaps some rinsing beforehand. The other brothers clear their own dinner dishes. Mama and Daddy do not do any of the cleanup – we provide and prepare the meal.

During the day, whenever a dish is dirtied it is to be put into the dishwasher. However, that cannot be done if the clean dishes washed the previous night before heading off to bed have not been unloaded from the dishwasher. Obviously, putting dirty dishes in with clean ones isn’t right, as each of The Boyz figured out when they each started doing dishes around the age of three. So if the dishwasher remains loaded with clean dishes, the dirty dishes pile up during the day and the person who has dishes that day, after finally unloading the dishwasher, has to rinse, maybe even scrub, any dishes that need to be loaded into the machine before loading them.

As you can imagine, the process and order has been difficult for the youngest to grasp, though it has not been for wont of trying in the explanation. The typical rule is that all chores have to be done by 5PM, although dishes cannot be completed until dinner ends. We eat every night at 6:30 and dinner is not uncommon to last two hours.

This is why everything else needs doing by 5PM. There’s no time after dinner for cleaning your room, doing your laundry, cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming, sweeping, and etc., before family prayer time and going to bed.

For the youngest, dishes were a bugaboo that could keep him up until 10PM because he tended to get the order of things wrong; no matter how often we explained it to him. We’ve even had phases where we have had to restrict him to getting his chores done before eating lunch, and then even before eating breakfast. Changing the motivation seemed to work, until he would slip again.

So yesterday, my sweet baby boy was emptying out the dishwasher mid-morning. Mondays and Tuesdays are his days, which is double what his dishes duties were in 2016. The dishes were dishes he had washed the previous night. I’m sitting at the kitchen table listening to him in the background going about his chore – which he has gotten better at doing after learning a month or so ago that you can take more than one clean dish to the cupboard at a time and I hear him say, “Dada?”

“What, baby?”

“I just figured something out.”

“What’s that?” My interest was piqued as I looked up at him, standing in front of the half-empty dishwasher with his hands on his hips like he was about to deliver the most obvious thing in the world I should have figured out long ago.

“If I empty out the dishwasher early like now, on my day to do dishes everybody else will actually be doing the dishes because they’ll have to put their dishes in the empty dishwasher. Then I just have to do dinner dishes on my dishes day!”

I smiled at him, secure in the knowledge that my repeating that same thing to him 763 times over the last few years had finally sunk in, and said, “You know, I think you’re on to something. That’s a pretty smart idea you have!”

He smiled, mentally patted himself on the back, and went merrily about completing his business, himself firmly secure that he had learned something and made it his because he had taught me something, too.

This weekend I will repair the divot in my closet where I have hit my head 763 times, as I won’t need that space anymore. I wonder which divot will be the next to go…

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