Wednesday, October 6, 2010


my mom has a box of things from my school days.  some of them i remember like the white bunny i drew in pastels with a simple poem underneath.  other things i remember making but haven't seen them again, like the paper bag cat puppet made of coiled yarn.  but most things i do not remember making at all.

like this yellow envelope.  it's made out of a large piece of yellow construction paper folded so that there is a tab at the top that folds over.  on the front of it i have drawn in crayons a face.  two eyes in the shape of green flowers each with four straight black eyelashes sprouted out with dark green pupils.  actually i drew four eyes- a pair under the flap too so that her eyes don't disappear when you open the envelope- a detail that speaks about my nature still.   the nose is a green flower with a red center.  there are two lopsided circles for cheeks and a thin red smile.  i colored the entire face with an orange crayon.  you can get the point when i stopped scribbling with the tip and started using the side of the crayon to cover more space with each swipe.

here's the thing about this envelope.  it's not empty.  inside are eleven strips of paper each hand cut by me.  all except one has the faded purple ink of old ditto machines.  remember these?  how you had to crank the handle and the original would swirl about and copies would spit out the side?  i remember them and the chemically clean smell of them.  the way the paper was still damp, cool feeling not hot like copies from a laser printer.

on each strip of paper is a chore:
i will clean my bedroom.
i will rake the yard.
i will set the table.
i will feed my pet.
i will dust the furniture.
i will dry dishes.
i will make my bed.
i will take out trash.
i will water the lawn.
and the hand written one: i will wash the dishes.

not sure if that last one was one i made up or the ditto just was too faded.  i certainly washed dishes a lot as a kid.

so that's ten of them.  sure i did most of these chores in my life- except watering the lawn.  and i typically had about five pets to feed.  like most kids i didn't really enjoy chores.  i do remember enjoying dust mopping the wood floors.  i liked washing windows.  but for the most part i didn't like doing what i didn't want to do.  as a kid the world had too much to offer to do boring tasks.

now that i'm a mom i see the genius of this envelope, although i never remember using this as a kid.  i can see how it would almost seem like a game- what chore do i "get to" do today?  will you get a good chore or an icky one?  can you swap with your brother?  how many do you have to do each day?  it definitely would be more fun than the dreaded chore-list which is what we typically had at our house.

i go back and forth between wanting my kids to do chores and enjoy it- is that possible?  and just wanting them to do it whatever the cost.  i don't bribe as much as i threaten.  but not all the time.  i remind, i encourage, i help and then i break down and say something like "do you want ME to clean your room?  cuz i can clean it real fast."  my older son knows this is code for "goodwill, here i come!" 

so this envelope thing has it's appeal to do.  but the thing is that i still resist chores.  i try to see them as meditative opportunities:  i'm washing away past regrets as i scrub away tomato sauce.  my mind is clear like the newly washed floor.  ahh- the clean bed, the way the linens lay so softly- i will sleep well here tonite.

i have some mild success with this technique.

truth is i'd rather be making the chore envelope than doing anything in the chore envelope. art projects are my favorite.  and i have a broad definition of art projects which includes everything from being outside appreciating the designs on a spider's back to putting together a dashing outfit to painting the bathroom lime green to dancing in my living room to a janet jackson song.

but there is no slip for this in my yellow envelope. 
no- i will sew a skirt.
no- i will draw your face.
no- i will learn to knit.
no- i will photograph the trees.
no- i will construct a bird house.
no- i will throw a pot.
no- i will make a necklace.
no- i will write a story.
no- i will dance like a thunderstorm.

but there is one small slip that all of this fits into:

Today is my "free" day.

it is printed out in the small gentle purple ink and yet it holds so much more than the other slips.  this is the one we all would be wishing to pull out as kids.  the one we'd cheer and grin like a cat when we plucked it out.  the one we'd groan if our brother got it instead of us.  this is slip we'd search for with our small fingertips.

that feeling of release from obligation, from expectation, from evaluation- that is a free day.  the day when you can simple not do the things you don't want to do because you've gotten permission to do not it.  and as a kid you need permission before you can not do what you are supposed to do.  that part sucks- however- as a kid you know how to be free because that is usually your natural state.  at least, thankfully, it is for my kids.  i know that's not the case for every child.

but as an adult do we have to give ourselves permission to have a free day?  do we need a little slip of paper that tells us to schuck off the chore list and run wild?  i do.  which is funny to me because as much as i like the idea of having a free day- i also like the idea of "getting something done."  when did that happen, i wonder?  good thing art projects count as getting something done.

so today is my free day, i've decided, and i'm free to finish painting the living room or to try to figure out how to replace the bathroom sink.

after that- i'm adding some new slips to my envelope.

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