Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sasquatch Responsibility

I was clipping my son’s toenails yesterday, a weekly ritual at our house, which is why, as with all things we do routinely, I’d failed to notice something painfully obvious: anyone with feet that big should be able to clip their own toenails.

My boys wear men’s size ten shoes. They are eleven years old. And I don’t mean eleven dog-years. But like puppies, the disproportionately large size of their feet simultaneously terrifies (They’re going to be so tall!) and delights (They’re going to be so tall!) me.

I know their enormous feet didn’t happen overnight. It was only a couple of years ago they hit the milestone of having their shoe size surpass mine. But like anything you see everyday, you fail to notice the changes as they happen, because they happen so incrementally.

We try to increase their responsibilities incrementally as well. Although, sometimes we get the timing wrong. Perhaps they were too young to start cleaning their fish tanks solo. (The watermark on the living room ceiling should disappear with a fresh coat of paint.) The converse is also true.

I forget at what age we started having them clear their plates from the table—it was pretty young. At the time, they’d clear only their plates using both hands. To ask them to balance their drinking glass and a plate would have been asking for trouble. However, they were ten before it occurred to us they’d reached a level of coordination necessary to clear their glassware as well. I mean, duh. How did that one get by us for so long? Which begs the question, what else are we missing?

On Mother’s Day, I had them wash their first load of laundry. I thought it was a terrific Mother’s Day gift. Pink underwear for everyone! They grumbled through the entire process, but they did complete the task after I explained I was not about to spend my Mother’s Day washing dirty gym uniforms because they forgot to bring them home in a timely manner. And isn’t being a mom really about teaching your children to, eventually, become self-sufficient?

I often approach these new milestones with a little speech that begins, “There comes a time in every young man’s life, when he’s old enough to—” Fill-in the blank here: pick up his dirty socks off the floor; get his mother a can of Diet Pepsi from the fridge or file his own Social Security benefits application.

It’s hard to tell sometimes what life-skill challenges they’re ready for. Tasks like doing laundry and fetching a diet Pepsi are one thing—but what about a trip to the store? There’s a grocery within two blocks walking distance and one night, before a dinner party, I asked them to run down and get me some fresh rosemary. My sitter, on her way home for the evening, was mortified. “How can they do that? I will get it!” I simply agreed and let her go, not because I didn’t think my boys capable—there are two of them, the streets that needed crossing are side streets and they’re approaching their black belts in Tai Kwan Do. But there’s this part of me that still isn’t sure. They’d never gone there alone before. We do live in the city. Does my recipe really need fresh rosemary?

There are so many new things they’re capable of now, like helping to carry in groceries or unload the rafts of paper products I buy at Costco. Once, they even single-handedly (well, double-handedly) made brownies. I’m sure there are a lot more ways we could be challenging them. And even though I’m still a little hesitant to send them to the store (unless of course, it’s a culinary emergency) I am certain of this: the very next life-skill they will learn, will be how to clip the nails on those men’s size ten toes.

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