Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody Do Your Share

We’ve all had spills. This is a common accident that can occur multiple times in a given day. Grab the paper towels, the dish rag, the sponge, or anything else nearby to soak up the spill and clean up the mess. When the accident is caused by a child, parents usually take charge of the clean-up, at least until the child is old enough to manage this task on her own. What age would that be – 8? Maybe not until 12 or 13? I would guess that most children have this everyday skill for life down pat by high school. Sexist though it might be, I’d also guess that most girls are capable of a fairly thorough clean-up before most boys achieve this competence.

Has anyone ever told you how to mop up a spill? Not likely. You just spilled a full cup of coffee all over your desk? Get a sponge, wipe up coffee, squeeze out sponge, repeat. And repeat. And repeat again until all the coffee is magically removed.

What happens if you skip one of those steps?

I cleaned up those little and large spills for my son, probably for more years than was necessary. I rationalized (as many parents do) that it was easier to do it myself. But I didn’t know what was coming. On the occasion of one of those spills when my son was perhaps 15, I said, “No big deal, – just grab the sponge and wipe it up.” Fortunately, it was on the kitchen counter, so the sink was right there.

But as I watched him gamely attempt the cleanup, I realized that the spill wasn’t getting any smaller. Because I hadn’t told him exactly how to accomplish this task, he didn’t know that as the sponge became saturated he had to squeeze it out in the sink. Once I provided him with the needed verbal cue, he was easily able to finish the chore.

My son graduated from high school as a member of the National Honor Society and was admitted to several very competitive colleges. The things he needs to learn are not things that would ever prevent him from succeeding, but it would definitely make his life easier.

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