Category Archives: chores

Our Gathering Place

It’s 6:20 p.m. We just got home from the reading tutor. It was an hour-long session, but traffic was hideous so we were gone for nearly two hours. Neither kid has finished their homework, practiced the drums, or taken a shower. No one has eaten dinner, and I have nothing planned or prepped to cook. The dog’s water bowl is empty again. The kids won’t have anything to wear to bed unless I fetch some wrinkled pajamas from the load of laundry that’s been sitting in the dryer for two days. Whatever is in the washer smells by now and will have to be rewashed. I have a dozen emails to return, a check to write for the PTO, and a claim to submit to our health insurance provider. We need flu shots, and if I don’t pay the gas bill online today (as in over an hour ago when it wasn’t yet 5:00 p.m.), it will be late. I haven’t gone through the mail in nearly a week, a tower of boxes in the garage need to be broken down for recycling pick-up first thing in the morning, and I need to text our soccer coach about bringing a team snack to the next game. Lunch boxes need to be unpacked and ice packs need to be refrozen, reading logs need to be signed, and the dishwasher needs to be emptied so everything in the sink can be loaded. I owe my sister a phone call or at least a text (I can’t remember the last time we spoke), there are 25 voice messages on my cell phone, and I haven’t checked in with my writing group in several days.

It’s a typical day. We’ll never catch up. We’ll never get it all done. We’ll never get it all right. We’ve definitely passed the window to do math homework without a meltdown. We’ll wake up tomorrow and try again.

“Let’s go!” One by one, we spill into the backyard.

The boys jump, run, spin, and giggle on the trampoline. They rest their eyes that have been fixed on a screen, a workbook, or a smart board all day. They breathe fresh air. They marvel in the feeling of being weightless in the air, and they surprise themselves when they flip and land on their feet. I throw the ball for the dog. When she tires of that game, she races in circles underneath the trampoline barking and jumping to catch the feet she sees bouncing above her. Distracted by the fun and physical movement, the kids tell me snippets about their day. About the game they played at recess, the book they borrowed from the library, and the hopes and dreams they chose at school for the year ahead – to be strong and make new friends.

As the fall sun sets and the noise of cars on the road beyond our yard dwindles, we let the exhaustion, stress, and anxiety of the day evaporate into the cool air. Inside, there’s schoolwork, chores, and endless household tasks to be done before we go to sleep. They are important. But so is this. We will get back to work. But first, this. Our safe place. Our happy place. Our nothing else matters no matter how much we still have to do place. Our gathering place.




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Filed under anxiety, boys, chores, school


I was trapped in my house for three days this week waiting on various repairpersons. The short version of the story is that home ownership is a bitch. The slightly longer version is that our upstairs furnace died on Sunday night just as we got the first real arctic blast of the season. After a freezing our butts off all Sunday night, it was fixed. It broke again on Monday night, and we froze again. It was fixed again on Tuesday, and then it broke again, but the difference that time was that it was an inferno. Our furnace was possessed. At one point in the night, the thermostat read 88 degrees. Eighty-eight flipping degrees!

I was like Bill Murray in “Scrooged,” except instead of seeing my sad Christmas future, I saw my hot-flashing, night-sweating, menopausal destiny, and it. was. bleak. I thought I was dying. When I woke my husband to inform him of the situation, he said, “What do you want me to do?” He’s lucky he’s not dead.

It’s fixed for real now, and it cost, like, a billion dollars, which is awesome because spending a billion dollars is exactly what we hoped to do two weeks after Christmas, but I digress.

As a stay-at-home parent, I savor the hours my kids are at school. If you’re new here at The Runaway Mama, you might think I spend that precious time meditating, organizing family photos, folding laundry, journaling, and preparing healthy meals, but the rest of you know that’s just silly. When the boys are at school, I do anything and everything I can’t or don’t want to do with them in tow. I exercise. I go to the bank and post office. I go to Target without ending up in the Lego aisle. I go grocery shopping without little hands tossing Little Bites in my shopping cart. I write. I shower. I put gas in the car. I take a ballet class. I get haircuts and wax my eyebrows. I volunteer at school and go to doctor’s appointments. I sporadically have lunch with a friend.

Pacing around my house is not generally on my 9am-3pm to-do list. Call me a martyr (or the best damn multitasker on the planet), but I empty and fill the dishwasher while making school lunches and toasting frozen pancakes at seven o’clock in the morning. I fold laundry and empty and fill the dishwasher again while overseeing (not helping with) homework at four o’clock in the afternoon. I cook dinner while…actually, cooking dinner is a total crapshoot. It’s as hit or miss as my boys brushing their teeth.

When I am home, though, I do pace. I walk from room to room shifting piles of stuff around, picking up dirty socks, hunting down someone’s iPod or iPad or Kindle Fire or Fitbit charger, fetching icy water, and forgetting why I went up or down the stairs only to remember after I walk back down or up the stairs. I’m terrible at relaxing, especially at home. On a positive note, if housewalking were an Olympic sport, I’d be a medal contender. Seriously, I do not sit down. I wrote this entire post standing up. No wonder I’m exhausted every night!

In my experience, when a [fill in the blank] repair company gives me a service window of 9am-1pm, you can bet your bottom dollar that the guy is going to ring my doorbell at 12:59. As such, this week’s endless furnace fail forced me to keep myself busy at home. Here are some of the chores and projects I tackled during Heatgate:

  1. I undecorated the Christmas tree and brought all Christmas decorations to the basement.
  2. I shook crumbs out of every keyboard in the house and wiped microwave popcorn grease off of every mouse and laptop touchpad.
  3. I flossed my teeth.
  4. I paid bills.
  5. I caught up on the laundry.
  6. I filed all of our 2015 paperwork, including real estate documents, bills, invoices, and bank, tax, and health insurance statements.
  7. I hung three framed photos on the walls.
  8. I emptied and filled the dishwasher approximately 1,000 times.
  9. I made two doctor’s appointments.
  10. I submitted a health insurance claim. (True story!)
  11. I folded a fitted sheet, which I pray will never, ever happen again.
  12. I sorted the dog’s impressive (and smelly) rawhide bone collection.
  13. I organized my gift wrap supplies.
  14. I cleaned out the refrigerator.
  15. I joined a 12-step program for moms who hoard children’s socks. Hello, my name is Jen and I have two children and 6,000 pairs of children’s socks.
  16. I ordered new sneakers online for Dylan. I also ordered him two new books. They’re the ones where you get to choose the outcome of the story. My fingers are crossed that he likes them because he enjoys reading about as much as I enjoy folding fitted sheets.
  17. I prepared returns for West Elm and Bed Bath & Beyond. If I ever leave the house, I will make said returns.
  18. I wrote and published a blog post (while standing up) about my newfound infatuation with “Fixer Upper.”
  19. I cleared the kitchen table. Twice!
  20. I sorted the mail.
  21. I cleaned out my email inbox.
  22. I made wild salmon, kale, and quinoa burgers from scratch.
  23. I got crafty. Anxiety is a tricky beast. Some days it causes excessive SkinnyPop consumption. Other days, it results in The Key Jar (thanks Momastery for the inspiration).


I painted the crap out of that Mason jar. And yes, that’s the kitchen table that I cleared twice.

p.s. The kids love it!

  1. I made a Happiness Jar (thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert for the inspiration). Actually, it’s a Happiness Hurricane Vase, but that doesn’t sound as poetic. As well as the boys have coped with our move and a new school, new friends, new weather, and new everything, it would be dishonest for me to say the transition has been seamless. My emotional creatures have good days and bad days, and sometimes I want to scream into a pillow from the negativity that oozes from my little darlings. We’re going to jot down one thing that makes us happy each day and drop the notes in the jar because it’s worth trying, and I’ll do anything to help my kids find happiness. You get what you give in this glorious universe, and we’re in desperate need of some positivity around here.


When my house arrest was finally over, I wrote the word “heat” on a little yellow slip of paper and dropped it in the Happiness Jar, because the night sweats were behind me (for now…gulp), and I could finally get out of the house and be productive again.

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Filed under chores, cleaning

Pay Day

I’ve finally done it. I’ve given my kids chores. I’ve put it off for a long time partly because I have a hard time sticking to parenting experiments that involve sticker charts, incentives, and rewards (i.e. I’m lazy) and mostly because I can do all of the work faster and better. Anyone who knows me well knows not to load my dishwasher because I will unload and reload it my way (i.e. the right way).

But it’s time. I’m sure of it because as often as I preach gratitude to my kids, I don’t often see it in action. I’m tired of their constant wants, and I’m sick of cleaning up the clutter of things (that I buy for no justifiable reason) that bring them instant and fleeting gratification but no long-lasting joy. I want to teach them that happiness doesn’t come from a plastic toy in a blind bag, that money has financial and moral value, and that the true reward for a job well done is in the earning rather than the spending of money. That, and I want to distract them from Minecraft and YouTube for a little while each day. Also, I’d like them to aim better when they pee, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than to make them clean the toilets.

So, here’s my system for now.

The Basics


It’s baby steps over here for my kids who have never lifted a finger in the house. I admit I’m using the chores as a way to get them to take responsibility for tasks that have nothing to do with cleaning, like brushing their teeth, reading, and playing with the dog, but once these “jobs” become ingrained in their routine and I no longer have to threaten that their teeth will rot by middle school, I’ll up the ante. Also, once school starts, I’ll add tasks related to backpack and homework organization.

The Chore Cup


After they finish the basics, they pick one chore stick from the chore cup. They actually love the chore cup (so far), because it feels like a game. In fact, they beg to pick their chore stick for the next day as soon as they finish their current one. I only have two rules with the chore cup: (1) you can’t keep picking sticks until you get a chore you want and (2) you don’t have to do the same chore twice in one week. The chores in the Chore Cup are basic age-appropriate tasks that range from cleaning bathroom surfaces to putting folded laundry away to sweeping floors.

The Supplies


I filled an easy to access cleaning bucket with everything they need to get the chores done, including multipurpose cleaners, paper towels, trash bags, and Swiffer dusters and sweepers, They also have access to the handheld vacuum and the Swiffer. Nothing is difficult to operate and everything is safe for their ages.

Overall, the boys are doing great. Watching them make their beds has been hilarious. Their bed-making styles match their personalities to a T! Riley is meticulous, but it takes him about an hour, and by the time he finishes, he’s sweaty and out of breath. Dylan, on the other hand, is pure chaos. In fact, his bed looks neater before he attempts to make it than when he’s done. Of course, I want to step in and reload the dishwasher, so to speak, but I’m practicing restraint because if I step in, I’ll end up doing it for him and that will defeat the purpose. Instead, I’ve stuck to brief tutorials and provided some useful tips, like that it’s easier to make a bed when you’re not jumping on it. Otherwise, they’re accountable for their work and their chores are inspected daily.

This week, Riley cleaned his room, put away his laundry, vacuumed the stairs (with assistance), took out the trash, and collected cups and dishes. Dylan had some tough assignments, too. He organized the shoe rack by the front door, which is an endless task in our house, cleared the clutter from and cleaned the kitchen table, which is another endless task in our house, dusted, and cleaned two toilets! Poor kid. He picked two separate bathroom sticks. Since the bathrooms are labeled #1 and #2, it didn’t count as a repeat chore.

Today is Pay Day and they’ve each earned their first $5. Of course, Riley wants to take his money straight to the toy store, but that’s okay…for now. Next up on my parenting to do list is to introduce the boys to the save/spend/donate ratio, but one step at a time, remember? It’s only been five days, and it’s quite possible that this “game” will get old, but so far we’re all reaping the benefits of their hard work. Not only are they brushing their teeth and reading (hallelujah!), but also they’re taking pride in their work, practicing fine motor skills, and building confidence. It might be wishful thinking on my part, but I think their aim has improved, too.

Do your kids do chores around the house?

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Filed under boys, chore chart, chores, parenting