Among the earliest chores my boys have to learn are setting the table and washing the dishes. This means reminding them that plates have a backside, glasses have an inside, and forks have in-betweens. Still, you can expect some greasy plates, rice stuck between the fork tines, and glasses that bubble when you pour water in.
Gino and Mickey started doing it alternately from ages 6 and 5 way into their teens. Now, it’s Gabriel and Markus’s turn. We’ve had to modify the division of labour several times: one sets and cleans up the table, the other washes all dirty utensils; one sets and everyone washes his own; one does everything today, the other does everything tomorrow… name it they’ve tried it, including not eating to avoid washing.
Markus and Gabriel alternately set the table, one meal at a time. I thought this should be the fairer thing to do in case we have pizza at home or eat elsewhere. Nobody skips a turn because he gets to do it at the next regular meal. This would also make it easier for them to remember who sets when. NOT!
Last Saturday, I decided to prepare some roti (flatbread) and curry. This is a fairly simple meal that can be eaten by hand. All you have to do is break the roti and dip each bite-sized piece in curried meat and vegetables, or make a fajita-like wrap. All it requires is a plate.
Before I finished lightly frying the last remaining pieces of roti in a little olive oil, I began the usual call: “Guys, set the table.”
This announcement triggered an argument I hear over and over:
“Markus, it’s your turn!”
“No, I set yesterday.”
“No, I set yesterday.”
“Mom, what did we eat yesterday?”
“I can’t remember what we had yesterday. I went to Missions Fest in Vancouver. I told you to keep track of your turns. Don’t ask me. Just decide it between yourselves.”
Thus started a spirited discussion on who set yesterday until they remembered they had pan de sal and sardines for dinner, and nobody set.
“So Mom, what did we have on Thursday?”
“Don’t ask me. I can’t remember.” They were beginning to get to my nerves.
“Did we have something soup-y?”
Exasperated at their incessant questioning and my inability to remember any meal, I said, “I went to church on Thursday. We ate something before I left. Wednesday, I took you to church after dinner.” By recalling our routine, I was hoping to jog their memory - and mine.
“So what did we have on Tuesday?”
Argghhh. They were lucky I wasn’t having PMS.
“When did we have chicken, Mom? Oh yeah, I think we had chicken on Tuesday,” Gabriel seemed to finally remember something. He loved my crispy fried chicken and Korean dip sauce. He remembered setting the table for that dinner.
So they continued working forward to Saturday, and the turn fell on Markus. Not one to accept such a misfortune without a struggle, Markus started to mumble. Meanwhile, I focused on the roti and played deaf.
Suddenly Gabriel yelled from the living room, “Mom, Markus said ‘Swear to God’.”
“No, I didn't!” Markus rebutted quickly .
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I didn’t! I almost did but I stopped,” he whined.
“Swear to God?”
“HAH! Now YOU broke it,” Markus said vindictively, referring to our "no-saying-swear-to-God" house rule.
That’s when I broke my silence. “Just set 4 plates already or both of you will be grounded for the whole weekend!”
And this quickly settled it.