Monthly Archives: February 2012

Girl Scouts

I am writing this column in praise of Girl Scout cookies.

This is not just because we are quickly coming up on the one hundredth anniversary of Girl Scouting (mark your calendars: March 12, 2012!). And it is not just because the Girl Scouts are one of the most inclusive, accepting, and character-building organizations out there. (Unlike other, similar organizations, the Girl Scouts don’t judge a girl because of her sexuality or religion—or even her lack of religion. In fact, in earlier days they were among the first to stop judging girls based on race; no less a person than Martin Luther King, Jr. himself described the Girl Scouts as a “force for desegregation.”) And, believe it or not, it’s not because the Girl Scouts have recently come under attack from the nut jobs in the Christian Right, who interpret their policy of teaching girls “honesty, fairness, courage, compassion, character, sisterhood, and confidence” as just another sneaky way to turn girls into feminists. (Although, if you believe the Christian Right’s definition of feminism—the radical notion that women are equal to men—then I guess they’re right: the Girl Scouts are pushing a “feminist” agenda. And I couldn’t be happier.) And, finally, it’s not even because my Great Aunt Lu, one of the strongest, most determined women I ever knew, considered herself to be a Girl Scout from the time she joined in the early 1920s to the moment she died a few years back.

No, the real reason I am writing this column in support of Girl Scout cookies is because I really, really, loves me some Samoas. (Sure, I love Thin Mints, too. And Tagalongs, Do-Si-Dos, and yes, even Trefoils—but my first love will always be the Samoa.) And it’s the actual loving part of Girl Scout cookies that is the most important to me, because, unlike all of the other products I have ever been asked to help sell to raise funds for my children’s activities, (popcorn, wrapping paper, mexican dinners, wrapping paper, frozen cookie dough, wrapping paper, magazines, wrapping paper, calendars, wrapping paper), Girl scout cookies have been, by far, the easiest to sell. Believe me: no one has ever come knocking at my door at ten o’clock at night looking to place a last minute subscription for Marie Claire. I have had that experience, however, with Thin Mints.

There has also never been a fund-raising event that has even come close to Girl Scout cookies when it comes to organization and efficiency, which is an incredible bonus. The Girl Scout cookie selling machine—there’s no other way to describe it—is such a well-oiled one that I have no doubt that when the time finally comes to have our first female president, she will be a proud former Girl Scout.

Of course, it hasn’t always been that easy: my Great Aunt Lu used to tell me that when she was a young Girl Scout there were no boxed cookies—the expectation was that after you took the orders you (or more likely, your mother) would then have to bake them. “But what if your mother was a terrible baker?” I asked her. “Well, then,” she said, “you didn’t sell many cookies.”

Fortunately, however (for all of us Samoa lovers), this is no longer the case. So while there’s still a few weeks left in cookie season, do the Girl Scouts (and yourself) a favor, and make a commitment to buy a box the next time you see that table set up outside the grocery store. (And don’t give me any of this “gluten free” or “low carb” crap—you do know that you can buy a box from the Girl Scouts and ask them to donate it to a worthy cause for you, right? That’s what I thought.)

I’m sure the future Madame President will thank you.

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Less Than Zero

Once upon a time, back when the Forest Service was relatively new, they didn’t hire official fire crews every summer; instead, they would wait until a fire broke out and then hire local people to fight local forest fires. In theory, this was a great idea: the locals were already there, they were motivated to save the forest, and they were very familiar with the area. In practice, though, it was a terrible idea: it led to many, many intentionally caused fires, as unemployed locals soon figured out that the surest way to get a summer job was to set their own forest on fire.

This little tidbit of information was the first thing that came to my mind the other day when I was asked the question: “How much will you pay me to clean my bathroom?”

Immediately I had visions of tubs left unattended to intentionally overflow, towels wadded up and thrown into the corner to purposefully mildew, and toilets drenched with less than stellar aim. In other words, I pictured forest fires being set so that they could be put out for money.

I know that’s not the case, of course: I know that, unlike those unemployed locals, my children are perfectly willing to trash their bathroom with no recompense whatsoever, but still, I’d have to be crazy if I added any more incentive for them to make a pigsty out of the place beyond their own love of filth.

Some parents, I know, feel differently. Some parents think that paying their kids to do “chores” around the house teaches the kids the value of hard work and the joy of earning something with their own labor. (I always snicker at the word “chore.” Where I grew up, this was a term that was applied to milking the goats and mucking out stalls—not unloading the dishwasher.) And, I have to admit, there is some merit in what they say: the only way to truly learn how to balance your finances is to handle—and mishandle—money. Nothing teaches you the value of a dollar like being swindled out of that dollar—especially when (or perhaps only when) you had to earn that dollar yourself. The same goes for buying something you really want with money you had to work hard to earn: there’s no better way to learn how to take care of your stuff than being the one who has to replace it. (It’s amazing how few backpacks get lost in college, as opposed to high school.) So, yeah, I can see the point in paying for chores. However, I have one little problem with this scheme: I can’t fire my kids.

Sure, I can tell them they did a crappy job, and that I’m not going to pay them, but I can’t actually make them put their lolcat day calendars into a file box and then have security escort them out while they do the walk of shame past the other children. (Not that I haven’t dreamt about it sometimes.) No, after I “fire” these particular employees, I’m still stuck living in the office with them—and who wants to live with a disgruntled former employee? Have all of those “Caught in the Act” YouTube videos taught us nothing? The people in those videos only have eight hours a day to put their special little “additives” into the coffeepot: my kids can wreak havoc on this “office” 24/7. (And frequently do, even without the added spite incentive.)

And so, between my children and I, we have come to an agreement quite different than the “paying for chores” model: they do nothing, and I pay them nothing. Or, to continue the Forest Service analogy: I decided to just let it burn.

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Public Announcement

There are two ways we could go about this. One is as follows.

Public Announcement 6735: On April 1, 2012, at 11 am (MST) there will be a meeting in the living room of the Wilson/Ellis house for the purpose of removing dirty dishes from the coffee table. Until such time occurs, and until the aforementioned coffee table is cleared, no one may place any object (dish or otherwise) on the surface of said coffee table. This includes such non-dish items as feet, PS3 controllers, and pickles which have been mined from the depths of fast food hamburgers and are still wet with ketchup. This edict also applies to the area immediately surrounding the coffee table to a distance of six inches in all directions. When the coffee table has been sufficiently cleared (as judged by the coffee table owner), there will be a signal (agreed upon previously) and objects (including dirty dishes) may once again be placed on the surface of and in the area immediately surrounding the coffee table, until such time as the next official coffee table clearing event is announced. (This announcement has been made pursuant to Wilson/Ellis Revised statutes 154-L, otherwise known as the “But I cleaned up my mess” rule.)

Public Announcement 6736: On April 1, 2012, from approximately 1:00 p. (MST) to 2:00 pm (MST), there will be a gathering in the kitchen of the Wilson/Ellis kitchen to wash the dishes which have been removed from the Wilson/Ellis coffee table. There will be twenty slots of three minutes each available for the washing of the dishes: please register for these slots no later than midnight, March 31, 2012. (This announcement has been made pursuant to Wilson/Ellis revised statutes 154-M, otherwise known as the “But that’s not my cup” rule.)

Or you could just stop arguing about who made what mess, and clear off the coffee table like I asked you to in the first place.

Why is it that the same kid who can come home with somebody else’s backpack every other day can tell you, with one hundred percent certainty, down to the tiniest molecule, exactly which part of a particular mess they are responsible for? (And only clean up “their” portion of said mess accordingly?) Point to a series of muddy footprints on the floor and they will exclaim, with complete conviction, that while they might have made that and that footprint, they certainly didn’t make that, that, and that one. Or, more likely, that even though they were among the ten people with muddy feet who just walked through the kitchen, somehow they alone were the one whose feet left no trail—which is why they shouldn’t be held responsible for having to clean it up. (If that were possible I would never let a kid like that out of my sight: you never know when you might need some loaves and fishes, let alone a new jug of wine.)

Sometimes I get the feeling that if my house were to explode, and we were required to pick up the bits of pieces of it that were strewn all over Flagstaff, my kids would carefully scour the entire town picking up only those items they were sure belonged to them and them alone. Never mind the fact that one of “their” pieces might be lying under another piece; never mind the fact that they were already bending over; somehow, in their minds, they have become convinced that people are responsible for picking up their messes, and their messes alone.

“But why should I have to clean up someone else’s mess?” is the argument they always make.

At that point I am always tempted to throw down the mop and march out the door, asking, as I go, “Why indeed?” Sigh. One day.

One day.

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It was a typical scenario: me, staring aghast at the ruin that once was my kitchen, and my daughter, Clementine, (brought unwillingly back to the scene of the crime), looking at the same scene and yet seeing nothing wrong. Finally, after listening to me explain how it could be possible that the same foodstuff was not a mess when it was in its original container, yet was a mess when it was on the floor, she spoke up. “I don’t know what you’re making such a big deal about,” she said, her eyes searching the ceiling, perhaps for the otherworldly source of my clearly unjustified displeasure. “It’s only a little mess.”

I turned around to debate her, but she was already gone. And really, what would I have said, anyway? How would I have convinced her that the same mess could be “little” in her view, and “large” in mine? There are some messes, of course, that loom large in everyone’s opinion: Katrina. Prince William Sound. That time you thought the lid was on the blender. Then there are the ones that exist in a more shadowy grey area. I might think your wallet is a “mess” because the pictures aren’t in chronological order, but that’s okay: it’s not my mess. (Although, if you leave your wallet on the bar while you go to the bathroom, I might just rearrange the photos for you. And snicker at your old college ID photo—what a magnificent mullet!).

Really, though, what I think it comes down to is this: there are big messes, there are little messes, and then, in a category all their own, there are other peoples’ messes. And when it comes to having to clean any of those messes up, the largest, by far, will always be the third category: other peoples’ messes.

It doesn’t matter how “small” the mess allegedly is: if you didn’t make it, and yet are the one stuck with cleaning it, it will always be too large. That’s what I had tried—and failed—to get across to Clementine while I was cleaning up the hot sauce she had spilled on the box of cassette tapes I keep stored under a cabinet in my kitchen. (No, I don’t currently own a cassette player. No, I don’t have plans to buy one anytime in the near future. And no, I don’t think it’s time to throw my cassette tapes away: long live the 80s.) It didn’t matter that it was “only” half a bottle. It didn’t matter that “no one ever looked down there, anyway.” What mattered was that it wasn’t my mess, and yet, once again, I was the one stuck with cleaning it up.

Or rather, re-cleaning it up, since she had, supposedly, “cleaned it all up” herself already. Never mind the fact that there was still hot sauce on the front of Mark Knopfler’s guitar. And across Bruce Hornsby’s face. And I’m not even going to mention where it was spilled on Bruce Springsteen. But still, that wasn’t the point (although I bet Bruce will never sing “I’m on Fire” quite the same way again).

The point was that there is just something so immensely wearying about cleaning up a mess that doesn’t belong to you. Of course, sometimes it can be immensely satisfying, too. I think the difference is in whether or not you actually get a chance to volunteer for the position, and what sort of recognition is involved.

Maybe that’s the answer: all I really need is to print up some “This section of floor adopted by Kelly Poe Wilson” stickers, and then, like the volunteers who pick up the trucker bombs along our nation’s highways, I will feel both needed and appreciated.

I think a couple of hundred should do for a start.

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