I made them do it under the guise of "cultivating independence."
I believed it, too.
Children grow up so slow and so fast at the same time; it's the paradox of childhood. Maybe, also, the paradox of motherhood. Parenting.
They're learninglearninglearning, guzzling water from a fire hydrant, letters and numbers and life. As soon as their lips can stretch the word from pucker to grin, they ask. "Why?"
At first we celebrate it, answering All of The Questions. We think it means our kid is advanced - the way we think e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. they do is advanced - but novelty halos soon enough tarnish. We learn how to answer only the question they're asking (usually the hard way), forgetting too often their need to know is big, but the answers they're looking for are small.
They're little, remember? They aren't born knowing anything except how to make a lot of noise when they're uncomfortable, with no regard for your comfort. Circle of life--we all did it, right? It's just easy to forget when we're sleep-deprived and inconvenienced.
A tiny fairy perched atop my left ear counts the "Why's" until she runs out of numbers. Exasperation falls on both sides of those three letters--the Littles, because they're a demanding sort, and their mama because she's tired of the same question asked 26 times a day.
One day she will reach the edge. She'll speak the words she promised never to speak to her children, and her youthful arrogance (ignorance?) and surety will raise the white flag.
Sometimes Because I said so! is THE reason.
Enough days pass and curiosity isn't so much the motive, justice is. Fairness matters.
And then we say the second thing we swore we'd never say: "Life isn't fair!"
No, life isn't fair and that starts becoming apparent when we're in second grade and our mother, under the guise of "cultivating independence," forces her kids into child servitude.
I dared to require my children to make their own school lunches by the time they were in second grade. I think it was second grade, anyway--it was a long time ago and I don't exactly remember. Definitely single-digit birthdays.
Make your bed. Take turns cleaning the kitchen. Pack your lunch.
I was an absolute tyrant.
They tried to weaken my resolve with flattery: "But you make our sandwiches so much beeehhh-ter!"
Yesirree, there's a lot of talent and effort that goes into slapping one tired-little-sad piece of ham between two slices of bread, or even more so, smoothing a glop of peanut butter on whole wheat.
No mustard, no mayo, no lettuce, not even jelly! Just ham or peanut butter on sandwich bread. Though they preferred their sandwiches be cut into halves, when they were making them, they couldn't be bothered. If I happened to pitch-hit on a rushed/running late kind of morning, they'd make sure to ask for diagonal cuts.
How can I complain? I'm inclined to agree: triangles taste better than rectangles!
Then one day my oldest and only daughter graduated high school and set off for college.
That was the fall I returned to the kitchen early morning to make lunches for my boys.
They, of course, knew how to make them. Their independence shows up in more ways than I care to recount.
Those still-plain sandwiches became my morning kiss good-bye, my way of being present in the middle of their day, a small act of service that allowed me to be their mommy--
for a few moments, not their Mom.
There's only one at home now. The older two no longer have to make their lunches, they troll a college dining hall with enough choices to feed a small third-world village.
But the baby who towers over me, the one who can comfortably rest his chin on my head, insists my sandwiches taste better than his (which I've already explained is due to triangulation).
Soon enough, it will be time for another season of "cultivating independence."
This time around, it'll have nothing to do with my children.