When raising kids you cannot overestimate the importance of humor, especially during their teenage years. Teenagers can create enough drama on their own over things we adults just consider day to day events. For teens it can all become a big deal if not put into perspective. There is always that fine line of letting them develop and find themselves and their way in the world, and keeping a guiding hand so they make good choices. Keeping things light now and then is essential, even keeping it light when they need to know that they have messed up and they need a consequence.
I never liked cleaning that much, but I like a clean house. One of the things we used in our house for punishment when our teens rolled their eyes or said too many bad words or did not clean up after themselves or missed a homework deadline was to assign a “dirty job.” The more offenses or the worse the offense, the worse the dirty job. I had three teens in our house at one time and during those years I had some of the cleanest toilets ever! It got to be a funny thing too, where I even threatened their friends with dirty jobs. I actually made my son, Ben, and his friend clean windows at one point for leaving a big mess in our basement. I had dirty jobs ranging from cleaning up dog doo in the back yard to weeding or vacuuming, dusting, and, my personal favorite, the stinky trash can clean up. I heard my kids tell their friends that punishment in our house was a dirty job. It was said in an almost bragging but matter of fact manner.
My kids were so used to it that they would sometimes do something like mouth off and then catch themselves, and I would just point to the bathroom, and they were like, “Oh dang, sorry, I will go clean the toilet.” It was almost to the point of them self policing themselves by knowing that they had messed up and just going and getting the dirty job over with.
After a particularly busy day at the office, I came out to my car and found that some large bird had left a very gross, very large green chunky poop on my car window. I have to say it was one of the grossest bird jobs I had ever seen. I came home for dinner and around the dinner table sat my three teens and our favorite neighbor kid, Chris all wolfing down the spaghetti my husband had cooked for the crowd. They ate constantly in those years. I said “Please tell me someone forgot to do their homework or brought a note home from school saying someone did something they should not or tell me you left a mess that needs a dirty job, because I have a dosey of a bird poop on my car window that is green and chunky and now dried on and I sure as heck don’t want to clean that off.” I have never seen them all so quick. They were all talking at the same time, including Chris assuring me that they had all done their homework and done nothing wrong. It was precious and brought a smile to my face. No one wanted that bird poop job. I suggested that I could keep it there a few days in case someone needed a dirty job, but they all agreed that I better clean it off myself. Of course they were teens so my next maneuver was to start offering money, but clearly I was not offering enough, because no one took me up on that either. No one got in trouble that whole week.
We always had a lot of the kid’s friends over, and here in Minnesota the winters can be long, so humor was even more important. My kids always had a lot of pets, and we at one point had an aquarium. I learned a lot about care of pets and by the way, if you want to grow healthy gold fish the size of your hand, don’t feed them fish flakes they sell at the pet store, feed them wax worms from the bait store. I had a number of gold fish that started as the twenty cent small gold fish that were the size of my hand in no time. Amazing how fast they grow when you feed them wax worms. We had one fish we referred to as Betty Lou and she was queen of the tank. She was in a large aquarium with our turtle, Paco that the kids had gotten for free at some point. That darn turtle was getting huge as well eating wax worms.
I will admit, Betty Lou had originally been added as a small fish to the tank as food for Paco, but she was so fast he could not catch her, and week after week she avoided him and lived on to the point where she was too big to be eaten by him. One Friday night when all the kids had their friends over and the house was busy with activity, I said that Betty Lou had gotten so big she could probably wear a hat. They thought that was so funny. So I bet them that if I could have Betty Lou wear a hat, I would not have to do dishes for a month. They took me up on it so now I was stuck. It took me a long time to dig up enough doll stuff and Barbie stuff to find a little plastic pink hat that would work. I added a little elastic and it was game on. I had held Betty Lou many times while moving her during Aquarium cleaning, so I know I could safely handled her and she was used to it. So there I was gently putting a little pink hat on the big fish. I then released her in the tank and she swam around, as if proud of it. (No fish was hurt with these shenanigans). The kids were amazed and we took pictures, which all ended up on Facebook and then removed it. Teenagers are not easily amazed or amused, but when you can amaze them or just make them laugh, you make a connection with them that is precious. This was years ago and yet I just recently heard one of my kids friends talking about Betty Lou and the hat.
Teens need fun in their lives. When I woke my teens for high school at the crack of dawn, a time teens were not meant to get up, I would tell them once to get up and the second time I would jump on top of them and roll around until they were laughing and jumping up. They left in a better mood with a smile inside even if they were tired and sometimes crabby on the outside.
Humor and keeping things fun and light cannot be overestimated. It not only helps kids with a positive attitude, but it teaches them how to be happy and have fun and that attitude sets the tone for the entire home. If a family home has a fun atmosphere, it can be felt the minute you walk in and it affects everyone in a positive way. Sometimes it takes a little work to put a hat on a fish, but fun and positivity takes work and is necessary to set the tone for a positive home and a positive life. Teaching that positivity to our kids is essential for their ability to be a positive person in their own lives and bringing positivity to the world.