Every parent of a teenager knows that when you go off to work, you are leaving your house at the mercy of your kids. You can yell and scream all you want about responsibility and helping out and whatever (I even get tired of hearing myself), but it's like sitting down and talking to your dog about not chewing his butt. The message isn't getting through, and it comes so naturally that he has no intention of changing his habits.
For years, my wife and I have come home every evening to find a house that looked as if squatters had broken in and camped in our living room while we were at work. The signs are always the same -- TV blaring away, signs of ravenous eating, and shoes and coats spread across the floor. Usually, there are a few chips that have been dropped on the floor and then walked on. In the kitchen, there are dirty dishes in the sink and pots and pans on the stove with food baked on so hard you'd need a dentist drill to get it off. Any ingredients used in the cooking can be found on the counter, open and getting stale or spoiled. The trash can is overflowing with a pile so high that moving it will cause a food scrap avalanche. If Charlie Sheen had broken in to throw a bachelor party, the house would be cleaner.
At our house, our older boys moved out years ago, so we've had twin 16-year-old girls and an 18-year-old son at home. For the longest time, it seemed as if the culprit was always our son. Whenever I'd find a mess, I'd angrily demand to know who made it. My daughters always pointed to my son. They did this so many times they even stopped using his name.Every time I'd yell out, "Who did this?" I'd be met with knowing glares and a chorus of "Who do you think?" He was kind of like Voldemort -- he who must not be named.
Because teenage boys are never around, and my son was never there to defend himself, I'd just have to take them at their word and enter a default guilty verdict against my son. Besides, it was always two against one, and he knew it was pointless to try and argue.
Our son left for college a few weeks ago, moving to another state. What I noticed, however, is that in the few weeks he's been gone, I'm still seeing the same messes around the house. The sink is always full of dirty dishes, there are empty chip bags in the living room and often food is left out. It's as if he's been sneaking home during the day to trash the house.
The other day, I came home to a mess, and I started hollering. One of the girls came running, and when she got there, I pointed out the dishes and empty chip bags. She immediately went into defiant mode when I asked who was responsible. I swear I almost saw her start to say, "Who do you THINK?" when she did the mental calculation in her head. Two girls, no boy, that meant ... the blame version of musical chairs! The music was about to stop, and whoever didn't get the safe seat would be it!
She pursed her lips for a moment, then, through gritted teeth, almost reluctantly, she took the only option open to her -- She blamed her sister.
I made her stand there while I called her sister in. She did the same thing, flashing for a moment on the good ol' go-to scapegoat, then realizing to her horror that she had no one to blame.
"Before you say anything," I announced in a thunderous, triumphant tone, "You should know that your sister (here I pointed quite dramatically. I would have yelled out the famous French term "J'accuse!" but I don't know how to pronounce it.) has blamed ... YOU!"
They stared at each other warily. It was like the final episodes of "Survivor" where the weaker players have been voted off, all alliances are meaningless, and only the most crafty and cunning are left.
It will be quite interesting to watch in the coming weeks. We're down to the two finalists in the "blame game," two battle-worn champions who will square off in a supreme death match.
I know I shouldn't take so much delight in their discomfort, but after years of cleaning up after unknown suspects, you can't really blame me, can you?
Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.