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Jump to it kids, it's good, old-fashioned American chores time

This is the day my only wish will be granted: I will get to sit in a clean house. Don't get me wrong, I will have to clean the house myself. But it will stay clean for up to six hours. Until my kids will come back from their first day at school.

They will destroy the place in minutes and hours later, hoarse from asking them to clean up, I will do it myself.


I'm not saying my kids do nothing around the house. When my 10-year-old son finishes eating an orange he goes as far as to open his palm. The peel falls on to the floor. There it stays, drying and curling, until The Help's brush finds it some days later.

The Help is me. She is not a happy bunny.

She was in such a spitting rage last week that her beloved husband took the precaution of bringing her to the movies. He picked the film and I found myself in an empty cinema, watching The Tree Of Life, which won film's most prestigious prize, the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

I thought it was pretentious bilge. And the most annoying thing about it was the Mom of three boys wandering around her perfectly clean house in a smart 1960s suit, not a hair out of place.

But then I began to get interested. The Dad, played by Brad Pitt, could be described as being out of touch with his inner child. His line in conversation with his kids typically stretched to, "Git out into that there yard and yank up them there weeds!", or words to that effect.

There were lots of poignant scenes of poor, misunderstood children picking slugs out of cabbage patches.


I began taking notes. Of course, the Dad came to a bad end, because this was a film which won a prize at Cannes, not The Little House On The Prairie. But sitting in that cinema, it began to dawn on me he might have the secret of a happy home.

American frontier living relied on children who did chores. I have an American friend who remembers doing the hoovering with one hand, while she held a mixing bowl in the other to throw up in.

"Just because you're sick," her mother said, "don't think you're going to miss your chores."

I don't think the Irish ever had the American idea that chores were good for children's souls. When I complained to my mother-in-law that when my husband was asked to clean the bathroom, he walked in, flushed the toilet and walked out again, she said she hadn't made her kids do housework because she thought they should have a childhood.I


I felt like asking her if she thought my husband's childhood might end by 50.

But then I realised that Irish children stopped doing serious work around the home when they stopped living off the land. Having idle kids means you're not "dirt poor". So now we have kids like mine, who loll around like Roman emperors with an ageing slave, their mother. And demand payment for services rendered. Like a fool, I have been paying up. My son irons shirts for 25 cents each.

One day, as we drove somewhere, I suggested he might iron neighbours' shirts for pocket money instead of asking me for it. He said he'd have to up his prices for the neighbours. Then he came out with one of his gems: "I'm doing you a kindness ironing for you for so little."

I nearly crashed the van.

"A kindness? Who pays for the electricity? Who pays for your food, your shelter, your clothes, your school books, your swimming?"

And on and on and on, I went, as only a mother knows how, ending with, "Who went in and had you in Holles Street?"

"I didn't ask to be born," he said, which is true. But it doesn't mean I should feel guilty for it and skivvy for him until he's middle-aged and looks blank when his wife asks him to clean the bathroom.

It's time for a dose of good old American frontier values. The best lesson my recession kids can learn is how to clean, tidy, weed, cook.


It's not going to be easy because the devil has plenty of work for idle hands, like clicking a computer mouse and spreading Nutella. But the wolves are at the door and this Mammy has taken her rifle from the wall.

The safety catch is off.