Six words. Only half a dozen single syllable words that, when put together, have the potential to save someone's life. Especially in this house. Sadly, this phrase is also the least likely phrase to be heard or heeded. Especially in this house.
Remember when I said that Sarah feels like Cinderella? Let me explain...
See, I have this little problem. It seems that society expects families to live in neat, reasonably organized, clean, unstinky, and otherwise sorta safe domiciles. Since Steve works his oh-so-sexy-and-nice-to-watch butt --- *cough* ahem.
Since Steve has a job and I don't, I feel it's my responsibility to keep Hazmat and local demolition crews from eyeing our home as long as possible. So I roll out of bed at a completely obnoxious hour every morning to intercept my youngest before his hunting trip through the kitchen can turn into a search and rescue operation. I occupy Hunter by giving him a bowl of cereal and while he's happily using his spoon to simulate depth charges in the milk, I head upstairs to systematically remove all of the toys, stuffed animals, books, blankets, blocks, dolls, and assorted articles of clothing that always seem to migrate under cover of darkness into my younger daughter's bed.
Once I've completed my daily archaeological excursion and get through enough layers to uncover Heather, she gets rousted in a most unceremonious manner and I bolt back downstairs in time to mop up the aftermath of Hunter's one-man Battleship game. About this time Heather is ready to be fed and while she's carefully picking through her cereal to only get the "good" ones, I follow her trail of I'm-gonna-play-with-all-of-these-today all the way back up to her room, picking each one up along the way.
Wash, rinse, repeat til bedtime.
Yeah... a perfectly standard, run of the mill, ordinary day for anyone with children too young for school. Now add in a preteen who is convinced that she shouldn't be expected to do anything that even smells like manual labor of any kind. Wait! Not done yet. Add in a worn out, cranky Mom who just cleaned up her 418th mess of the day. Throw in a bit of PMS. And last, but definitely not least... add in a pair of shoes, backpack, jacket, and every bit of mud between the school bus and the front door.
Find a fallout shelter and crawl under it.
After an eruption that I can say with confidence would have given Vesuvius a run for its money, the settled upon punishment was that Sarah would clean the house top to bottom without help. Every room. By herself. No one would say a word to her or bother her, but she would under complete restriction until the task was finished. And until the last room had been cleaned, she was also responsible to maintain any rooms she'd already cleaned.
Long story short, she put off doing anything until school let out and being grounded actually started to ... in her words ... suck. She sat down and made a checklist of each room with a checkbox for her to sign off and another for Dad to sign off if he approved of the cleaning.
To give her credit, it took her two days and the house looks amazing and Heather and Hunter were very excited to learn that Sarah had found their floor again after it had vanished awhile ago. So they finished up their dinner a short time ago and set off on a race up to their room.
"Don't you dare make a mess!!!"
I turned slowly, with my mouth hanging open, to gape in shock at my daughter as that one phrase thundered up the stairs after the littles. She had her hands on her hips, a perfect crease running down the center of her forehead, and an expression that would have made Freddy Krueger check himself.
I'm so proud I could cry.