They say time flies when you’re having fun. I have come to realize time flies no matter the scenario; most especially when you have kids. Within the past 12 months, we have had some small and not-so-small repairs necessary on our modest home. 

I keep wondering how that’s possible since we moved in just a few years ago! Then my sweet husband gives me that “Do you even know how to tell time?” look and says it’s been 13 — 13 years, honey.

We lovingly built our small home that suits us just fine. Our fingerprints are in every fiber. The room that sees the most traffic is the kitchen. For us, it truly is the heartbeat of the home. Well, that and the laundry room, where the constant running of the washing machine has kept Whirlpool parts as a line item in our monthly budget.

While I’m an old-fashioned wife and mother at heart, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, willing to forgo my kitchen conveniences. One will equally find my dryer collecting dust (because I hang laundry exclusively outside) while finding baked-on blackness in the oven because it’s never off long enough to clean it. I love my kitchen.

The boys don’t. They love what comes out of the kitchen, just not the cleanup. And I make them clean up. Not just sweeping, wiping counters down and the like (what I call easy stuff) but actually washing the dishes. In the sink. 

 My favorite part? There is a dishwasher sitting right in the counter lineup, unused. Yes, well, it also leaks so there’s that. But I refuse to fix it (third time has not been a charm) and here’s why:

There is something magical about having to cooperate and wash dishes with your sibling. Something uniting about standing alongside your child, discussing the day in a non-threatening way because you can’t maintain eye contact, allowing a daring freedom to expose more truth and knowledge. Watching hot water pour into a sink to create white bubbles also is calming, mesmerizing and imaginative. Plus, they argue. Lots. And that is precisely why I continue to make them do it.

The common goal is family cleanliness. No machine can do the task as quickly as four to five grown people can, unless you have an industrial kitchen, which I don’t. I still don’t understand why a home dishwasher takes hours when an industrial kitchen can spit out a load in 45 seconds. 

Nothing can replace what is accomplished through making the kids wash dishes. It starts with a returned plate: 

“You missed this.” 

“No, I didn’t. You didn’t rinse it right.” 

“Wash it again.” 

“No, you do it.” 

Or it starts before the sinks fills: 

“I washed yesterday, you wash.” 

“No way! It’s your turn!” 

More often than not, water begins to fly all around the kitchen. And that’s OK, too, because you know who is going to clean it up? The same two who are arguing and now have to work together even longer! Just as often, there are times where one kid is causing all the problems, therefore, earning the right to do everything all on his own, making cooperation the key goal for the next time.

That’s the bottom line for us. Learning to work together. Spending real time together. Linking the family over bubbles and hot water. Uniting the boys in a collective, safe gripe against their parents. (What kid doesn’t need that?) Teaching them, through working in greasy, dirty dishwater, that the good of the whole triumphs over the want of the one. I wish there was a cutesy saying about families who wash dishes together, but I’ll settle for slowly forming each one’s mettle, one dish at a time. Plus, the art of snapping a dishtowel just so and hearing that crack of cotton as it finds your 16-year-old’s thigh is oh-so-satisfying.

Kristina Beers lives in the Remus area with her husband and five sons. She shares her thoughts on parenting teenagers and young adults on the first and third Saturdays of each month.