But we can wash their pots…

Gisela van Garderen Rolfes

The current lockdown situation creates a feeling of anxiety and uncertainty about what will happen, with most of the people. There is fear of the unknown, which is built in instinctively to protect us from danger. Many of us have financial pressures which place great strain on our state of mind.

As parents, we need to help our children to acknowledge and handle these fears and anxieties. They can see how it affects us and it influences their state of mind directly. As families we can identify this stress and try to manage it, but it is definitely not easy.

The day that the schools closed, my German ancestry kicked in and I created a very long daily task roster for my family. From unpacking the dishwasher, sweeping and mopping of floors, changing black bags in the kitchen and doing the laundry. We did not know what lay ahead, but I knew, dirty dishes accumulate quickly.

So, for the first week everyone was enthusiastic and they did their chores with zeal and pride. And the second week and the third. My children, aged 14 to 20, clearly had a strong sense of pride about the daily chores. They felt that they contributed to a bigger purpose.

One night at the dinner table I asked them what their worst chore was. Everyone agreed that it was doing the dishes after dinner. The pots and pans and spoons that could not go into the dishwasher. We had a good laugh! Everybody missed our precious Johanna more than ever.

The days go on and I realise how each one’s heart becomes heavy at times.  When I ask, there are stories like matric pictures which, after 11 years of anticipation, might slip away. First year dreams that might not be realised. Grade 8, first year of high school, which does not happen now. This is how every child’s heart experiences the difficulty of what is happening around us. They are so brave. They try so hard. They work well online and they Zoom with a vengeance, but now and then the picture of what is happening is all too real and frightening.

The most painful part of a parent’s heart is the powerless feeling that you cannot take your child’s pain away. To see how their big milestones slip past and you know it is gone forever.

So, it was my daughter’s turn to wash the dishes that evening. Dinner came and went. The pots are waiting. She is just quickly attending a Zoom extra Math class. The pots are waiting.  She promises to wash it as soon as she is finished. I peek into her room and I hear her explaining the function of the oval room of the ear – a question in the Biology test the next day. The pots are waiting.

It is half an hour later and I hear how she practices something on the piano. She assures me that she will wash the pots now, she just has to master that last chord before tomorrow’s virtual piano lesson. The pots are waiting.

Without any specific reason I walk to the scullery and quietly start washing the mountain of pots, sticky spoons and oily pans. I put them on the drying rack and go and lie in front of the TV for a bit. After an hour my daughter comes to me with a confused expression on her face and asks who washed the dishes. She was really on her way and would have washed them. I let her sit next to me and say the following.

“In one’s life all kinds of things happen that you have no control over. It leaves you feeling uncertain, afraid and sometimes anxious. It is very difficult to handle these situations. We just have to accept it. It disturbs your equilibrium, it takes things from you, it steals your peace and it makes you feel vulnerable. One cannot change it and one cannot take away someone else’s pain. The only thing that you can do is to make the situation easier for someone during these times – you have control over that. That is why I washed the pots for you. I know that I cannot bring your matric year back for you. I cannot guarantee your Matric Farewell. I cannot repeat that matric birthday. I cannot promise a matric holiday for you. I cannot send in your July exam marks, for which you worked so hard, to obtain selection for your university degree…but I can wash your pots. To take a little load off your brave shoulders. That is all we can do in these circumstances”

She understood exactly, and with tearful eyes, but thankful and very relieved, she said: “Thank you Mommy. I understand what you are saying.”

That evening I once again realised that there are many times that we, as parents, cannot control the pain in our children’s lives, or change it or make it disappear, but sometimes we can just “wash the pots for them”.

Originally published in My Child and I, Spring 2020


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