Lessons we can learn from trash collection day

In my short tenure as a mom, I have learned that the best lessons do not come from my flowery or long-winded lectures, but instead from natural consequences.  This past week, as painful as it may have been for all of us, one son had the chance to learn such a lesson.  And boy, was it a stinky one.  Let me set the scene…

As many of you know, for the past six years our summers have been consumed by the kids’ musicals put on at our church.   (If you don’t know, click here or here to see some past reflections on productions they have done.)  They are wonderful and the kids look forward in anticipation all winter for musical season to arrive, but they do require the commitment of time.  In order to accomplish musical greatness, the producers schedule extra practices throughout the summer, which delights the kids and exhausts the choreographers.  Last week, we participated in the extra practices and since the early rehearsal was for the younger kids, I planned to stay with them and help if I was needed in any way (still not ready to start dancing again just yet….), which meant leaving the older three at home hopefully to do some summer reading, possibly a few chores, and generally busying themselves so as not to get into trouble.  The *one* job I specifically called out by name and assignment was getting the dumpsters out to the street for pick up on Tuesday morning.   While some families live paycheck to paycheck, we live trash collection day to trash collection day.  In other words, we generate our fair share.  By Monday night, I’m usually looking forward to seeing and hearing (and, depending on the season, smelling) the garbage truck roll up and whisk away our refuse yet again.  My kids assigned to this job are hip to how it works: they collect the trash in the house, they place it in the dumpster(s), and they take said dumpster(s) to the street in plenty of time to have it removed.

Or so I thought.

When we returned home after morning practice on Tuesday, I noticed that the dumpsters were not by the street.  My eternally optimistic self (a voice I usually tear up, throw down, and dance upon) thought that maybe, just maybe that self-starter child to whom I’d given the job had already returned the dumpsters to the back of the house once they’d been emptied.  My eternally optimistic self was wrong.  When I questioned Child Assigned to Dumpster Duty about why he’d fallen down on the job, he quickly sprang to life with the “fifty different jobs” his dad had given him after I left for practice.   As you can imagine, that didn’t fly too well with Child Assigned to Dumpster Duty’s mom.   After calmly explaining how important it is for us to have empty dumpsters on Tuesday (read: hollering), I resigned myself to the fact that for another week–a hot one by the weatherman’s forecasts–we’d have to rearrange and hang on to our trash and hope it didn’t stink too bad by the end of it.

I already know that yelling, lecturing, etc.  doesn’t work with CAtoDD, so I quickly halted the barrage of any further verbal bombs.  Instead, in a moment of inspiration,  a better plan washed over me like the stench of week-old rubbish.  I shared the plan with the Dumpster Child.  “For the next week,” I instructed him, “You are in charge of finding a place for all the trash.  However you need to work it out, you will make sure it is taken care of until it is taken away.”  Well, as you could imagine, the child was naturally delighted with such an arrangement, and thanked me profusely for such thoughtful parenting.  On Opposite Day.

In actuality, however,  it didn’t affect him too much…until we worked on cleaning the laundry room.  And tackled the humongous to do list.  These things tend to generate waste, and in our case, bags of it.  It didn’t take him long to realize this was going to be a challenge.  Through this, he didn’t complain.  He knew he’d fallen down on the job, but seemed to at least be owning up to it.

Then came the critters.  One morning–I think it was over the weekend–I came out to the kitchen to make coffee and noticed that something had gotten into the overflowing dumpster the night before, scattering trash between the house and garage while the wind threatened to blow it further into the yard.  When aforementioned Child woke up, I gently announced that his dirty job for the morning was to re-collect the escaped bits and pieces and get it back in a bag.  There was grumbling, but since we don’t have any rubber gloves in the house (and it wasn’t the first time he’d had this “dirty job”), he thought to use a plastic grocery bag to cover his hand and collected the trash.   I thought his mouth appeared to be moving, as if he were talking badly to the critter who created the extra work for him or the mother who actually sent him outside to clean it up, but maybe he was just practicing his musical song list.  Maybe.  Yeah, we’ll go with singing…

Before today, the glorious trash collection day, the critter(s) had one last romp through the rubbish.   By this time, the Child Assigned to Dumpster Duty was quite finished with his work.  He had had enough.  But he still went out there and took care of it…and the door between us is pretty much soundproof, so I let him mutter to himself while he worked.  Before he stepped outside and closed the door, however, I did hear a rousing reprieve of the “Daddy gave me 50 other jobs that morning and I had to do what he said!  How was I supposed to know the trash collector would come then?!?!” and other variations on that theme.  Sigh.

In the end, he got the dumpsters to the street (thanks to the help of a sibling who took pity on his miserable plight), and even took the overflow trash to sit next to the bounteous offering we had for the trash company.  He even brought the empty dumpsters back once the anticipated truck made its appearance and left us with nothing but dumpsters ready to be filled again.

My hope is that he doesn’t forget this week for a long time, if ever.  It’s such a simple thing to get the trash out to the street before the truck comes, but it takes discipline to do the things we know we should even if we don’t feel like it.   I hope he remembers that when he chose not to get the job done when it was asked of him, he actually created more work for himself in the end.  We shall see what lesson actually sinks in, however.

If he asks me to pick up rubber gloves at the grocery store the next time I go, though, I might start to get worried!

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