Lydia was having a difficult moment. She shook her fists in the air and ran into the kitchen. I heard the dishwasher door as it was yanked open and this was followed closely by the sound of glasses being slammed onto the counter. She did not want to unload the dishes. She said this several times out loud in several different ways.
I walked in behind her and made her turn to face me. I was not happy. I pulled a cup out of her trembling hand and carefully placed it in the cabinet while I tried to regain my composure and then I told her, as calmly as I could manage, that not only was she going to unload the dishwasher right now, but tonight she and I were going to be washing all of the day’s dishes by hand.
“It’s not a lot to ask, for you to spend five minutes putting dishes away. You have no idea how good you have it.”
She growled and spun in a circle several times. I grabbed her shoulders as they came back around again, and held her in place until she finally gave in.
The two of us unloaded the dishwasher. It took about four times longer than if I had just done it myself, but we did it. And then she immediately ran out of the room to go play somewhere as soon as the job was over.
Later that evening, after dinner, I called for her and she came dancing into the kitchen and bowed in front of me. I didn’t say anything. It took her a few seconds to understand what I had called her for. Her smile melted into a scowl and she fell to the ground wailing. “By hand! You can’t be serious! Every single greasy grimey plate?”
“Yes,” I nodded. “I’ll show you how. You are going to wash them, and I’ll stand with you to dry them and put them away.”
She groaned and tried to turn and run the other direction, but I redirected her in a circle and lifted her hands to the water faucet.
“I already emptied the sink. You need to fill it with hot water.”
I walked her through the steps. I watched as her face transformed from disgust to pained anger. As the water was first too hot, and then too cold and yucky.
But she slowly relaxed after the first few dishes. In fact, there seemed to be something fun about reaching into the soapy water and finding a random dish. And the kinetic little girl would grind away with a rough sponge on the face of a plate until it was completely clean. She rinsed them and held them up for me to inspect and there was a strange satisfaction in realizing that your energy had done that. She had pushed on something with her arms and now it was done.
She smiled, wiped her wild hair out of her eyes with the side of her wet arm and reached for another prize under the blanket of white foam.
Occasionally she would remember that she was being punished, and she would contort her face into a tight knot and make sobbing noises and say things like, “Everything! I have to do everything! Ugh! All of it!?”
And I would just smile and ask her to keep telling me about the art projects she’s been working on, or the Minecraft worlds she has discovered recently. And she would immediately return to her energetic explanation of whatever she had been talking about.
We listened to music. We talked. We traded wet bowls from her small pink hands to my tired grey ones. We flicked soap bubbles at each other and laughed.
Finally, she reached into the sink and fished around at the bottom and looked up at me with a sort of surprised frown. “I think it’s empty, Dad! That’s all of them. We’re done!”
“Cool! You did it! I’m proud of you for sticking with it to the end and only complaining a teensy tiny bit.”
“Yeah,” she said quietly as she pulled the plug and let the soap gurgle into the drain.
“Now do you understand how blessed we are to have a dishwasher that does all of this work for us? We could be doing so many other things right now.”
She nodded down at her hands as she wiped them off on a towel.
“So,” I said, “You’re so good at this now. Would you like to do it every night?!”
She recognized my tone and laughed, “No! Yuck!” and then she looked up from her hands and for a moment I saw something small and bright twinkled softly in her eye as she glanced at me sideways. “But… Well, I don’t know…” she shrugged shyly, “Maybe we could do it once a week or something.”
I pulled her tight to my chest and softly kissed the top of her head. “Yeah,” I said. “Okay. Maybe we could do this once a week.”
She smiled sweetly and left me standing in the kitchen, pondering life.