While parenting experts might gnaw at my having nagged my teenager about spilled milk, I know the child spilled the milk because she was too busy not doing her homework while yakking on the phone and eyeing the computer for an instant message to see that she was setting the milk carton down on the part of the counter that wasn’t there! When I found she’d mopped it up with the duster, which she then put away wet, I grounded her from the phone and the computer and considered including the refrigerator. When my teenage son’s stereo woke me from a well-deserved nap, I went to tell him to turn it down. On the way I smelled something burning and discovered he had forgotten about the hotdogs he left to explode in the microwave and the hard-boiled egg bombs on the stove. I wanted to kick his stereo out the window and permanently affix a scrub brush to his hand. When the same son took a 3-day old pair of jeans from the hamper to the dryer to fluff them on high along with the load of my unmentionables that were already there, leaving hot, smelly, grease-laced silk and lace to ruin, I wanted to send him to an orphanage graced only with that same pair of jeans and a Peter Frampton concert T-shirt I’d seen at the thrift store.
After several weeks of similarly undesirable behaviors, ineffective groundings and my ongoing exasperation, my husband devised a devilishly clever plan for addressing the problem once and for all. He called it “Appliance Appreciation Week”. At the designated moment, he shut the power off to everything and pad-locked the breaker box for a period of seven days. It was a bit of work and expense for the two of us but it was well worth it. We saw it as a kind of camping and in the end it wasn’t all that expensive as it cut the electric bill by a little more than 25%. Fortunately, the first AAW came in the spring so we didn’t have the heater or air conditioner on anyway. We bought just enough fresh fruit and vegetables every day for dinner and breakfast the next morning. Twice my husband was generous enough to fire up the grill for condiment-less hamburgers and corn on the cob. Candles in the living area and flashlights in the bedrooms had everyone turning in early and voluntarily. By the end of the week our kids looked like heroine junkies, sprawled out in front of the TV and computer as if forlorn stares would bring them to life. Parenting experts and even many parents might take issue with the pleasure we took in their discomfort, but it was over a year before we had any more appliance related problems. We only had to use AAW one more time in all the years we’ve had teenagers.
The second and final AAW was brought on by a series of behaviors that sent my poor husband into what he called “vapor lock” one too many times. First there was the curling iron found plugged in, turned on and put away under the sink. The discovery of at least half our dishes in the kids’ rooms led to several loads of dishes coming out of the dishwasher with large bits of food permanently dried to them. What hadn’t stuck to dishes lay at the bottom of the dishwasher in a pile of heat-dried gunk with a gooey center. It vaguely resembled a popcorn ball and I’m not sure if the green was lettuce or unintended growth. Then came the stench in the car. It was eventually found to be wet towels and bathing suits in a plastic bag, left there after a day at the pool even though we were assured everything had been brought in the same day. Finally, nothing thrills a parent like having to explain to the plumber how dozens of hair bands ended up in the toilet. It was later learned this was our son’s revenge on his sisters for their having plastic-wrapped the toilet whose lid he had earlier urinated on instead of lifting in retaliation for their…well, you get the picture.
My brother is the single parent of three strapping and inquisitive adolescent boys. He’s also a professional maintenance man with extensive training and experience. He once told me it wasn’t a “mess” unless it required renting heavy equipment and/or calling in a professional to cover the one license he didn’t have. He blames his ex-wife’s gene pool for the plethora of physics-ignorant, UL-defying behavior in his house and has turned Appliance Appreciation Week into Appliance Appreciation Quarter on more than one occasion.
After making sure the kids had finished cleaning the bathroom, I went outside to the patio and joined my husband for coffee. There sat the plumber and my brother. They were discussing ways to include the plumbing in any future AAW. You don’t have to tell me twice about the value of open-ended flights to the Bahamas.