We are a mostly “individual sport” type of family. Drawing, Spotify-listening, solo excavations into our own imaginations — that sort of thing. But I do long for moments of us working as a team.

There was the sharing of the remote that one movie night. I don’t have to tell you how that ended. When the kids were younger, I pictured us banding together outside: leaf raking, stacking bundles, jumping from pile to pile. But it turned out, not so much. I watched everyone stack and pile remotely, content with their own method.

Then I had a brilliant idea. What could be more bonding than working together in the kitchen? Since there are four large humans roaming the house these days (with my kids, freshly 13 and 14 years old), everyone could up their game in the old “pitch in and help” department. My pal, Bernadette, once announced, “I’m giving every kid in my family a free ticket to my dishwasher loading workshop.” Inspired, I announced the same.

It was met — shockingly — with silence, followed by swift insertion of AirPods, and a flourish of the cold, hard bedroom door closing with finality.

But, I persisted. We broke into teams. The younger scrubbing off the spaghetti encrusted plates. The elder stacking them in. After some time, I checked in. Only three plates had “fit” into the dishwasher. I pivoted. “Let’s try unloading!” The spats erupted. Why does she get all the glasses? I called the silverware! He always gets the easy stuff. She never puts away the heavy stuff.

We are not, shall we say, wired for team life.

I executed a final pivot. Ranking Top Dog of Team Dishwasher, I proclaimed that the younger officially unloads the bottom rack and the elder unloads the top. Shazam!

Now we are united, rejoicing in our “It’s Not Fair!” chorus of life — unanimously, and entirely —  together.


Cate Berry is an Austin-based children’s book author and mother of two. She also teaches writing workshops for young people at cateberry.com.


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