One time, when I was in third year university or so, I went to a house party for my engineering class.
It had been in full swing for a few hours already, which meant the basement was full of drunken male engineers. I think I was the only girl there. I was definitely the only non-drinker there.
After a short while, a ripple of awareness went through the room, where we realized en mass that one guy had passed out in a corner in a pool of his own vomit. He was breathing okay but it was a terrible, smelly mess, and we all started to exchange nervous looks, wondering if anyone was going to do anything about it.
Then this happened – a conversation between two of my classmates, Terry and Dave.
Terry said, Hey, how well do you know VomitGuy?
Dave, looking wary, said, Not very well at all.
Terry said, How well are you willing to get to know him?
Dave sighed, and said, Not that well, but if you’re going in, I’m with you.
And then the two of them got VomitGuy up and cleaned him up, then cleaned up the vomit, and took him home.
This event had a huge impact on me. First of all, it absolutely captures the essence of Terry and Dave, two stand-up guys and genuine Good People. Terry is the kind of guy who is very level-headed and responsible and who will step in to take care of things when no one else wants to. And Dave is the kind of friend who has your back, who will answer your call for help, no questions asked.
But I still think of this moment not because the guys were awesome, but because they showed me something. They showed me that doing the right thing isn’t always pleasant and definitely isn’t rewarded. But it’s worth doing because no one else is going to do it, and it must be done. I was pretty nervous that as the only sober person and the only girl, I was going to be asked to do something about VomitGuy, and I admit I was ready to flee the scene rather than step up. But I think I would act differently today, after seeing Terry and Dave in action.
These days, I’m the kind of person who DOES take on the thankless tasks. The kind of person who, when everyone else is giving each other those not me, I can’t do it kind of looks, sighs and says FINE, I will be the one. My year in Girl Guides has shown me that the whole organization is held together with a fragile handful of such people, the kind of people who do too much, but if not them, then who else is going to do it? I have joined the ranks of the vomit cleaners of the world.
This came up last night because Sir Monkeypants went downstairs to let the two older kids know that it was bedtime, and found it a total disaster. The basement is the kids’ zone, and we are pretty casual about it but we do have some basic standards. Although food is forbidden in the basement due to ongoing ant problems, there were food wrappers and other garbage around; video games were all over, drawers from the storage unit were open, toys and board games thrown around.
Of course they got a talking to. But we are left in despair because they don’t seem to have any ownership of things. They don’t look at messes and think, Hey, I live here, I’d like it to be cleaner, I should do something. Instead, they have amazing powers to look the other way and pretend they don’t see it, or to point at others and say it was their fault. I didn’t do it, so it’s not my problem. Someone else – the Vomit Cleaners – will show up sometime and take care of it. It’s the same syndrome that means we have to ask them Every. Single. Night. to do their regular dinner clean up chores – any time we don’t remind them, it just doesn’t happen. And it’s the same syndrome that means that they continue to ask when dinner will be, instead of asking how they can help get dinner started, or to ask when I will be doing laundry because they need more socks, instead of offering to throw in a load.
I think it’s maybe too much to ask them to clean up some guy’s vomit at a party. We can’t all be Terry and Dave.
But how do we make the leap from kids who are checked out, who see the world as someone else’s problem, to kids that want to help? We want our kids to see a problem and then DO SOMETHING. This might be stuff around our house. This might be if a friend gets into trouble at a party. This might be if a stranger falls and is hurt in a public space. This might be trying to address world issues like hunger and pollution and poverty.
These are the kind of parenting challenges you don’t think about when you are nursing a baby or helping your toddler stack blocks or teaching your preschooler the alphabet. For a long time we have been focused on survival skills. Now it’s time to teach them Good People skills. I hope it isn’t too late – and that we figure out how to do it.