“Doing Dishes with Daddy,” Ensign, July 1998, 24
Juanita and I had three children, and she was pregnant with our fourth. I was a graduate student and Juanita stayed home with the kids, so there were many things we couldn’t afford, including a dishwasher. When I did the dishes, I turned it into a quick, efficient system that would eliminate wasted motion. I could usually get dinner dishes done in 12 to 21 minutes. I thought that must compare favorably with even those who had dishwasher-equipped kitchens!
One morning Juanita was battling a particularly tough case of morning sickness, so I decided to skip school and stay home. I suggested Juanita sleep in, then I explained to Sarah, my kindergartner, that I was helping Mommy because she was sick. Sarah quickly caught the spirit of service and asked if I would help her wash all the dishes for Mommy.
I looked at the kitchen. Almost all the dishes in the house were dirty, but I estimated that it would take 28 minutes. I agreed to help Sarah. Immediately I went to work, systematically sorting the plates and dishes and putting the glasses in the dishpan first. Within a minute, Sarah was in tears. “It’s no fun!” she cried. “You’re doing everything. I wanted you to help me!” She stomped off into her bedroom.
I thought about it. She was right. I had agreed to help her. So I decided to help Sarah do the dishes any way she wanted to instead of trying to do them as fast as I could. I quietly approached my five-year-old with a sincere apology: “I’m sorry. I’ll help you. Tell me what you want me to do.” She immediately brightened up, took my hand, and led me back into the kitchen.
“Well, Daddy,” she began, enthusiastically, “I want you to wash those plates. Then I will rinse and dry and put away.”
I worked at her pace, washing one plate at a time. She talked to me almost nonstop, often pausing with a plate in her small hand. I paused with her. First, she talked about her friend Steven, and then she talked about a television show she’d seen the night before. Eventually, she started drawing me into the conversation.
“Daddy, what do you do at school all day?”
I told her about the classes I was taking and teaching, being careful to explain things in terms she could understand. As I talked, I realized how little of my world I had shared with her!
Next we washed the bowls because Sarah thought they were fun to stack in the dish drainer. “Daddy, why don’t you stay home more with me and Jeffrey and Aaron?” I told her I had to study a lot.
“Why do you have to study so much?” I couldn’t think of any explanation that a kindergartner would understand.
“It makes me so sad when you go away every day for so long,” Sarah continued, with tears in her eyes. I was moved. I wanted to hug her and tell her I loved her and promise to take her to the park and anywhere else she wanted to go.
She regained her composure. “Tell me a George Washington Hill story, Daddy.”
So while I washed the silverware, I told her stories about our favorite ancestor, George Washington Hill, who had a long, red beard and met his wife in the woods.
After the story there was a long pause. “Daddy, I didn’t pass my test at school yesterday.”
I looked over at my daughter and saw the hesitancy in her face. I didn’t know how to react or what to say. I wondered what kind of test they could be giving her in kindergarten. So I just smiled and asked, “Did you try hard?”
She brightened up. “Oh, yes.”
“That’s OK then. As long as you do your best, I’m happy.”
She became more thoughtful, and as she carefully dried a dish she poured out her heart to me. “Today, I really want to pass the test. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to practice it and practice it and then I’m going to pray and ask Heavenly Father to help me. I know he’ll help me.” Then she laughed and clapped her hands in joy. “I’ll pass that test today!”
The dishes were done. Through blurry, tear-filled eyes, I looked at the clock. It had taken one hour and 15 minutes to do a 28-minute job. But I was sorry to see the last swirl of the dishwater run down the drain. Sarah and I had talked almost the whole time. This had been a special talk for us—a talk where our feelings for each other were clearly expressed, a talk that strengthened our relationship and love.
Helping Sarah had been so much fun that in the afternoon she and I got Jeffrey to help us shovel the snow and ice off the driveway. Again, we weren’t very efficient—the 20-minute job took nearly an hour. But you should have seen Sarah beam as she told me she’d passed the test. “But I didn’t do it alone,” she said, thoughtfully. “You know who helped me, don’t you, Daddy?” We exchanged knowing looks.
I did know who had helped her, and, as I made a silent resolve to spend more time at home, I knew who had helped me that day too.