My youngest son and I stand at the kitchen sink while dinner simmers on the stove. I am washing dishes by hand and from the rinse side he washes them again and rinses them about 12 times each. I keep turning the water down to a slow trickle. He turns it back up. I weigh my need to be environmentally responible against my need for him to stop whining about wanting more water.
He's helping me with the dishes because I refused to turn the television on for him. It's late in the afternoon, verging on evening and I know within a little while his dad will want to watch the news. For some reason, what I think is the acceptable alternative (watching TV in my bedroom) is not acceptable to him and so, instead, he stands next to me at the sink and explains my shortcomings.
"I wish you weren't so mean, Mommy."
"Really? You think I'm mean?"
He nods and makes lazy swirls with a scrub brush on an already-clean plate. "Yes, because you won't let me watch TV."
"I'm making you a nice dinner. Is that mean?"
He shrugs. "But I'd rather watch TV than eat dinner."
"Well, I know, but dinner will make you grow big and strong and you were the one telling me you wanted to be really, really super big and strong. So, I'm actually doing you a favor. You can just tell me thank you instead of telling me I'm being mean."
He's not fooled by my powers of reason. "I'm pretty strong already."
"That's true," I agree.
"Do you want to feel my muscles?" He holds up his arm to show me his bicep. Water and soap suds run down his arm.
I wipe him down with a dishtowel and thoroughly inspect the arm he's offered me. "Very nice. Very strong."
"You're strong, too, Mommy."
We go back to scrubbing dishes in silence, our biceps flexing strongly.