Being obedient children, they immediately proceed to hurry. However, with no specific instructions beyond that, they don't seem to be hurrying to do anything in particular--certainly, trash collection is in no way involved. They bump into each other in the hallway a lot, shouting at each other to "get out of the way!"
"Gather up all the garbage!" my wife and I command. The kids respond by forming a committee to debate the fairness of this directive. After a brief discussion, they reach the consensus that everyone should be held responsible for his or her "own" junk. As corollary to this absurd principle, they initiate an anthropologic study into the contents of each receptacle. For example, since the parents cook, most of the trash under the sink is "theirs." My oldest daughter haughtily declares that she "never" throws anything away. My son, checking through the downstairs trash can to gather evidence that he's not accountable for that one, begins to feel remorse over some of the things he's discarded, and starts pulling items out.
"We're running late!" my wife warns. This could be our Official Family Motto.
I recently purchased a shredder for my confidential documents, only to discover I don't have any confidential documents. However, a fifteen-year-old girl's entire life is cause for secrecy, and I can hear her using the device now, grinding up correspondence from her friends in school. "We don't have time for that!" I tell her. A few minutes later, my son joins her and begins shredding what sounds like a potato.
The school bus chugs by, and I pick up the phone to call the attendance line. "For absences, press 1," the recording tells me. "For late arrivals, press 2. If you're the Camerons calling because it's trash day, press 3."
"We're pigs," my oldest daughter announces. I regard her warily. "We throw away too much stuff."
"It would be better just to dump it all on the floor in your bedroom like you do," I agree.
Despite my expectations, a single garbage can has now found its way to the curb. My son places it in the center of the driveway, so that no one will be able to drive to work. A gusty wind blows an empty milk jug out of the container and into the woods. My boy responds with the reflexes of a glacier, watching the carton bounce away.
I open the door. "Hey!" I tell him. "Go get that!"
He stares at me blankly. "The milk jug!" I yell.
"Oh, okay, Dad!" he responds cheerfully. Having seen his bus pass by has put him in a euphoric mood. He picks up a second plastic milk container and, to my amazement, tosses it into the wind, jubilantly clapping his hands as it flies into the trees.
"Why did you do that?" I shriek.
"Well it seemed like a waste of time to go after just one!" he responds logically. He'll make someone a fine husband someday.
All week long my children have been denying that the kitchen trash needs to be emptied, jumping up and down on the contents to compress them. As a result, when I drag the plastic container from under the sink, it weighs as much as a collapsed star. I wrestle it to the end of the driveway and the neighborhood dogs trot up to see what the Camerons will have on the breakfast buffet this morning.
My daughter is right; we do throw too much stuff away. By the time we're finished, we've dragged so much junk out to the end of my driveway it resembles the inside of my garage. The shredder falls silent and the kids go to school, and what passes for peace at the Cameron house settles over the morning. Until next Wednesday.