Jessica Stilwell has lived every mother’s fantasy. She went on strike. For six days the mother of three girls -- 12-year-old twins and their 10-year-old sister -- did no “picking up, tidying, washing, cleaning, clearing, reminding or nagging.”
The results will make you want to pump your fists and do a solidarity dance.
They will also make you gag.
It all began on Oct. 1, after Stilwell spent a weekend alone with her children while their dad, Dylan, was away playing golf. Also in the house was a foster baby, as Stilwell is a social worker by profession and regularly takes in infants in need of temporary homes. It was a typical weekend, filled with errands and sports, and at 11 p.m. Stilwell sat down for the first time all day and looked around at all that hadn’t yet been tidied -- realizing with new clarity that none of it was mess that she had made.
Unlike the pantheon of striking mothers before her -- real women like Roxanne Toussaint, who pitched a tent in the yard and put up a sign saying “On Strike,” and Michael Dunlap who refused to cook or clean until she had a signed contract saying her children would do their part, and fictional women like Delia Grinstead, the character in Anne Tyler’s "Ladder of Years", who runs away from home, and those played by actresses Mary Kay Place and Faith Ford, who each took the title role in TV movies called “Moms On Strike” -- Stilwell didn’t actually tell her children they were on their own. She just woke up last Monday morning and stopped.
Had they read her Facebook page, they would have known what was up: "This working mom has officially gone on STRIKE within the home!!! Nothing said, no warning…updates to follow:)," she wrote in a status update.
But they don’t follow her on Facebook any more than they apparently follow her instructions to pick up after themselves, so it took the kids awhile to notice.
First on Facebook, and then on a separate blog called Striking Mom, Stilwell spent the week chronicling the dissolution of her home. That outlet, she says, strengthened her resolve.
“If I hadn’t done the blog I wouldn’t have lasted more than a day, maybe two,” she told me in an interview this morning from her home in Calgary, Alberta. “I am a real Type A. The mess was making me crazy. The only way I stayed on this was by telling myself ‘that’s going to be funny to write about tonight.’ “
And write she did. On Day One, when:
...[at] 6pm the breakfast dishes and dinner dishes are still sitting in their spot a the table, crusty by now. The dishwasher is overflowing, shoes and backpacks are in the middle of the hallway. Dirty socks, empty gatorade bottles and used kleenex litter the back of my couch.
Day Two included revelations such as:
...cereal left sitting in milk in the bowl begins to stink much sooner than one would expect. Quinn likes to cut a lot of paper to make crafts and although the dogs will chew the paper, they will not actually eat it but spit it back out. If you leave the dishwasher open all day long with dirty dishes, the extra large dog will eventually lick the entire thing clean.
Story continues below photos.
The children were starting to sense something was off -- but it certainly didn’t spur them to act. Come dinner time, one daughter took her seat and “looked at the soggy cereal in her spot and exclaimed “EWWWWW, what is THAT??” Stilwell writes. But the child didn't wash the bowl, or even carry it to the sink (which, to be fair, was already fully stacked with dirty plates.)
The Stilwell girls have colorful insulated sacks in which to bring their school lunch to and fro. They are supposed to empty and clean those sacks when they come home each day, but usually dump them, with their backpacks, in the front hall. While on strike, Stilwell and her husband continued to pack school lunches, but not in the smelly unemptied sacks. First Stilwell used plastic bags from a nearby liquor store. Then her husband was inspired to send them in the bags used to collect dog poop from the yard. (You can see photos in the slideshow. Let’s just say these were not subtle bags.)
On Day Three:
Olivia took a look at the kitchen after school and announced ‘this kitchen is disgusting’ then walked downstairs...Quinn may have hit an all time low (one can hope) when she emptied the dog brush and placed the bundle of hair on the arm of the chair.
On Day Four, 10-year-old Quinn broke down sobbing. “I don’t wanna eat out of pooh bags anymore, I don’t want paper plates or beer cups for breakfast. Can you please help me clean up?” Stilwell took her on a tour of the house, pointing out that “not one item left strewn about belonged to mommy or daddy.”
For a few hours, Stilwell reports, Quinn made an effort to pick up her own things. By Day Five, though, she'd “left a bowl full of pancake mix and a tray of crescent rolls half cooked and half eaten on the counter,” and “my leather chair is now decorated with stickers from the packaging of her new soccer shin pads.”
On Day Six, the strike was over. Stilwell called a halt after the children turned on one another, each blaming her siblings for the mess. They apologized, sort of, and eventually thanked their mother for all she does around the house -- but not before one of the twins announced “that’s what parents are for, to clean up after their kids.” Stilwell, who had expected a hearts, hugs and tears moment was surprised. What she felt instead was like “I had just climbed Mount Everest and as I stood at the top of the mountain I screamed “THAT’S RIGHT!! IN YOUR FACE SUCKERS!! I WIN!!”
Then came the cleanup, which took two days, and during which Stilwell did not lift a finger to help, but sat on the couch drinking coffee that her daughters made for her. The girls gagged and bickered as they scraped cheese out of what had been a milk glass, using two bottles of Pine Sol and a half a bottle of bleach before the whole house was nearly perfect.
In the end, what did Stilwell gain? That’s not the right question, she says. She’d prefer to ask what did her children gain? What did she give them?
“I want to give them the world,” she wrote in a post this morning. “But... I realized I was doing my own children a dis-service. I was setting them up for failure.” It was eye-opening, she say, to see how much of what she did for her children -- because she didn't want to argue with them, or because it was faster and simpler to do it herself -- were things that they could be -- should be -- doing on their own. “I fear we are raising a generation of young people whose attitudes will be 'What are you going to do for me?' " she wrote.
Going on strike was one way to save them.
And from now on? This morning, she reports, “they each rinsed their breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher. There are three clean, empty lunch kits on the shelf where they belong.” Lest you think all is perfect, though, know that there was also “a sweater left on my couch and a dirty pair of socks on the stairs.”
Could you go on strike? Who would “break” first, you or your kids? Let us know in the comments.