William Dunbar: Dealing with the chores

College supposedly prepares us for the future. Writing classes prepare us for the mountains of paperwork our profession will likely assign; environmental engineering will prime us for our responsibilities in maintaining sustainable living; philosophy classes help us get through tough negotiations with people with a smile on our face.

But, there's no hands-on class to prepare you for the unending array of chores that need to be done when you live in a house. You soon discover, as with bad movie sequels, that there's always one more chore. (Coming soon to a room near you, in two parts like the Harry Potter movie, and most assuredly in 3-D.)

That's not to say that living on campus will leave you totally unprepared: you will get plenty of experience taking trash to a trash can or placing dirty plates on the conveyor belt that takes them to the dishwashers. You may even get to vacuum the dorm or clean out the toilets, when it's your turn.

However, things change once you sign off on a rental agreement. Once the ink is on the paper, you sign away much of your free time toward the maintenance of that property. Hopefully, you begin to understand the true value of property and why it's important that you maintain the house with a modicum of order and cleanliness.

But you also learn how much more annoying it is to be pushing a lawnmower, as opposed to just waking up to the whine of one.

First impressions are important, so the lawn is usually one of the first chores on the list. This is why it becomes imperative to learn how to properly cut, trim and clean the yards, both front and back. For me, though, this task is made more difficult by the inclusion of a leaky sprinkler pipe that has given us our own backyard lake over the last few weeks. It makes navigation through the yard just that much harder.

Of course, those muddy waters remind me of another task sitting in my kitchen, stacked high and waiting to be washed or at least filed into a machine: the dishes.

When I lived at home, my mother and sister took care of this task. How hard could it be? At my Merced house, I first learned that the fresh scent of lemons doesn't help with the dried-on stuff. Apparently, time is of the essence when it comes to dishes. And doing the dishes is much tougher when roommates are added to the mix. Suddenly, that dish load is tripled in size, and another hour is spent amid the stains and sticky stuff.

As I chip away at a spoon with the remains of my roommate's latest foray into cooking, I think of all of the lessons I got at home from my parents about some of these same chores.

I remember many a weekend where I was pulled away from something important (like sleeping in) to help with yard work or laundry. I'd mope and groan over trimming and cleaning, as many a kid does, unaware that this was just another college and life prep class. Without them, I know I wouldn't be able to get through nearly as much of it as I am able to now.

In the move to the UC Merced dorms two years ago, I was ecstatic to find that many of those boring old chores were simply taken care of for me. The grounds were maintained by the gardeners, the dishes washed by workers at the DC and even the messes left behind by accident -- as few as they were -- were cleaned up by janitors. The campus looks nice, thanks to all those staff members who work hard at it. What little I had to do was never so pressing that it took me away from my studies.

In order to make the adjustment easier for the freshmen and sophomores on campus, the college takes away many of the cumbersome tasks that would distract students from classes and homework. In doing so, it softens the effect that the larger amount of class work has on many a student, allowing them to focus on maintaining their GPAs.

Unfortunately for me, I only learned this fact after I had left college campus and was inundated with the upkeep of my humble abode in town.

Despite what I had at first imagined, it wasn't too hard to adapt. The process happens in stages. You learn how to do all those never-ending, yet vital chores, then you learn how to manage the daily hard work of assignments, and finally you learn a balance between the two that keeps both up.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go sweep up some leaves from my patio.

William Dunbar, from Modesto, is an undeclared major at UC Merced and hopes to be successful someday in his future profession.