On one side of my family, I'm one of 13 grandchildren. Ten of us were born within a period of about ten years, there was a gap of another decade, and then three were born within four years. We tend to divide into two camps: the "bigs" and the "littles." For as long as I can remember, there's a certain but unspoken division of labor when we all visit my grandparents' farm for a long weekend: the uncles work on a project around the property, the aunts cook, the bigs clean and watch the littles, and the littles generally try and stay out of trouble. Regardless of who your actual parents or siblings were, if somebody older than you told you to do something, you did it. As the littles grew up, they no longer needed our watching, but never took over any of the cleaning duties.
Fast forward to this Thanksgiving at the farm. Now all the littles are college-aged and the bigs have moved far away and/or started families of their own. It worked out that this year that I was the only big to make it back. After the first family lunch on Wednesday, the littles started to leave the table to head back to their computers. I wasn't about to wash dishes for 11 people by myself, so I called them by name and asked them to help me clear the table and wash the dishes. One of them said "Of course!" and dove right in. The other two (who are siblings) looked at me with really confused expressions and asked why. I said that the moms had been cooking all morning, the dads were going back to fixing the plumbing problem in the bathroom and they were old enough to pitch in. The only boy in the group said, "But I'm a boy!" I replied that knowing how to wash dishes, and doing so without being asked, would impress girls. I grabbed a stack of plates and they followed suit without saying anything else. That night after dinner, I asked for their help again. They asked "We have to do it again?!?" and I said yes, as long as there were meals to be eaten, there were plates to be cleaned. Both times, our grandmother and all those of our parents' generation listened in, without saying a word.
By the end of the weekend, they immediately started helping with the dishes and it never took us longer than 20 minutes. Heck, I washed the actual pots and pans, scrubbed all the counters and took out the trash myself, they just scraped plates, loaded the dishwasher and put away leftovers.
This week I got an email from my aunt's husband, father of the reluctant two, and he was very critical of the way I supposedly bossed his children around, forcing them to labor on their vacation. He particularly didn't like the way I made his son do "women's" work. Did I overstep by asking my cousins to help me with dishes? Do I owe them or my uncle an apology?