It was simply this:
Their 'default' is play.
It's the way God created them, these children of mine. And it's a good and beautiful thing. They naturally, inherently just want to play. (My personal default happens to be work, hence the exasperation on my part.)
My boys in their room together-- with clear instructions to clean their room-- will inevitably end up in some drama or giggles or play-fighting or jumping or climbing or a dumping out of a toy bin in order to build or play something. That's just the way they were made. They look for it, they celebrate relationship with each other by playing together. Any two of my children who pass by one another in the process of doing their individual chores will interact with each other on some level and that will lead to a disruption of my personal work-default and an entry into their default of play. If I want to leave the house, and right now, please, or we're going to be late!-- one of them will find something to do instead of getting their shoes on and will end up sitting comfortably on the floor, playing. It puzzles me, truly- and I usually think it's absurd: Hello? We are leaving. As in, now. Do you see us? How could you possibly be [sockless, shoeless, coatless] and PLAYING right now?
And yet: it's their default.
Now- I'm not eschewing obedience or my desire and intention for my children to learn responsibility and a good work ethic. I want those things, and we are fully in the process of teaching our kids those things. But it is helpful for me to remember that it is a process. They are firmly, cheerfully situated in their God-given play-mode and it will take years of gentle, faithful, patient instruction and our own example to teach them and show them that there is real joy to be found in work-- and in the reward of getting to play when your work is finished.
In the meantime, I am finding great joy in observing their playfulness-- in everything they do, and I'm marveling- truly- at their ability to pause in any given moment and laugh and play and relate to one another, forsaking all work. I think I could (re)learn to do a good deal more of that myself. I am- more often- settling my exasperated self with the truth of how God has designed them, and by realizing that more often than not- they've gotten it exactly right.