Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Childhood Work Memories

While I'm not as hard or as consistent of a worker as I ought to be, I always felt like my parents did a good job teaching us how to work.  I'm sure there were times when I complained or whined, but for the most part, I don't remember really minding most chores I had to do growing up (not that they were very hard), and my mom had very little tolerance for whining (something I wasn't terribly inclined to anyway), and she made it clear that there were certain things that needed to be done whether you like it or not.  There was no arguing or negotiating: the work got done or the fun stuff didn't happen. But she also did a good job of demonstrating that not every chore needs to be such a chore.

We all had daily and weekly chores around the house, and since I enjoy (and simply feel more sane in) clean spaces, that was never a big deal to me.  I still have clear memories of my sister instructing me very thoroughly on how to scrub a toilet and a bathtub when I was around 6 or 7.  I remember my mom going step-by-step through how to properly iron a shirt and dress pants, and the way to make a bed and fold sheets.  I remember doing dishes with Michael and Mom when we were 6 or 7, and doing them by myself very shortly after that. I remember "cleaning" windows and mirrors with my mom when I was very little--with no clue that I was probably just creating a streaky, patchy mess. We were expected to keep the lawn mowed in the summer and we had a rather massive lawn, but there were five of us, and after we had the lawn all divided up into sections for each person to mow, it didn't seem like such a big chore (my twin brother and I were also expected to mow my grandma's lawn, and even though we tried to refuse payment and my mom repeatedly told Grandma not to pay us, she kept paying us, week after week). I had 4H pigs for several years, and I was expected to feed and water them every morning (you never quite forget the painful cold of your 10-year-old self standing next to a creek in fall or early spring in Montana and filling a 5lb bucket and hauling it up to the pen), to take slop to them every evening, and to water the pen down on particularly hot days so they could cool off.

And then there were family chores: hauling buckets of water down the driveway to water the tiny lilac bushes (which are now fabulous 10-ft tall trees that add a lot of beauty and privacy to my parents home), and various such things as Dad went about transforming a lovely but unruly patch of land into a small Eden;  picking rock, hauling cart after cart of rocks down to the creek; planting and weeding the big vegetable garden; chopping and stacking wood; and running the theater (that was fun work, and easy.  I was young enough that my part was mostly cleaning up after the movie, and helping Grandma with the concession stands.  As I got a little older, I also helped take tickets [as my math got faster] and sometimes worked the concessions alone for brief periods).

As I thought about all of this a few days ago, it occurred to me that I remember all of this quite fondly, and these are still mostly chores I don't mind doing as an adult.  I realized several reasons that the learning and doing was pleasant: Mom never seemed grumpy at having to do the work; we often worked together, and it was time that felt playful to me, since I often spent much of it joking with my twin brother; and I never remember any impatience at my little hands and brain learning to do the work.  I remember occasional correction or redirection, but I don't remember any scolding.  I'm sure I wasn't great at cleaning dishes when I was 7 (we didn't have a dishwasher for most of my childhood), but I never remember any impatience or agitation about it from the adults or older siblings in my life.  The same thing goes for the bathrooms I probably didn't scrub very well, the rows of peas that weren't planted very straight, dusting that I thought was flawless that was likely full of streaks and missed spots, and the laundry that I folded that was probably only slightly better than it had been sitting in a basket unfolded.  I was expected to help out with the house and yard from a fairly young age, but I was also never expected to do a better job than can reasonably be expected from a child.

The other important reason I never had much trouble doing the work is that I also had a lot of freedom. In a rural community of about 800 people, most of whom knew us well and were good people, we had the necessary safety to explore the world at will, as far as our little feet or bikes would carry us.  We walked up the creek and floated down the canal, climbed all kinds of trees, wandered to friends' houses, we went on sledding adventures, even biked all the way to the dam to go swimming.

By the time I was a teenager, I had the two things that can create some of the most delightful freedom in a teenager's life: constant access to a car, and my parents' trust.  I was free to go where I wanted and do what a wanted with relatively little restriction, and I took advantage of it: in the spring, I often hiked to the falls after school, or at least hiked part of the trail (depending on how much time I had and how much snow there was), a couple of times a week.  I went to Missoula with friends often, usually getting home sometime around midnight.  I was free to go to friends' houses or participate in any and all extra-curricular activities that I wanted.  I had a great deal of independence.  I almost never had anyone tell me "no" or even give me a specific curfew. More often than not, I simply informed my mom of my plans and schedules, rather than asking for permission. No one had to drag me out of bed for seminary--I got myself up and ready, drove myself there and was almost never late.  No one told me to do my homework or checked up on me, I just got it done and did well in school.  But much of that is a credit to the mom my mom was when I was little:  by the time I was a teenager, she could afford to trust me with that freedom and independence, because I had already been patiently taught for many years how good it felt to be productive, and how much freedom came from getting the necessary work done and getting it done first.  My parents never felt much need to enforce specific discipline when I was an adolescent because I'd shown them that I could discipline myself; and I never felt much need to rebel, because they had shown me that as long as I disciplined myself, they felt no need to restrict my decisions.

1 comment:

Kaytee Postma said...

You paint a pretty picture!!!