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    Musings on Child Labor

    April 11, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    It was a time under a shadow, and yet
    I remember being happy, for I had responsibilities then,
    and I knew that I was useful.

    -from Jayber Crow

    The boy has been trying my patience lately. Life with him sometimes feels like a wrestling match. I try to be above it, but really I let him rope me into it too often. I forget that, as a mother of a son, I am not bound by the rules of logic.

    So I have been observing him. I see a lot of factors contributing to this situation, but one thing stands above the rest: when all is said and done, I don’t give him enough work to do.

    And I don’t just mean school work, though of course that is part of it.

    I think that I expect a five-year-old to want to run and play all day. I forget that I am raising a little worker bee. I can’t relate to him in this area, because, though I do my work, I like to relax. He, on the other hand, really seems most relaxed if he is working.

    Idleness makes him restless.

    I have told Si more than once that this is part of why I think we need chickens and possibly a nanny goat.

    And maybe a yak.

    He needs creatures to care for. He would thrive in a situation where there was something real and meaningful for him to do right when he got up, instead of waiting for Mom to finish preparing breakfast. {This would also get me out of milking said nanny goat.}

    Yesterday was his best day of the week, and I think it was because I constantly kept him busy. This is, by the way, different from keeping him “entertained.” Entertainment tends to breed self-centeredness. Remember the contrast between modern and Amish parenting?

    The Amish think modern children are spoiled by being driven from club to club and lesson to lesson in hopes that they will find and express their true selves. In contrast, Amish children are washing dishes by hand, feeding cows, hauling manure, pulling weeds, and mowing lawns. They are learning to lose their selves, to yield to the larger purposes of family and community.

    He seems to feel more attached to the family when he is actually helping with the family. And I don’t mean made-up work. Some kids fall for made-up work. I remember reading of a woman once who had her twin boys put away the laundry. They took each shirt, each sock individually up the stairs, and then came back down for the next thing. And they were totally wasted by the time the laundry was settled in the appropriate drawers.

    My son would never fall for this! He would know that I was wasting his time. He puts up laundry by taking the biggest pile of folded clothes he can, running to the room where it belongs, and then running back before I have had time to fold another armload for him.

    He doesn’t just like to work. He likes to do lots of work.

    And as I was thinking about this, it dawned on me that part of this problem we’ve been having might be due to my own laziness. There are some things I don’t let him do because I would have to train him to do it. Or I would have to supervise him too closely.

    In other words, I would be inconvenienced.

    Shame on me.

    So yesterday, the day I let him work all day, was his happiest. And he was never happier than when his sister became offended that he got all the work.

    “Why E. get a knife?”

    We both ignored her because we were cooking.

    She insisted, “Why E. get a knife?”

    While I was pondering my answer {something about how we don’t allow knife-wielding in the house until you are four}, he told her how big he was, and how little she was by comparison.

    “I want a knife,” she said. “I want to cut the fwuit.”

    That’s when I told them that, once she was four, they would make dinner and I would read on the couch and drink tea. They both looked at me, aghast. Can’t anyone take a joke around here?

    But now I realize that I have not one, but two little workers, ready and willing to contribute. This is making me rethink how we do things, when we do things, and how I can change it so that the children get to participate more.

    If there is one thing about life with people, especially growing people, it is that it is never stagnant for long.

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