I was with my granddaughter, Slade, last week, and stayed a while after her parents got home. Siobhan was emptying the dishwasher, and Slade, who isn’t 2 yet, started helping. I have seen her do it with her Dad, too. She picks up each piece of silverware and hands it up to be put away. Siobhan and Dave patiently wait for each knife, spoon, and fork to be delivered. This is a prime time for a parent to say, “Nevermind, I can do it faster myself,” but they don’t. She is making a contribution to her family and they appreciate her efforts.
Do you remember “kids’ jobs?” I don’t mean the kind where 10-year-olds rose before dawn and worked 12-hour days in mills and mines, but the ones you did around home because that’s what you did. I’m wondering, because I saw where a woman posted pictures about children helping around the house and among the comments were a number blasting her for exploiting her offspring. “Did you have kids to be your servants?” was typical.
Who are these people who think that loading the dishwasher or sweeping the kitchen are symbols of exploitation? Everybody lives here, everybody helps, no biggie. Or so I think. But perhaps my family is out of step.
I remember gathering eggs, even learning to reach under a hen to get every one, which was a little scary at first. When you were tall enough to reach the sink washing dishes was traditionally a kid’s job – sometimes you got a reprieve from the pots and pans – “Just leave those, I’ll get them later.” We weeded the garden, and the boys picked potato bugs one at a time and dropped them into bottles. I guess that would count as natural pest control. A friend once hired her young nieces to help her weed, but they were so concerned about pulling up the wrong thing that they stopped with their fingers on each little plant to inquire, “Aunt B, is this a weed or is this a plant?” I am pretty sure she was tempted to say, “Nevermind, I can do it faster myself!”
Turning cranks was one of the things young folks could do that really helped. Dad says that turning the crank to slosh the clothes in their rare semi-automatic washing machine was one of his jobs. My friend Abby’s grandmother had a goat powered treadmill to run her washer – in her case, the kids’ part was catching the goat. I liked the milk separator and could hardly go by without turning the crank, even when no milk was present. And the crank of our butter churn was well turned by any of us who were around.
My mother taught my brothers as well as me to get supper. “Everybody needs to learn to cook. What are you going to do when you are out on your own otherwise?” (I am kind of happy the the same philosophy didn’t apply to picking potato bugs – I got out of that one). Once a co-worker said to me that she was really tired, and the night before her teen son got her out of her chair to make him a sandwich. I was kind of speechless – finally I asked, “What would you have done if one of your younger girls had asked you to make a sandwich?” “Tell her to get it herself– oh!” A light went on. I probably ruined the boy’s life right there! Not that I’m repentant.
And there were the occasional things – putting your finger on a knot while someone finished tying it, holding a loose skein of yarn on your arms while Mom rolled it into balls. You just did it. None of grew up feeling like servants, and I bet none of us made evening snacks for teen boys, either.