Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Learning to Include Others in Your Labors

The clink of glass bowls in my kitchen has an effect similar to the bell Ivan Pavlov used on his kennel of dogs.  As I quietly slide out the largest of the translucent cobalt vessels from the bottom of the stack, I know it won't be long before the house will ring with the sound of bare feet slapping on wood plank floors.

Emerson is the first to arrive and start investigating all the supplies I've laid upon the counter top.  A quick survey of the clutter makes it obvious I'm about to cook something.  He looks up into my face and asks that oft repeated question.  "Can I help, mommy?"

"Me, too!?" my daughter's shrill voice echoes as she rounds the corner.  She grabs the wooden spoon from her twin brother and moves in on the melted butter and sugar I've started to cream together.  Down the hall, the third child wakes up from his book-induced fog and realizes he's missing out on something exciting.  Moments later, all three children are circled 'round the gathering table, all arguing over who is going to do what to "help" mommy.

Every measurement must pass through a second pair of hands before it's dumped into the bowl.  Child #1 dumps one cup of flour.  Child #2 dumps the second cup of self-rising.  Child #3 pours in the old-fashioned oats.  Then, I start the cycle again, working to give everyone a turn, to not show favoritism, to give deference to their already-keen sense of fairness and equality.

All three get to take a turn pushing the "PULSE" button on the food processor, each face breaking into a grin as the whirling metal disk shreds the carrots into a stringy mound at the bottom of the bowl.  Then, each must have a turn stirring the mixture.

While one stirs, the other two give advice: don't stir too quickly or you'll stir the flour out of the bowl; don't hold the spoon so high up or you won't have good control; don't forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl so everything is mixed thoroughly.  I have to smile as I listen to Wyatt and Amelia giving poor Emerson the same directions I've given them before.

Satisfied that there is nothing more to do but wait for the yummy bars to come out of the oven, all three once again disperse to the four corners of the house--Wyatt back to living in another world found in his books, Amelia to mothering her dolls, and Emerson to laying train track across the upstairs foyer.

Later at the lunch table when Grandmama asks if they helped cook, they each sit up a little taller and puff out their chests with pride as they take credit.  Despite what I've read in magazines, just because they cook it does not mean they're more likely to eat it...but they're always proud of it.

It would be so much easier to just do this by myself. Instead, I continuously let them help me cook, wash, vacuum, clean--not because I need their particular brand of help but rather because I understand that burning desire to be of use...and I want to encourage them to take pride in their labors, to associate hard work with this sense of accomplishment, to continue offering to help others.

Just yesterday, my mother and I worked to insulate and put up the vapor barrier in the front half of husband's outside office while husband and my daddy worked to hang sheetrock in the back half.  It took two women the same amount of time it took one man to do the same task in the back half of the office.

Was it as neat a job?  Not hardly.  Did I have to ask a lot of (stupid) questions?  Sure.  Did I use more staples than I should have?  Uh....yeah.  (The staple gun and I had compatibility issues.)  Was our vapor barrier hung straight?  Well, it looked more like a bunny slope.

In the end, though, my mother and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment that we had helped our men, freeing them up to do another task we couldn't.  Besides, no one would ever see the zillion staples or the crooked vapor barrier.  That didn't matter.  What was important would be the finished product and the knowledge that we helped make his office into what it will become.

Whether we're four years old or forty or even sixty, we all want to feel useful, to feel needed.  Maybe it is easier to just do it all ourselves.  Honestly, most things are.  But many times, when we deny someone the opportunity to help us, we're also denying them the blessing that comes from their giving of themselves, denying them a sense of pride in their labors and a healthy sense of accomplishment.

Think about it.  If someone keeps being rejected each time he offers to help someone else, one day, he's just going to stop asking.  Is that the kind of world we want to live in?  The kind of household we want to live in?

Had my husband done the work all himself versus having us other three help him, only one man could have felt the pride in looking at the work of his hands and saying "well done."  Likewise, had I chosen to cook by myself, I would have been the only one with a sense of fulfillment at what I had accomplished.  In both situations, by allowing others to help, that meant four people went away filled and blessed, knowing they had helped someone else.

Four versus one.  I call that a pretty good return on the few extra minutes it took to bring the three extras on board for the project.

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