Posts tagged work

I was due for some chaos again…

What happens when you toss 5 children under the age of six together and allow eight hours to simmer? A cooking experiment with explosive results and a very tired chef. On Monday of this past week my sister-in-law returned to work and I offered to take the children on Tuesday. The combination of mixed greens looks like this:

”    One 6-year-old boy

”    One 4-year-old boy

”    One 3-year-old boy

”    One 2-year-old boy

”    One 1-year-old girl

Since these children are all products of my own gene pool, they are well-behaved, sweet children. Unless a cousin can’t share a toy with his cousin, or a brother whacks his brother because he contradicted something he’d said, or a little girl decides she’d rather have her mommy around and screams for a solid hour-and-a-half in protest. That said, however, I had prepared myself for a solid day’s work, and I am here to tell you that that is exactly what I got, starting at 7:00am sharp.

Regular childcare providers tell me that once kids are in a routine, the high child to adult ratio becomes more manageable. This must be true, since there are people out there who have chosen to provide full-time childcare voluntarily. I would assume that a one-year-old screamer will, at some point, accept the fact that Mommy is not around for now, and that the baby-sitter’s hip will not last with a baby on it for the next 7 ½ hours. As it is, however, I watch my niece and nephew only sporadically, and that sweet little girl with the face of an angel has the lungs of Gene Simmons, which is particularly troublesome to the sensitive ears of our highly auditory 2-year-old little boy. Translation: From 8:00am – 9:30am I took turns holding either a screaming baby or a whimpering toddler or both at once.

Breakfast was interesting, as no scrap of food actually entered my own mouth until the five other tummies were full. But the most interesting part of the morning came when I decided to take the children to our local Ontario Early Years Centre, a place with lots of room, lots of toys, free snacks, and free coffee. Perfect.

I briefly considered taking the bikes, but then remembered that the bikers outnumber the non-bikers 2:1, and a scene of chaos involving training wheels and crying children flashed through my mind. Logic and reason prevailed and I decided to take the van.

Our minivan technically fits 5 passengers in the back, although it should be said that five booster/car seats do not fit as well as 5 bums. It sounds crazy, but you could probably fit 5 overweight people into the van more easily than you could accommodate 5 little kids in their over-sized plastic butt-moulds. Once you squeeze the boosters into the back row there is precious little room left for the seatbelt, so you as the adult get to hop into the back of the van and fold yourself in half trying to buckle each squirming child into their booster seat.

Once I had accomplished this feet of acrobatics, I buckled in the other two, made 3 separate trips back to the house for things I had forgotten, and finally rolled out of the driveway about 20 minutes after I had promised the kids the trip. “Now boys, be quiet, because the baby has to sleep,” I admonished them as we were driving down the street. This was, of course, a waste of breath as boys ranging in age from 3 to 6 cannot, under any circumstances, keep their hands to themselves, especially not when they’re sitting so close to each other.

Having arrived at the EYC everybody piled out of the van as I scrambled to keep the mobile ones from running across the parking lot. I set up the stroller to avoid carrying the heavy car carrier. Everyone was ready to go as soon as I could unbuckle the 2-year-old, when I realized that he was not wearing any shoes. Perfect. Bare feet are not allowed for health and safety reasons so I had no choice but to herd everyone back into the van (“shhhhh! The baby’s sleeping. Don’t wake her up!”) and head all the way back home.

Miraculously the baby did not wake up and we managed to go back home, procure the toddler’s sandals, and make it back to the EYC with some time to play before it closes at noon. I had almost forgotten about the baby until her cries emanated from underneath the blanket draped over her carrier. As I began unbuckling her, I realized that she too was not wearing any shoes. It was then that I knew that it was going to be an awesome day.

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Mucho Mulcho

mmmm.... mulch

A friend of mine recently told me a story about sitting in her fenced backyard and accidentally overhearing a conversation her new neighbour was having with someone on the other side of the fence. While working in her flowerbed this new homeowner complained loudly about “all of the bark s*#t” lying around. (I’d say that one is most likely not gardening material.) My friend commented on the irony of the fact that the previous owner had put so much effort into properly mulching her beds every year, and here was someone who obviously had no clue about the benefits of her efforts.

At the risk of insulting everyone’s intelligence therefore, here is the definition of mulch: any protective cover that is placed over the soil to retain moisture, reduce erosion, provide nutrients, and suppress weed growth and seed germination.[1] The one benefit this definition doesn’t take into account is that the effort of spreading 3 cubic yards of mulch over all the flower beds is a perfect opportunity to teach kids to take up a shovel and work.

Is it just me, or has “work” become a bad word in the context of children? I’m not talking about child labour, which is undeniably horrific. I’m talking about the notion that little suburbanites should be catered to and not be expected to pull their weight in the family. Most of us would agree that it’s only right for a teenager to be expected to mow the lawn, but how does that happen unless children learn to work when they are young? The norm today is for adults to run themselves ragged working, while their children do nothing but play all day.

Children are more capable of channeling their energies into meaningful work than one may think. This isn’t to say that they enjoy the prospect of work on a regular basis, but as long as they live under our roof, that’s beside the point. Kids as young as three or four can be taught to do a variety of chores around the house, from cleaning up their own piles of laundry to cleaning out the dishwasher (remove the knives and breakables, please!). Children can set and clear the table, and be expected to tidy up their own messes, particularly at the end of the day. At our house, we divide up the regular responsibilities so that both of the older children are involved, though in different capacities (given their differing levels of ability). I will admit to it being more work to teach children to do chores rather than just doing them ourselves, but oh, how sweet it is when you can just tell them to clean out the dishwasher after breakfast and go have a shower!

What we are finding is that our rather large lawn and ever-expanding flower and vegetable beds are a perfect opportunity to teach them the value of breaking a sweat doing manual labour. Yesterday was mulch-day, which is exciting for several reasons: the kids get to ride along to pick up the mulch from the local soil depot, where a big front-end loader dumps the load into the trailer. Exciting every time. Next, they may get a turn shoveling the mulch out of the trailer (how often do you get to stand in a trailer?!). After the initial excitement wears off, however, there are still 3 cubic yards of mulch waiting to be spread around the yard and that translates into a lot of hard work for several long hours. While we don’t expect our children to stick with it for the entire time, we do encourage them to put in their best effort.

We have found that special treats for the workers are a great way to keep them engaged. A cookie or freezie break here and there helps. And let’s not underestimate the value to the entire family of jointly getting behind the proverbial plow and being able to celebrate together at the end of a long day’s work. These are good memories we are building with – and for – our kids. Amazingly, our 6-year-old stuck with the task until the bitter end yesterday. In fact, while working side-by-side we had some great conversations, including one about the value of hard work. Curious to see what he would say, I asked him whether he thought that a big job like this deserved a reward or not. As though he had previously prepared himself for this question, he replied, “even if there is no reward for doing a job, we can still feel good about a job well done” (I could almost hear his grade 1 class reciting it in unison).

As it was, our neighbours invited us to use their pool afterwards, which was quite possibly the best reward of all for everyone. Anyone who has ever spread mulch on a humid day knows that there’s nothing like jumping into water once you’re done. This applies to adults and kids alike!


[1] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulch. Accessed:July 3, 2011

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