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Friday, July 29, 2016

Chores are good for kids

You can't do this if you have no experience doing the routine stuff.
You can’t do this if you have no experience with routine repairs.
I’m always getting paint on my laptop screen trying to adjust the angle. To solve this, I have a new monitor and rolling stand for my studio. I hope to get it assembled before it’s obsolete.
To that end, my youngest kid helped me for a while yesterday. He was attaching the confabulator to the thingamajig when I stopped him. “Just hand-tighten that until you have all the screws on that joint in place,” I told him. “Then you can drive them home.”
“How do you know that?” he asked.
Assembling my monitor stand.
My son assembling my monitor stand.
Until the modern era, kids had to hold things for their fathers while they worked. (Kids are not cheaper than clamps, but they’re far more likely to be underfoot.) Today, you could look some of this stuff up on the internet, but that’s an imperfect education.
Don’t believe for a minute that fathers are expendable. Nobody is going to teach you the art of swearing like they can.
I had three tasks on my schedule yesterday. One of them—the easy one, where I filled out some papers and signed my name—is done. The other two never got finished. We had visitors all day. The stopping-by never stopped and although I am feeling very pressured, I was also very glad to see them.
This is how I ended up cooking dinner for 15 people. It was a real loaves-and-fishes kind of affair, cobbled together from leftovers, things from the freezer, and things my daughter picked up at Hannaford on her way home.
Kid, sewing.
Kid, sewing.
I often tell people I can’t cook, and in the usual way, I can’t. However, this was a combination of dishes I have been making since childhood (risotto, fried fish, and fried chicken) and the recipe for scallops that my friends Berna and Harry shared with me last year.
I was on familiar turf. As a kid, I was my mother’s sous chef for many such impromptu dinners. Size up the crowd and assess the refrigerator, the pantry, and the freezer. Quietly send a kid to the store for the missing pieces. Accept any help that’s offered, gratefully.
One of the nicest things parents can do for their children is conscript them to do unpaid, hard labor. That’s how I learned to use a chainsaw, drive a truck, clean windows and even cook for a crowd. Like most of us, I wanted my kids to work less hard than I did, but I’m cheap. No cleaning or lawn services for us. Saturday mornings were a forced march through our house.
The forced march, in 2010.
The forced march, in 2010.
When I collected my son from college in May, his suite was a disaster. His roommates clearly had no idea how to do simple household chores. Given a little guidance, however, they did a great job, and we parted as friends.
Civilization is only in part about great literature, art and architecture. It’s also about things like fixing dripping faucets. I’ve known a lot of kids who could do calculus but not wash pots and pans. If you teach the former and neglect the latter, you’re doing your kids a great disservice. They’ll end up being the ones who have to look up how to clean a toilet on YouTube.

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