Listening to Ourselves
July 24, 2014 § 9 Comments
The boys are due home today, necessitating a whirlwind clean-up of all our unflattering habits. Gone the empty pork rind bags Penny dropped at her feet once the last crumbs had disappeared down her insatiable maw. Gone the crumpled Genny Cream Ale cans, all 37 of them. Gone the piles of flaked ash from the stogies we shared nightly, propped up in bed while we alternated between Fox News and Duck Dynasty on the widescreen television that has since been returned to WalMart from where we purchased it four days ago. And the Fruit Loop boxes? Not merely recycled, but burned beyond all possible recognition. We shall not be found out.
It has been quiet around here, to be sure. And busy. Over the past year or so the boys’ helpfulness has snuck up on us, and we did not fully appreciate how much they contribute to family and farm until they were not here to contribute it. We decided early in our parenting careers that we would not mandate any chores but those necessitated by Fin’s and Rye’s own animals.Our theory was that by not forcing them to help but instead by modeling our own appreciation of the work at hand, they would slowly come to embody that appreciation themselves and contribute of their own free will. We know too many adults whose memories of rural youth are tainted by the daily grind of chores they hated.
For years we struggled with this decision. Often, we second-guessed it, if only because for a while there, our theory seemed not to hold much water. It’s not that the boys wouldn’t help in times of obvious crisis. The fellas have always been drawn to tasks demanding urgency: Escaped cows, a mired plow truck, and so on. But until recently, their participation in the workaday chores – rolling up the sides on the greenhouses, for instance, or stacking firewood, or collecting eggs, or the million-and-a-half other tasks that have become as natural a part of our life as breathing – was less than gracious and at times Penny and I have thought ourselves fools. Soft. Naive. Perhaps even worse, guilty of failing to instill a proper work ethic in our children.
For reasons I do not fully understand, the boys have begun to contribute of their own volition. Or, at the very least, they have begun responding to our requests for assistance with something approaching good cheer. Indeed, earlier this summer it got to the point where we consciously stopped asking for their help, out of fear we were pushing our luck. Maybe our original theory was correct: That by modeling appreciation of honest labor and equanimity in the face of the occasional overwhelming nature of this life, we could instill these qualities in our sons. Or maybe the boys are simply developing a conscience; they see how we bumble and sputter, and they feel too damn guilty not to help. Yikes. I sure hope it’s not that.
When it comes to parenting and our children’s education and pretty much everything else having to do with our small life on this small hill, we don’t have any grand plan. True, we think a lot about our relationship with our boys and how to make it as strong and healthy as possible. We think a lot about cultivating autonomy, pleasure, and appreciation in our day-in, day-out lives. But mostly those thoughts lead us to a place of acting from our guts, rather than our intellects. From intuition, I guess, though that’s a fancier notion than I’m entirely comfortable with.
Sometimes I think we all know more than we think we know, but we allow the ceaseless noise of the world interfere. We let the constant clamor of expert analysis and metrics of progress and other people’s opinions stifle the quiet knowledge we all hold. For all the debate over the immersive nature of modern technology and whether it makes us smarter or dumber or thinner or fatter or happier or sadder, I often wonder if the real issue isn’t even being addressed: We don’t even have the opportunity to listen to ourselves anymore.
By-the-by, I’m doing a reading at Bookstock tomorrow. Ya’ll should come on down.