For those of us in the grown up role, fathering and mothering young children, the mundane and necessary can be something to fear or even procrastinate. Shopping for groceries for example, is often scheduled sans kids. Dinner prep can be a time to fear. Laundry is a never ending chore. Never mind basic cleaning to keep the counters and house in order. And now the grass needs to be taken care of.
There’s always seems to be something to do or get done or must deal with in the life of an adult. Kids though, at least when they are toddler and elementary age, have little to no responsibility to “get things done.”
David Foster Wallace in his famous This is Water speech talked about going to the grocery store at the time of the day when everyone else who has a job goes to the grocery store is trying to pick up food before dinner and the frustration and madness that can overwhelm a person.
It’s easy to be angry at the person who cuts me off in traffic. And sure, I’m irritated that the deli counter has five people waiting while only one worker is slicing requests. And never mind dinner time. If it’s not in a slow-cooker prepared when I get home and it’s my turn to cook, it takes all I have sometimes to just let the kids fend for themselves.
There is a local mentoring program in The Twin Cities called Kinship that I used to do some work for and I’ll always remember the part of the pitch where they remind potential mentors that mentoring doesn’t have to always have to involve a costly event or a lasciviously planned afternoon full of activities. Sometimes, it could simply be involving that child in a trip to the grocery store.
I forget that from a kids perspective how amazing a grocery store can be. Or how wonderful it may be to stick your head into a tunnel of warm laundry to pull out the clothes. Or how special they can feel when they are involved in mixing up the ingredients for a pie. So often I find myself wanting to rush through these things without them so they don’t slow me down.
So, here are a few ways our kids have been involved in what may be mundane “grownup” activities:
- A trip to the hardware store to buy grass seed, where the senior cashier teased my son about getting a Mother’s Day card. He laughed and enjoyed the taunting from the vibrant older woman almost more than she did.
- Flipping the burgers. When I realized my son was idle and running around causing torment inside, I asked him if he wanted to try his hand at flipping the burgers. At six, flipping meat on a grill that is normally deemed dangerous involved him in something he normally wouldn’t have been asked to do. (And also redirected his attention from antagonizing his little sister.)
- Wiping up the floor. At the age of two, let’s face it. Manipulating a wet washcloth to wipe up food crumbs isn’t exactly an efficient process. But we try. I believe this also helps her to feel special and involved, along with (I can hope) the viewpoint that these crumbs don’t just magically disappear on their own.
- Strawberry rhubarb pie. Rhubarb was brought over from a friends garden, so my wife found a recipe to ensure nothing would go to waste. And mid-morning when the kids are squirrelly, I took the older one and she involved our two-year-old daughter in pouring and mixing the ingredients. My daughter stayed focused and loved it, even asking me, “you like it, daddy,” when we took our first bites. I don’t have the space to write what a moment that was.
What I’ve found is that when I can take such a point of view with my kids and involve them in what they see as this large often noninclusive grownup world, their world enlarges and our relationship is strengthened.
After all, they’re going to have to deal with the mundane and necessary sooner than later. Why not start early?