My 7yo is one of the world’s workers. He is the always-helpful child, never complaining when he’s asked to carry in groceries, or to put away his clean laundry. He offers to set the table for me. He’s happy to run and get anything his father asks for. He likes to work. His little brother, on the other hand, is the lily of the field. He toils not, and neither does he spin. The 4yo is the child who becomes very tired when it’s time to pick up the toys. Threatened with a nap (“if you’re too tired to pick up toys, you must need to go to sleep…”), he’ll reluctantly carry one Lego piece at a time, sighing as he drops each tiny piece into its plastic bin. In the time it takes 7yo and me to clean up the entire family room, 4yo will exhaust himself into utter prostration with the effort of picking up and carrying 6 Legos.
Recently, our swim team held its annual fundraising carwash. While a few of the teenagers had to be coerced into actually washing some cars, my industrious older child was right on the front line, wielding a sponge and clamoring for a chance to man the hose. He scrubbed, he sudsed, he rinsed, and he dried, with the studied nonchalance of a boy determined to let spectators know that this, right here, is just routine. Another day, another dollar. Yawn.
One of the older boys told him to wave the next car through. This he did, without the slightest trace of a smile. He was clearly enjoying this important job tremendously, but was determined not to reveal that to anyone. He adjusted his features into a look of settled workday boredom. This was a face that said “hey, this is no big deal, OK? Maybe other kids would get all excited about hanging with the big kids and doing totally important stuff like waving the cars through. Because they can’t have just anybody wave the cars through, see? You have to know how to do it. And I do. Because this is my job. I’m not playing here, OK? I’m working at the carwash. So stop smiling at me like that. I’m trying to work here.” Cars were waved through, washed, and dried with efficient dispatch, thanks to 7yo’s industry and skill.
Do you know what’s funny about this? I’m exactly like him. When I had a job, I was always the person with the answer, and I loved being the person with the answer. I never made a big deal of it, though. Anyone would have thought that I didn’t care one way or another if you asked for my help, or if you asked the person next to me. But I cared, oh yes I did. I was busy and important and I wanted to keep being busy and important. Adjusting to the relative lack of busyness and importance has been the predominant concern of the last six months for me. Of course, I’m still busy. I’m taking a class, the kids just started swim team, I’m writing and doing part-time work from home, and of course, my house isn’t going to compulsively clean itself. It’s not the same, though, as putting on work clothes, and sitting at your desk, so busy that you’re responding to the emails which arrive almost every minute while you talk on the phone that’s wedged between your head and your shoulder.
Now that summer’s here, though, I’m starting to embrace the enforced leisure. After swim practice last night, I sat in the pool pavilion chatting with neighbors and friends, while the kids played. When we got home, it was 7 o’clock…7yo had homework to do and I hadn’t even thought of what to make for dinner.
Last summer, I’d have had those kids dry, dressed, and into the car within five minutes of the conclusion of practice. We’d have been in full homework and dinner preparation mode by 5:30. So really, this is quite a change for me. I realize that hanging at the pool until *gasp* 7 on a school night doesn’t exactly qualify as debauched languor, but it’s a shift nonetheless. Maybe just for this summer, I’ll be a little less of the person with the answer, and a little more of the lily of the field.