Sunday, June 17, 2012

Do it Yourself

One rainy summer day a couple of years back, my children were keeping themselves entertained while I did housework. James, who was about six at the time, was creating an art project with old paper towel rolls and LOTS of glue. My then eight-year-old, Owen was creating a Star Wars style space ship out of Legos. Neither of them seemed particularly interested in eating lunch, so I figured I’d have something myself and take care of them afterward.
            I should have known better. The moment I sat down with a sandwich and a magazine, I got their attention. Owen dropped his spaceship, “Can I have a sandwich Mommy?”
            By this point, my blood sugar was getting low. I get really cranky when I need to eat. I’m convinced that most of the unkind things I’ve said in my life could have been prevented with the swift application of a Snicker’s bar. “Sure Owen,” I told him. “Just let me have a few bites of this and I’ll make you a sandwich.”
            “Can I make myself a sandwich?” he asked. My son is a genius! Of course. Of course he could make a sandwich for himself. He’s eight years old. I was doing much more in the kitchen when I was his age. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?
            “That’s a great idea pal.” I said. “Do you know where everything is?”
            “I think so. Come on James! Wanna make your own sandwich for lunch?”
            “Sure!” said James as he jumped up from his art project.
            I watched as the boys got out everything they needed. Peanut butter, jelly for James, Fluff for Owen, and bread. Since they were making their own “recipe” they needed to a new and special ingredient—so they added Kix cereal for crunch.
            I enjoyed watching them make their own lunch nearly as much as I enjoyed the fact that I didn’t have to make it. They were so serious about getting the peanut butter spread out perfectly and sprinkling on just the right number of Kix. For the rest of the summer, the boys made lunch themselves almost every day. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? There is nothing difficult or dangerous about making a sandwich. The boys aren’t helpless and they love to bake brownies and cookies with me. They felt good about making their own lunch and I got a few moments of peace.
For the first couple of years we have to do everything for our children. Feeding, bathing, dressing—the list goes on for days. I had a moment of revelation at the pediatrician’s office a while back. The doctor inquired about the frequency of the boys’ bowel movements. I had no idea. None. It seems like only yesterday I could have answered that question in nauseating detail—not anymore. Unless they leave the bathroom without flushing, their bowel movements are their own business.
The boys are both in Cub Scouts. When Owen became a Bear he reminded me on numerous occasions that in the scouting world, he is old enough to have a knife. Every time he brings this up I want to hold my hands over my ears and yell, “La la! I can’t hear you!”  But I think back to my own childhood and remember the summers I spend camping and fishing with my family. I remember my first jack knife—I was probably about Owen’s age when my dad got it for me. It had a mother-of-pearl handle with a picture of a Canadian Mountie painted on it (we spent a lot of time in Canadian National Parks and he picked it up in a gift shop). I hated it at first. I wanted one that looked like the knives my older brothers carried—with faux wood grain handles. This knife didn’t look like a serious tool to me. Dad explained that this one was a better size for my small hands and it had a better blade than the wooden-handled knives the gift shop carried. It may not have looked serious, but it was a good tool. My dad is a machinist—he doesn’t mess with inferior quality tools.
A dad, his little girl, and a canoe.
I used that knife all summer to whittle the ends of sticks for toasting marshmallows and cutting fishing line. I never cut myself or anyone else with it. My dad gave me a good tool and taught me how to use it properly. Now it’s my turn to do the same for my kids. One of my father’s favorite proverbs is, “If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.” Sometimes it’s easier to just do things for our kids, but teaching them do things for themselves stays with them forever.

I wrote an earlier version of this essay as a guest blogger for "Carrying the Cat by the Tail".  It was taken down a while back. Since I really like it, I thought I'd republish it for Father's Day. Hope you enjoy it. Happy Father's Day everyone!