Children and chores

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“One day another mom told me that the only reason I have time to teach my children how to do chores is because we homeschool. She explained why her children were not required to help around the house. ‘With soccer, the tutor and dance after school each day, I couldn’t possibly ask them to do chores.’ 
 

I explained that I am completely certain that with our genes, our children will likely not be professional soccer players or dancers. They will need to wear clothes and eat, though, so it seems appropriate to train them to do laundry and cook.”
 

– Rose Godfrey, The Pig in the Pantry.

I fully believe in pursuing one’s dreams and developing one’s talents, but not at the cost of shedding all responsibility for the basics without which a family can’t function. An individual, no matter how talented, will not likely grow into a pleasant, hardworking adult if he is never asked to lift a finger around the house or be a productive part of family life. Entitlement isn’t a good attitude.

Now, chores and the running of a home are the primary responsibility of the parents, and no more than is appropriate should be heaped on the shoulders of a child. A child can do much, but the childhood years, and even the adult years lived at home, are supposed to be a time of training, not endless drudgery.

Having said that, the inclusion of children in basic chores – and in the whole process of life – is not only important in the way of teaching how to run a household, but can be a tremendous learning opportunity in many other ways. Every day, I see more and more how kindergartens and early grades of elementary school must artificially create that learning environment which is so naturally and readily present at home. Reading, counting, measuring, matching, dividing, shaping and so much more are all a part, if one doesn’t rush and presents things in the right way, of laundry, cooking, dishes, and other such basic chores (“good, now give me three eggs. No, that is two. I want another one”). Of course it’s easier to just grab those eggs myself, but there’s an opportunity to learn!

It is important that a child has time and space to develop his inclinations. I believe it is one of the most important things, and the most easily accomplished ones too, in learning at home vs. regular schooling. But it shouldn’t be an all-exhausting effort. I don’t think any of us is “too important” to participate in the daily mill of  life. For children, it is especially important. Children need a lot of seemingly empty time, time to just be; a very rigorous schedule of school and extracurricular activities leaves no chance for that. So what is the result? Talents may be pursued, and later paraded and made much of, but at what price?

Irritable, tired, restless, cranky children; children with enormous learning difficulties; listless, idle, or on the other hand, unnaturally ambitious, test-results-obsessed children; much of this, I feel, finds its roots in the abolition of calm, orderly, nourishing (physically and mentally) home life. Working alongside each other – not in an artificially created environment, but really doing those simple chores that can be shared by a 3-year-old and a 33-year-old, such as watering the plants or sweeping the porch – can be a time of bonding, shared conversation, and an opportunity for a child to feel like an important member of the family, contributing in real ways. It makes them so proud, and really isn’t that difficult to achieve. And of course, lending a hand means that time is freed up to do something fun, like reading a story or taking a walk together.

So what do we need? Primarily time. A life that is always lived in a hurry is no fit environment for little children; for any of us, as a matter of fact. We just weren’t created to live at a crazy pace. It stresses us out and makes us sick. To be healthy and happy, we must slow down and make time for all that counts – nurturing real relationships, building real homes, cooking real food, living real life that is happening all around us.
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Who is looking for perfection?

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Today, just after the holiest and most awe-inspiring days of the new year, I was so happy to discover this… it’s something I wrote way back, when I was a new mom, and it rings just as true today.

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God is not looking for perfection, and though I always knew this, in my mind, I think that it only began to sink into my heart not so long ago. It cost me a great many tears until I reached this realization, but the reward was infinitely wonderful, because it gives a sense of security and confidence each one of us, as His precious child, deserves.

He is not, and cannot be, looking for perfection, because He did not make me perfect. He left room for improvement, and He delights in, and appreciates the efforts I undertake to improve.

Yes, there is the standard (vast and challenging) set of commandments each practicing Jew sees him or herself committed to. But other than that, He watches and appreciates me according to my own abilities and limitations – not those of other people.

For example, even though I am dedicated to – and know my place is in – my home, with my family, caring for my children, even though I have never been happy and content anywhere the way I am in my home throughout each day, the practical truth is that I’m challenged when it comes to everyday domestic tasks. And I mean, really challenged, which is why, when I say “if I can do it, anyone can”, I mean it most sincerely. I think the reason for this is a combination of natural clumsiness and forgetfulness (I’m prone to knocking things over, and I’d be lost without my notes and lists), and not being required to lend a hand around the house when I was a child, which could have formed helpful lifelong habits (but which undoubtedly would have been frustrating for whoever tried to engage me in helping).

So, if someone stops by one day and examines my house with a critical eye, perhaps some lingering undusted spots may be noticed, and some lack of order. But God doesn’t see this. He knows what my house had been like before, and knows the effort I put in to achieve a certain measure of tidiness. He knows the long hours I spend working in my home every day, long after the baby goes to sleep, scrubbing floors, ironing and working in my kitchen. He knows I do it all with a happy heart, thinking about how to make life more comfortable and orderly for my family. And he appreciates it, even though I might be forever and always lagging behind someone else’s standards.

He doesn’t want or expect us to be perfect. He wants our dedication, our faithfulness to the important tasks handed to us, our willingness to improve, our best efforts, our cheerfulness, our joy in being with Him, our appreciation of the blessings that adorn our lives. And He wants, appreciates and loves us, just the way we are, with our weaknesses, our misconceptions and our failings.

He sees us through eyes of compassion and love, which is how we are to be with our own children: to value and cherish them for what they are, never compare them with others, but celebrate their achievements as they make progress at their own pace. Who knows how many children’s souls have been terribly wounded, not by lack of care or provision, but by constant remarks about some other child, who speaks three languages and plays the violin. Thankfully, God is beyond human failings. Yes, He will never fail us.

We should know that each and every little thing is rewarded, even when it is seemingly noticed and appreciated by no one. He sees, He knows, and that is why pleasing people or measuring up to other people’s standards is not supposed to be our primary goal. He looks at our heart, and may we ever and always be strengthened and comforted by this knowledge.

Making progress

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In between all the rush of unpacking and preparing for the High Holy Days, we are getting to know our new neighborhood.

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There are lots of beautiful green nooks and trees that are great for climbing.

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Now that I have actually made a dent in the boxes and have all the essentials on hand, I look forward to making progress on this weedy patch of land and seeing what we can grow and do there.

I will post more updates soon!

Moving mess

So, we’ve finally got ourselves at the new place, and because I’m brave I’m going to show you a glimpse of the jumbled mess I’m dealing with right now. Wish me luck as I sort through it all!

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Backyard – overgrown weed jungle. I’m hoping to set up a little chicken coop and run here. Yesterday I was happy to find out that other people around her raise poultry in their back yard, too.

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A huge stack of boxes in the living room. I can’t seem to find my arms and legs right now, but it will all get done eventually.

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The kitchen is a huge mess right now, but I hope you can see the potential. It’s actually my favorite part of the house. There are two sinks, a lovely granite countertop and a window that lets in plenty of light.

Unclogging Drains

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You know those times when you’re washing dishes and the water drains just a little bit slowly in the sink, and you’re trying to deny it and say, “oh, it’s probably nothing”? Well, don’t do that, because you might just find yourself with a fully clogged drain before you know it! Treat the problem while it’s manageable.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“The simplest and most obvious thing is prevention: try not to let your drains get mucky in the first place. Clean plates thoroughly before placing them in the sink, especially plates with lots of fatty/oily residue, and try to catch hair and other gunk before it slides down your bathroom drain.”

On a more serious note, my thoughts right now are with Bruce and Carol McElmurray, who have fled from wildfires in their area in Southern Colorado and left their beloved mountain cabin behind. Bruce and Carol and their dogs are safe, but they might never return to their home. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for a miracle. I’m sure they will appreciate your prayers.

Pesach cleaning for the desperate

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After a decade of marriage, it’s probably time to come to terms with the fact that cleaning will never be my hobby. There are many aspects of homemaking which I enjoy – cooking, definitely. Baking, mmm. Taking crisp, freshly washed, sun-dried clothes off the line – absolutely. But cleaning? Frankly, I can think of a thousand pleasanter ways to spend my time.

Of course, since we all appreciate clean floors, bathrooms and windows, I do clean, but the weeks between Purim and Pesach have never been my favorite time of the year. Add to this the fact that I’m due to have a baby in a couple of weeks, and you’ll get a picture that doesn’t exactly fit in with a marathon of vigorous cleaning. In fact, if I can but manage to drag myself off the sofa and do some dishes, I’m likely to congratulate myself at this stage.

Right now, it’s so much about letting go and lowering my (and everyone else’s!) expectations. We are facing a few stressful issues, but I’m really determined to reach the moment of going to meet my baby in as peaceful, stress-free state as possible. Last time around, I wasn’t able to do this. I was consumed by thinking about what I still need to do, and felt nearly cheated by the baby arriving a couple of days before due date, when I had counted on an extra week (my first two pregnancies lasted around 41 weeks).  Obviously, it was completely irrational, but I felt as though someone hit me on the head with a hammer and sent me headlong to a place where I wasn’t supposed to be yet.

So, this time, I don’t care what happens around me. I don’t care if my waters break at the precise moment when I’m trying to scrub the stove. I don’t care if my house isn’t really clean. Pesach is about getting rid of any trace of leavened bread. We’ll make sure to throw it all out. Dust on top of bookshelves isn’t leavened bread. Messy closets aren’t leavened bread. Grime on windows isn’t leavened bread.

Sure, it’s really great to take the whole kitchen-scourging thing a step further, and make it into full-blown spring cleaning. But you know what? I can’t do it this year. G-d has given me this pregnancy, and He has also scheduled it for this time of the year. I am sure He didn’t want me to forego the rest and relaxation so necessary in these last weeks of pregnancy, nor to exhaust myself by trying to do more than I am physically able to, nor to risk hurting my back by bending, lifting, or climbing ladders.

So I’m going to putter around, doing the easy stuff like sorting out our kosher for Pesach food items. My husband and older kids will pitch in with what they can. And I’m going to have my baby when she comes. And the dust will accumulate a little further, and wait for the time when I’ve recovered my health and strength. And life will go on.

Also read this lady’s down-to-earth and practical article – a breath of fresh air to all who have been harassed by the upcoming holiday and all the cleaning it entails.

Green cleaning: simple and effective

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I have a wide array of all kinds of cleaning agents, sprays, powders, liquids, etc, under my kitchen sink – but in general, I prefer to leave them there. My favorite cleaning agents are vinegar, baking soda, and citric acid crystals. Combined with hot water and elbow grease, these will get almost everything clean.

It’s especially important to avoid most commercial cleaning products if you have allergies. Quoting from this article:

“Most household cleaning products are harmful to children. According to research done by the University of Minnesota [1], several chemicals found in the home are linked to allergies. They cause birth defects, cancer, and psychological disorders. The Consumer Protection Safety Commission [2] states that since 1970, asthma cases have increased by 59 percent. Children under 15 years of age have suffered from asthma at a higher rate of 41 percent. The data is alarming to healthcare professionals.”

While it may be difficult to find an unequivocal link between this or that cleaning product and allergies/asthma, one thing is certain: cleaning with stuff that you can actually put in your food has to be safer. It’s better for the environment, too. And as a bonus, it will save you a bundle in the long run!

Read more about green cleaning in this post.