When kids make you work

Video chat with faraway son

My daughter showed me how to sweep the long expanse of barn hallway in about a quarter of the time I would have taken. It involved pushing the wide broom in short agressive bursts and then lifting it quickly to bring it down with a hard tamp on the ground to loosen any stray dust or bits of straw off the broom with each swipe. She moved rapidly down one half of the hallway and then headed back up the other side. I picked up the kitchen sized broom and began adressing the detail work that the wider broom could not pick up….the bits of straw and dirt lying in the entry way and along the sliding stall doors. My daughter’s work was done once we got the floor swept, and I would be free to drive her the 70 minute trip home.
As I “broomed” ( a word one of my kids must have coined) I thought of all the weird jobs (and huge amounts of driving) I have done to help my kids. There was the Photoshop drawing that I did late into the night when my oldest son needed extra sketches for rough presentations his first few years in art school. He would assign me specific tasks, like drawing more bricks in the alley scene or whatever….he rapidly became much more proficient at Photoshop than I was and then he only called on me to proofread overdue papers.

My third son rarely asks for my help. He has invented a special way to require my attention. He has developed a knack for asking in a compelling way, my permission to use the car right at the edge of legality. He will suggest that he pick up a friend because they need a ride to the same place he is going, and then mention that their sibling needs a ride too, and they won’t be able to come home before 10PM. Because he is not yet 18, he is only supposed to have one friend in the car, and cannot drive after 9:00. So, time and time again, I must choose between the economy and ecology of his making one efficient trip versus myself or the other parent making there-and-back trips to pick up and drop off the various kids at the various destinations.

It was my second son who required the most attention; more than his three siblings put together, when he  was a little guy. He made me work. He needed a lot of reassurance as he worried about lots of things. He did not like transitions and needed help everytime we went somewhere or headed home from somewhere. He wanted my attention but he did not want me to read stories to him as his older brother had wanted. He insisted on sitting in the stroller long after his younger siblings were born…they could stand on the skateboard contraption behind…. I finally read a book that gave me permission to pay 80% of my attention to one child with the remaining 20% to be divied up among the remaining 3 siblings. My son thrived under this regimen, and his siblings did too. He is the one now at 20 who had the courage to leave his full scholarship at a very good college where he was on track to graduate early, in order to move to a different country to work on a social media start up idea with a friend he had made at a weekend educational program. In person, he wraps his arm around me and tells me to “stay calm” and then delivers a friendly lecture on how being emotional about things does not solve problems. 

Each of the four kids assigned me specific tasks. It was a question of when they needed me to put the hours in.