Child Labor

In all of the hard times that I’ve undergone in my life, I don’t think there was anything that pissed me off more that being told to “see what you can learn from the experience.” Almost uniformly the person attempting to share this wisdom subsequently invented benefits that did not exist or took some egregious liberties in glossing over how difficult things truly had been.

I think this lesson gets a real bad rep for that reason. Most often people who describe themselves as optimistic or grateful achieve that state of mind by living entirely outside of reality. They misrepresent hardship and fabricate rewards that aren’t actually there.

It’s unfortunate, because there actually is a lesson to be learned through every struggle. And when we become more experienced at willingly receiving that lesson, struggles actually do look less and less like struggles and begin to resemble learning opportunities.

I’m not making this up and I’m not trying to sell you a crappy self-help book.

Case-in-point: toddlers get into everything. Everything, I kid you not. Start baby-proofing the second after conception and I guarantee that by the time the little cherub is walking on two wobbly legs, he will uncover twenty-seven things that you’ve missed.

My house has gotten cleaner since Zoe started walking. Is this a fairy tale? No. No, it is not. Stick with me.

Anytime I try to get anything done, there appears Zoe. I try to do the laundry, and there she is digging through the hamper and tossing clothes out. I try to take out the garbage, and there she is soiling her angelic little digits. I try to put her toys away, and there she is pulling them right back off the shelves. All of this is very unsurprising and typically childlike behavior.

And none of it bothers me one bit. I’m still not lying or making this up.

I know all of you mothers out there are thinking, But HOW? Is she even human anymore?

Well, that particular question will have to be directed towards experts that could give you the answer. In the meantime, I turn every little inconvenience into an opportunity to teach Zoe something.

When Zoe starts taking clothes out of the laundry hamper, I decide to enlist her help. I start handing the clothes to her so that she can then put them inside the hamper, where the clothes are meant to go. On the way to the laundry room, I have her hold the laundry card. Inside, I again hand her the clothes one-by-one so that she can load them into the washing machine.

When Zoe starts pulling garbage bags around the apartment, I pick up the rest of the garbage and have her follow me to the trash chute.

When Zoe starts pulling her toys off of shelves, I decide it’s time for her to learn to put away her own toys. Every time she tries to take out another toy, I stop her and ask her to pick up the previous one.

People ask me how Zoe and I spend our days together and this is how. Simply managing the home and teaching her in the process take up almost every minute of the day. And the minutes that it doesn’t fill up, I’m reading Little Quack’s Bedtime to her on endless repeat.

Strictly speaking, yes, this is an inconvenience. Shockingly, children tend to be so. I don’t get any time to myself. I try to read a book and get stuck on the same page for months. I try to watch TV and the iPad starts mysteriously hovering away from me. I try to cook and clean and those somehow get accomplished, but very poorly. I don’t even try to write until past midnight, when my husband and daughter are both in bed. That one indulgence leads me deep into the night and deep into sleep-deprivation and before I know it, my daughter’s wide doe eyes are staring at me above her copy of Little Quack’s Bedtime and I’m blearily wondering, You want bedtime stories in the morning, too? Really?

It might sound like working with Zoe would lessen my work load, but if so, you seriously underestimate how long it will take a child to get a thing done. Just walking to the laundry room takes five times as long with her.

And none of this bothers me because what else am I going to do in my life that is so much more important than love and teach my baby girl right now, right here, today? Watch another episode of “The X Files?” Bake cookies? Finish reading Middlemarch? There are so many dead English authors that have written so many books that are stocked in so many libraries and will continue to be for so many years long after my sweetheart has grown up and moved out. And who really cares, anyway?

As a result I have a fourteen month old child that puts away her own toys, helps sort laundry and take out trash, clears off her highchair tray after meals, puts away groceries and is happy. Still not exaggerating or making this up.

Lest you think I’m some kind of wonder mom (well… okay, mostly I am) I used to get irritated at Zoe instead. The first couple of times she reached for the garbage bags I just winced a let out a loud, “Nooo. Yucky. No, no, no. Please, don’t do that.” And then I realized that I am a giant idiot. Here I have a daughter who wants to help take out the trash and I’m telling her what, exactly? No? Oh, but embrace for the gift and the opportunity that it is.

Children are curious for a reason. They want to learn. Who am I to interfere with that? It might sound tedious, but you know what sounds even more tedious to me? Trying to get all the household chores done while you’re irritated at your child for interfering with each and every step. And then continuing this pattern of anger for the next 18 years. This way I enjoy the work at home, I get to spend time paying attention to my daughter, she learns the valuable lesson of responsibility, and most importantly, Zoe learns that she is worth the time and energy.

All of these things are true, but equally true is the fact that it takes time, energy, and a wealth of endurance. Which will you choose to focus on? Learning anything significant in life always comes at a price. We can either be grateful for the lesson or resent the price and simultaneously ignore the lesson.


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