Intermission (Fall 2015)

Like General MacArther on the shores of Leyte or Thorin Oakenshield in the bowels of Misty Mountain, I have returned (albeit to the woefully more complex realm of cyberspace’s blogosphere, for relatively disinteresting reasons, and for less consequential ends).  Apologies to regular readers (I think we are up to three now) for the absence of prose and witicisms following August’s post.  As you shall soon learn, September was replete with wind and fury.  Indeed, I am still recovering and penning the next monthly update proper (do not fret…I took good notes).  In the tween, I present the blog’s first “intermission” in the grand narrative of our family exploits, a small collection of our lunatic-fringe thinking on childrearing in response to frequent questions we face regarding our brood.  Enjoy or cringe as your tastes so incline you.

Observe One, Do One, Teach One

Those who know our family well understand that we have given our kids a good deal of responsibility and freedom, both with good result, since they were very little. This has oft been met with shock and awe by some contemporary and older parents and heaps of encouragement and praise by others. As one simple illustration, though not exactly Davey Crocket, the boy began whittling with a real pocket knife when he was 5. (Viewed as downright scandalous among some urban parenting focus groups, no doubt.)

(Now age 15, learning on his own how to make vinegar from spare bananas.)

This has lead to a lot of questions over the years from other adults (many of them parents) about the kids and their ability to operate at their levels of maturity compared to their age. Some areas of example? Well…Wee One, now 11, can cook circles around some college graduates, the boy routinely troubleshoots mechanical and technical conundrums that would immediately send many a Millennial (and his own parents) searching for a repair shop, the 17-year old (based on her maturity) was recently asked to house sit a vacant property and has been offered alcohol at restaurants by wait staff more than once over the past two years, and the eldest’s financial acumen saw her sporting $3K in savings by the time she was 16. (While these examples will draw a yawn from like-minded parents out there, these are apparently noteworthy accomplishments in some circles.)

(Out of the blue, Joe College produced a multi-course Greek dinner for her mom’s birthday.)

“What’s the trick?,” we have often heard. Honestly? No tricks, and we are far from alone in seeing this type of responsibility in kids early on. Today’s kids simply can do a good deal more than modern society allows them to. (Recall the age of Alexander the Great when he set out to conquer the known world, the age of Cleopatra when she sat the throne.  Just how old were Spartan boys when they were turned out into the wild for their test of manhood?)  High scores on video games, soccer trophies, and inclusion on the honor roll–while all good things–do not represent the height of what kids can achieve.

(Making fresh soft pretzels for Oktoberfest.)

In our particular case, God’s handiwork–the individual makeup and wiring of these four very different little people and answers to our regular parental prayers–is also heavily at play. As for our part as parents, it rests some on a simple, old leadership slogan (the headline of this section). More specifically, when we can see that they are ready to take on a new responsibility, we carefully and personally demonstrate a task or skill (they “observe one”), we have them perform the task (“do one”), after several repetitions over time that prove mastery, we have them teach the skill to another sibling (“teach one”). For instance, our eldest child, at the age of three, potty trained the next sibling in line when she was 18 months old, totally unprompted. No joke.

(Now 17, and fully potty trained, tackling a lovely stand of cane grass while sporting some very fashionable make-shift farmwear.)

Other tactics? We put the kids on bi-weekly salaries for several years before we left our careers. This was not an allowance and was in no way linked to chores. (As a side note, I’ll mention here that, in our family, chores are something you do as a contributing and productive member of the family unit, a resident and consumer within the domicile; no one gets paid for doing chores.) With that money, and a checking account with debit card, the kids were responsible for buying their own clothes, paying for outings with friends, and other routine expenses. Aimed at teaching fiscal responsibility, it was amazing to watch this exercise quickly shift shopping preferences from Abercrombie and Fitch to Ross as the kids realized that they could bank the difference or use it for other things, like an outing to the theatre with friends. One of the kids saved up enough to cover half the cost of a summer survival camp (we readily chipped in the remainder), one bought an iPad (long before mom or dad owned such devices), and one started dropping money in the collection plate at church. The oldest was 13 years old when we began this practice; the youngest joined in when she was 8.

(A typical meal thrown together by the kids.)

Flawless system? No, by far. Youth, especially the teen variety, has a way of allowing petty distractions override many things (common sense and task mastery among them–even in regards to a skill or chore performed flawlessly dozens of time), and that triggers parental correction (sometimes a punishment, depending on the seriousness of the issue…“You did what to the family’s annual drinking water supply?”). Harsh sometimes? Mayhaps and by some standards; we are, after all, human. In the end, though, smiles, lessons learned, pride in proven ability, and capable–very capable–kids who will enter the world able, more able than peers, I’ll wager.

(”Tiny,” as she is affectionately known, decided to try her hand at homemade face masks using a local medicinal plant that we grow–miracle leaf.)

Will it work for all kids? I cannot speak to that with authority, but having supervised many dozens of recent college graduates in the workplace, I am quite convinced that a little more responsibility and moral-compass building and a little less coddling and electronic distraction throughout the younger years would have formed an entry-level work force of a different character than we have seen over the past decade. 

And that’s that.

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