Letting Our Kids See Us Work

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For the past five months, four-year-old Danny has been constantly at my side as I attempt to forge a new professional path. This has been both a blessing and a strain, since it turns out that he interprets my being always nearby as my being always attentive, engaged, and up for a round of 20 questions or hide-n-seek. So part-time homeschooling mama/full-time OCH admin has become more full-time/part-time, as dedicated work is something stolen in unpredictable snatches of 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there. Or if I’m really lucky, an hour or two during one of Danny’s increasingly infrequent and irregular afternoon naps.

For work-at-home parents who have this figured out, I salute you, and I beg you to share the alchemy that makes it all possible. But as seemingly impossible and impractical as it still seems, we remain committed to continuing for a bit longer at least, as Danny’s experience--despite his frustration with my pausing our play to answer phone calls--is far richer and more nourishing than what he had as a full-time daycare attendee.

For one, he gets to come to the OCH shop at least once a week.

There, he has his own dedicated desk filled with Lego, toy vehicles and letter puzzles, as well as a variety of findings from around the shop; scraps of wood, shop pencils, safety glasses, tape measures. There, he meets the men that surround Dan during the day, witnessing both their strength in flipping 40 foot timbers and their gentleness in speaking to him. There, he sees that work can be both dirty and dignified. He wanders through the shop with my camera, attending to the task I give him to “take pictures of all the tools.” And I see that he’s grasped a nuanced concept when he returns with photos of both circular saws and pencils, chain mortiser and hand-drawings on paper, cell phone and broom.

While we plan to enroll Danny in a 2-day a week Montessori school this fall to give him the additional nourishment of time with children his own age and time apart from us to grow in confidence and self-assurance, we will continue our regular visits to the shop. While part of me recognizes the good of school--a dedicated place for learning (at least theoretically)-- I also wonder... what are kids missing by not witnessing their parents working? After all, compulsory schooling has only been around for a century-and-a-half or so. The anthropologist in me can’t help but wonder what we did for the greater part of 40,000 years of human history when we didn’t have schools to send the kids to for the day while we hunted and gathered. They hunted and gathered right along at our sides.

What the real lessons are for Danny in letting him see us work, time will tell. But one thing I’m sure of is that there are lessons there, as valuable as any he’ll learn in school, and perhaps moreso, and more vividly remembered, I hope. And so for that reason, we’ll muddle on with our imperfect arrangement as long as we can.