I must confess that I hate to tell my granddaughter, Laura Rose, no. It is even more difficult to spat her little hand or leg on the rare occasions when she needs it. But, oh, I do love to teach her how to suck a straw, use a spoon, sweep the floor, or play music on her broken keyboard.
Just last week I taught her how to pat out fresh corn tortillas. At first, she wanted to just squeeze the dough between her tiny little fingers, but after a while, she got the hang of it and started slapping the dough. She was with Big Papa late last summer when he went to the garden to see if his open-pollinated corn was dry enough to harvest. She was with me later when I shelled it (I’m sure she thinks she helped). She was on my hip when I reached into the cold wood stove and took out a cupful of hardwood ashes, and then she watched with interest as I stirred the ashes into the pot of dry corn and water. However, she was not there two days later when I took the hominy out of the pot and washed it in preparation for mashing it into dough, but maybe she will get to do that part next time.
Earlier this week we brought in the potted flowers to save them from our first freeze. I watched with delight as she wrinkled up her nose and sniffed at each blossom. Over the last 4 months I have wrinkled my nose and made sniffing noises over every flower in my herb garden, so her sniff was a delightful triumph.
She loves to wash dishes. Today is her first birthday, but she has been washing dishes with me for months. I usually hold her on my hip and use my free hand to wash and rinse. Every few minutes she will lean over and “half” pick up a dish, doing her part. I talk to her constantly, explaining everything with great enthusiasm. I ask her opinion, and then I give her mine. She stares into my face with joyous curiosity, trying to understand. I know from the experiences of having raised my children that she understands much more than anyone would believe. I do hope she doesn’t pick up my hillbilly accent. Thankfully, none of my children did, which is quite amazing.
In between jobs we sit down. There she learns how to take a cap off a bottle, or we read a book and talk about the different words, pictures, and colors. When we see the dog, we make a dog sound. Sometimes we run down to the pasture to visit the cows and make cow sounds. She loves seeing the world perched on the hip of her official tour guide. And she loves learning how things are done through the sound of my constant chatter. She will not leave her daddy’s arms for anyone else but me. I have earned her love by showing her a thousand new wonders and filling her with the expectancy of a thousand more. It is the gift all children hunger for. It is called knowledge. Training up a child in the way he or she should go has very little to do with spankings or rebukes—which are a strong indication of failure to train. Training up a child means showing them how to make corn tortillas, pedal a tricycle, make up a bed, cook for 40 people in 1 hour, read, show respect, and how to do a thousand other wonderful things.
Laura Rose is very young now, but she is learning how to do many useful chores. She will grow up enjoying working with me. Her happiest memories of being with me will be of us doing and learning things together. I will never do as the psychology textbooks say—have limited quality time with her, talking about her innermost feelings, affirming her personality, practicing positive affirmation. As she gets older, I will not invade her space with intimate “spiritual talk.” My time spent with her will be real-life activities and projects, providing her heart and spirit with a natural nurturing environment that is conducive to emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual maturity. She will hear Bible stories as part of the daily routine, in a relaxed unreligious context while she is working and discovering the wonders of the world. That is child training at its finest.
Practical knowledge and skills give children courage, leaving no place for fear and uncertainty. They will grow up with a will to help others and to change things that need changing. An enabled child will never be a dependent adult.
My daughter, Shoshanna, was telling me about a family she stayed with last week. She said the kids were confident, saucy, and engaging. She said even the 4-year-old knew things many adults didn’t know. They could all do so many useful, helpful things. She said their mom teaches the little ones how to work. Their ability to do simple chores gives them a personal frame of reference that is miles ahead of the fit-pitching kids you see in Wal-Mart. It is unthinkable that their little Esther would ever pitch a wild fit. She has more dignity and self-respect. With her meaningful participation in responsible activity, she has earned the esteem of others, and she wants to maintain it. This is not genetics, or a blessed personality, or the unmerited grace of God randomly bestowed on worthy parents. Esther’s mom took time to explain to her 4-year-old how to set a table, clean up a bathroom and wash off a counter. Now that little Esther is six years old, she has the confidence and dignity of an experienced housekeeper. Her daddy has taken the time to teach the older children how to do all kinds of refurbishing projects. These kids are worth their pay. It is more convenient having them around than not. That says it all!
I have heard all the excuses, even the ones you are voicing even now in your own mind. You are too busy, too tired, stressed, and maybe sick or pregnant? Your husband won’t help you. “Your” children are different. Nonsense! Your excuses are simply the result of not training. You see, Esther’s mom has 9 children under 14 years of age, and she is expecting her 10th.. Six of her children are under seven years old. She helps run a business and has more company each month than the average family has in a year. She saves time by taking the time to train. Her children are trained to build, paint, cook, clean, baby-sit, sew, and they all have instilled in them the confidence that they can do any task put before them.
Do I hear one final, desperate excuse, posed as compassionate concern? “Poor over-worked darlings; they should be allowed a carefree childhood.” Don’t kid yourself. No one is listening, not even your complaining children. Esther and her brothers and sisters will grow up with the profound blessing of not having a poor self-image or being shy and withdrawn. They will never be social misfits or take dope because they want to fit in with the crowd. They will never feel as though someone is rejecting them or appear to have a chip on their shoulder. They will be the leaders, the shakers and movers. They are happy now and will remain so as adults.
This family is a good example to me. So I will not spend my days training Laura Rose by saying, “No, No.” Tomorrow when she comes to visit, Shoshanna and Shalom will finish painting the walls a bright turquoise, and I will tell her that Shoshanna picked out the color and Shalom and Elizabeth helped scrape off the old wall paper. And then, I will tell Laura Rose about how much fun we are going to have, because “we” get to do the clean up. I will place her little hands on the dry brush and let her brush the dry walls. Later, she will stand on her wobbly little one-year-old legs beside my old ones, and we will push the bed back into place, and then we will help Shoshanna finish building the closet doors. I do this not because I am a grandmother, but because I am training a child in the way that she should go so that when she is old, she will not depart from it. Laura Rose is worth the investment. I will talk and talk, telling her everything we are doing and how we are doing it. I will let her help, even if it means a mess, because I know someday, when Laura Rose is 5 years old, really helping me do the housework, she will follow me into that spare bedroom as she has a hundred times before. This time she will pause and look around at those strangely painted walls and say, “Mama Pearl, did I help you paint this room and hang that door? It seems like I remember helping you.” And I will smile and I will assure her, “Yes, you helped a lot. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have done it without you.”