Before I had children, I resolved to involve my kids in everything that I did. If I turned out to be a gardener, I wanted them in the garden with me. If I baked a cake, I wanted them right there next to me, dumping ingredients and stirring batter and carefully observing my every move. Rather than entertaining the kids elsewhere while I worked, I wanted to take the time to teach them how to make soup, how to weed the garden, how to knit and read big books.
Of course, like most ideas hatched before the babies are actually born, that’s easier said than done.
As it turns out, gardening with a toddler often means replanting the starts she digs up with her tiny shovel, and baking with a toddler means sweeping spilled flour or lentils off the floor a few times a day (or not, which means walking around with lentils stuck to my bare feet). Sometimes, it’s easier to hand Lydia a coloring book and just make the soup myself than it is to deal with the mess and distraction and questionable hygiene of cooking with a little one (“No! Please! Do not put that back in the bowl! It was just in your mouth”).
In short, teaching a toddler anything requires an awful lot of patience.
Sometimes, my patience runs out. With a baby in the carrier and a toddler at my elbow, it’s not below me to snap, “I’m trying to concentrate, that’s what I’m doing!” so it’s certainly not below me to steer Lydia’s attention elsewhere, say, to a toy in the other room. But, whenever I do, it’s not long before God reminds me that it’s a good thing, patience, and that teaching our girls practical disciplines, like cooking and gardening, is a primary part of my job as a parent, along with teaching them, through words and example, how to love him and serve him patiently.
God reminds me of this in subtle ways, like through the comments on this post, where readers mention again and again that the best thing their fathers did for them was to include them in everything, even things that seem mundane or downright torturous to us as adults (really? laying sod?).
Or at the memorial for Mitch’s Granddad, where all four grandsons spoke about the things they had learned from their granddad, and three of them specifically mentioned the pint-sized tool bench that he set up alongside his own, so that his grandsons could work in the garage with him.
My dad did that for me, actually, but with a desk: next to his work desk, he placed two small ones for my brother and me, so we could “work” (i.e. draw) with him. And my mom took me with her on home visits when she worked as a visiting nurse (those visits are probably why I can watch oral surgery without feeling queasy).
In fact, I’ll tell you what inspired this post: as I write, Mitch is working on our car, and guess who’s with him? Lydia, in a pink knit hat and snow coat, is following him around with her baby doll tucked under one arm, asking, I’d assume, more questions than he can possibly answer while changing a flat tire.
Teaching her takes time, it’s true, but it’s worth it. When she clambers onto her kitchen step stool and announces, “I want to help!”, I know better than to turn her down, even if it means that I’ll be finding sprinkles in the grout of the counter for days afterwards.