Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Useful Children November 6, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

While watering my backyard this morning, I thought about how I really really don’t want to spend the coming weekend tackling the jungle of weeds that have again taken over. The guys who come every other week to mow the lawn and hack away at the shrubs in the front don’t do this kind of work, and I assume the nearby landscape design center only offers overhaul services, which is more than I need.

If I had kids, I’d be set. In my youth, my parents took full advantage of the unpaid workforce living under their roof. We had weekly and monthly chores, and we were expected to participate in their many home improvement projects. We mowed, cleared, dug, scrubbed, polished, built, and painted. One year, following a trip to Scotland, we transformed the family room into a pub, with billiards table, dart board, and plaid carpet (loved that carpet). Our reward for painting the room was a kids’ corner, complete with bean bag chairs and the video game Pong on our own TV. Heaven, circa 1975.

Pulling weeds was one of our regular duties, and my mom found creative incentives for motivating us to stop our whining and just get it done. “You each get a bag, and the person who fills up the most gets a quarter! Go!” I picture myself now, standing out on our street, propositioning passing school kids with “Hey. Wanna make a little extra cash? I’ll pay you $10 and it’s easy”…then I picture how I would be arrested as a possible molestation suspect. Hmmm…not the best idea.

We live in a city, so there aren’t that many children around, and we don’t live on a neat cul de sac, where everyone knows everyone and it would be easy to offer one of the neighbor’s kids a chance to earn some pocket money in exchange for a little physical labor. My 11-year-old niece has one of those gigs. She does odd jobs for an elderly neighbor, like picking plums and walking the dog. She worked her tail off one summer and, with the promise for matching funds from her dad, bought a new bike. I have yet to meet any such entrepreneurs on my street.

As much as my siblings and I complained about the unfairness of all the work we had to do, I have great memories of the projects we did together as a family. I also am grateful for the skills I picked up, skills I use today as my family-of-two’s handywoman. And as I look into my future, I’m sad that I won’t get to recreate these memories and pass on these skills to a new generation. I’m also really bummed that I’m going to spend part of this weekend in my garden, alone, pulling those pesky weeds. I need to think what kind of incentive would get me to stop my whining and race to fill up the biggest bag. A quarter isn’t going to cut it. The promise of a new dress might be just what this big kid needs to get it done. But…oooh…a dress by Armani. Now we’re talkin’.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.

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3 Responses to “It Got Me Thinking…About Useful Children”

  1. Wolfers Says:

    LOL- I hadn’t thought much about how I helped mom out a lot while growing up, and staying with her while attending graduate school (gods know $$$ in getting a Masters!!!??), until I came back to her house (after being away for five years) last month.

    Flabbergasted to find the garage full of crap, dusty boxes, dust thick just to drown you.

    Jaw-dropping finding the basement untouched since I left, full of dust, messes on the floor, etc.

    Eyes-popping, staring at the back yard, weeds and dead plants poking out, rotting bricks, all in the garden; the grass only mowed, nothing else.

    “Mom…. who have been helping you since I left?”

    “Nobody- sometimes I pay the neighborhood boy to help with the yard”, she shrugged with apathy.

    In a week before I left, I had friends over; we cleaned out the garage and the basement, organizing things to the point that mom can easily have access to ’em (like the freezer). I arranged for the next door guy to come in to help with mowing, weeding, gardening, and shoveling snow.

    I also encouraged mom to see a therapist for her poor response to empty nest syndrome. 😛

    For me, I’m too thankful for being very handy.

  2. Maria Says:

    I was one of 5 children and I tell my nieces and nephews that “we were Grandma’s little slaves” and she laughs when I say it. I was helping my mom with the housework when I was 5 (ironing, laundry, mopping – seriously). We weren’t rewarded with spare change — we were whipped with insults about our incompetence. Now at 46, my husband says when I clean the house I look furious and he hides from me. It’s taken him a long time to understand it comes from my childhood — I don’t feel angry when I clean, I actually enjoy it, but I must feel like I’m waiting to be insulted. When I have a lot of gardening, I ask my nephews for help. There is always one who wants to help with spring cleanup and spreading mulch. They are young and strong and work so fast and are so happy to get the $60 I pay them for a days work. I spend the time teaching them about the plants and replanting to help them grow. It’s always a very nice day for both of us. Last year, I had to move plants for a shed and I replanted them at their houses and told them they how a piece of me was not part of their home, how grandpa was a gardener, he taught me to garden, now I teach them and they will carry on this part of our ancestry. They like that part the best I think.

  3. IrisD Says:

    My sister in law and my niece (now a sophomore in architecture) are the artists in my family. They have both helped me out A LOT!!


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