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.