Saturday, April 26, 2014


Way back when Little Guy was in kindergarten, I went to parent-teacher conferences. As I sat down in the pint-size chair, the teacher smiled and said brightly, "You have a really out-of-the-box kid!"

This threw me a bit. The out-of-the-box spectrum in our family is pretty broad, and on that scale and by my reckoning Little Guy is fairly conventional. My instinct (which I did not indulge) was to reply, "Oh. How big is the box?" It's one thing to think outside a small shoebox, and another to think outside of a stone sarcophagus.

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When my older kids were little and we read the Little House books, I was struck by how much Laura and Mary Ingalls did in the way of chores. My awareness of this was probably heightened because my children were not particularly cooperative about helping out. I realized that part of this was because I saw chores as a way to teach my children responsibility. I didn't actually need the kids to work to keep the family afloat the way Ma and Pa needed all hands at work.

Kids understand that kind of difference intuitively. Who wants to do work that's not strictly necessary? Who wants to do invented chores? Not me. Not them.

What my kids did need was play, so we played Little House. We used masking tape to measure out the size of a covered wagon on the floor, and then they had to decide what to bring along for the trip west, and fit it all in that rectangle. I think they did that for a full week, day after day, in costume, eating molasses on bread for lunch, and drinking cold water from a metal cup.

Eventually I asked them which chores they thought it was fair for kids their age to do in our day and age. At that point they were able to consider the question honestly.

I learned that it was better to ask "How much time do you think is fair for you to contribute to helping keep the house in order?" and "If you don't do it, then I'll have to. Do you think that's right?"

Reframing responsibility changed the shape of the box. But to change the box we all had to pretend to ride for a while in a covered wagon.

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The very first day we began homeschooling, when Eldest was just-turned-five, I felt very far out of the box. It was scary and I thought I must be an Extremely Brave Woman.

By day two it wasn't so bad. We'd survived, after all. As with many things, only the first step involved bravery; often whatever's outside the box is intimidating simply because it's new.

It helps, when I'm feeling anxious, to determine how much of what I'm feeling is due to the existence of an unknown. It helps even more if, once I've admitted that I'm nervous about stepping into new territory, I remind myself, "It won't be new for long."

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We have an inordinate number of boxes around our apartment these days. That is not to say that we are anywhere near ready to move. We still have a lot of painting to do before we can sell.

Anything I take out of a closet gets sorted into one of three piles -- keep, toss, give away -- and the things that are retained are boxed up before going back on a shelf. I'm intentional about what goes into my boxes nowadays.

I set aside a thing or two for Eldest, who is graduating from college a month from now, and has accepted a job at an ed-tech firm in the midwest. It is in a city I have never visited, a place I do not know.

Her move forces me to step out of a box I know and love, to let go in a way I have never had to let go before. Hopefully I will acclimate quickly to this new stage of being a mother, a mother-from-afar.

Boxes. Moving. Moving on. Sometimes the heart hurts when it's being stretched.


  1. Beautiful and helpful. Thank you. JJ

  2. I have a "kid" who is actually a young adult, newly engaged. Now I know that sometime next summer, his room will be empty and my mom-role will be very different. Yes, stretching the heart in a new chapter does hurt. So glad that prayer helps!!

    I will say a prayer for you and for Eldest ...
    ~ Dar in NY

  3. I read a blog today that said Prepare for the Empty Nest. It is true. My heart understands your pain. You will make it. And it won't be all pain. Lots of joy in the mundane everyday life of a mom who gets heart palpitations when when the phone rings and the name on the phone is the one who lives a little farther away. Praying for peace for you and yours.

    Here's the link to that blog.

    Blessings from one closet packer to another