Within our homes, we have so many opportunities to either bring the world to life for our children, to foster connections, or to join the modern age of deadening our senses and disconnecting from the world. We can choose to place our families (and ourselves) within a long line of humanity, by performing tasks the way humans have long done them, or we can forget where we came from and see our current times as the only way. Let us choose, at least some of the time, to do our work with our own hands, where our children can plainly see the magic taking place. For it is magic, indeed – bread rising up out of flour and water, a sweater taking shape from a ball of yarn, a clean sheet glowing in the sunshine. Let your work sing (and don’t forget to sing while you work!) and your children will join you, joyfully.
Showing our children how real work is done affects them on many levels. Their senses are engaged – instead of just the taste of the bread, they can experience the silken warmth of the dough, the smell of the changing yeasts, the sound of the air sighing out as the dough is relaxed.
These experiences also linger within our children – especially those which are repeated as a rhythmic part of their lives. I count myself very blessed that I grew up in a family where I saw vegetables chopped to make dinner, fabric sewn to make clothing, seeds planted to create life and food. Seeing these actions, and learning to do them myself, opened up the world to me. Knowing that our world is created by humans, not by machines, is incredibly important, and opens up for our children the possibilities of what might be. It also teaches our children in a very physical way how challenging this work is, and teaches them to respect the work others have done.
In our house, we make bread by hand (usually sourdough, which uses wild yeasts to rise the bread instead of store-bought yeasts.) We wash our dishes and our clothing by hand. Our main heat source is building a fire in the wood stove. We sew and knit, and we grow a lot of our own food in our garden. This may seem extreme, backbreaking, idealist, or impossible. I am not superhuman, I don’t live with extended family, and I don’t count myself a martyr. I did not start by taking on all these tasks at once. Before I became a mother, I was already a baker by trade and growing food on a micro-farm level.
Motherhood changed the way I do all my work irrevocably, and as my daughter grew and began to take in more of the world, I looked around our home with new eyes (and ears.) I began to study Waldorf education, where doing housework with small children is part of the curriculum. The loud chugging of the washing machine and dishwasher offended me. I am, admittedly, a bit of an eco-nut, and that was part of my inspiration to begin washing our dishes by hand, which saves a smidgen of electricity. More importantly, I find the work far more enjoyable. I wash, dry, and put away the dishes as we go, which makes for more, smaller jobs. I had been intrigued by the idea of washing clothes by hand for a long time, and last winter I decided it was time to try, as part of One Small Change. Once again, I found that work that I took the time and careful thought to do myself is unspeakably more gratifying and rewarding than handing over my job to a machine or a store. I may not always walk over to a tub of dirty laundry with a smile – but I did not approach my washing machine with a smile, either!
I hope that you are inspired to look around your own home and choose one job to take back from the machines. In my own life I have seen the power of choosing to create with our own hands, even when our creations seem imperfect compared to what we can buy. Show your children the magic in their own hands.
Adrie Lester and her family live on a wee little farm in western MA, where they practice making their love visible through their work with Wheatberry Bakery and Farm, and Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain CSA. You can find her discussing cooking, crafting, farming, and hand work at her blog Fields and Fire.