This morning I return from the country very early. Yesterday a friend and I spent awhile in the garden in Ashfield, tearing out old growth, raking away dead leaves, hauling debris to the edge of the yard, dumping it over the wall. The sun was shining. After two days of cold and rain, it was wonderful to kneel on warm earth with sun on my back. Afterwards, I took my first swim in the pond, cold, tolerable, seeking the sunny patches there, too, as it was late in the day.

Today I find myself working beside a day care boy of four. First we test all the markers to see which are dry, which must be thrown away, which can be refilled, which should be kept. Then we refill the markers, step by step, finding each marker’s match in watercolor, half filling the small containers with liquid, removing the marker caps, resting the open markers in the containers where they can be refilled. My boy and I work side by side at the kitchen table while we test the markers. He stands on a chair to reach the counter where we do the filling, well out of reach of toddlers who might spill. As we near finishing, three of his friends join, two fours and a one, wanting to keep working when the job is done, commenting that the first boy has done more. He’s been working here all morning, I point out, while you were doing other things.

As we finish filling markers, we begin day care clean up. I wonder who will do what, back room, toy dishes, mats. Mats get the most takers. Two  young fours offer and the newly two joins, opening the closet, taking each mat from the pile, identifying it’s owner, carrying it along with it’s partner blanket to it’s place in the day care, preparing for nap, which will come after toileting, breakfast, park, and lunch. When lunch is over, the children help Alice unfold the mats, open the crib. At the end of park time, I see a four help a one dump sand from her shoes, then later, when we are inside the house, another four helps another one to take her shoes off.

Working alongside another and watching people work together makes me happy. Productive companionability, contribution to a group, making something better are only part of what enlivens these scenes. There is also the timelessness. As I wash dishes with my friend, I remember washing dishes in my grandmother’s kitchen, as I work in the garden I imagine my parents’ generation helping on their family farms, as I work alongside the day care children  and watch them work with one another, I think of children in tribal cultures learning to be adults from the world around them, looking after babies, preparing food, keeping watch.

Its important that all the members of our society have worth, find value in our contributions and those of others. Children in child care centers and schools are no exception. I’m not suggesting a return to child labor. I am suggesting that we find ways to work alongside our children, and for them to see us working alongside one another, to see and feel the pleasure and satisfaction in learning to contribute and to do a thing with skill. Filling markers was a start for my four today, getting rid of last year’s brown grasses was a start for me this weekend in becoming a more useful gardener in our country place. What will be your  next starting place?

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