No chore at all

May 1, 2010

I had to miss the end of the kids’ spring vacation last week for a business trip, but Jim sent me daily emails to keep me up on what was happening at home. On Sunday night, the last day of vacation, he wrote that Ursula had needed a day of rest at the end of a busy week.

“She slept in,” he wrote me that night after the kids were in bed. “She read on the couch in the living room, had nothing to run to or people to see. Eventually she got tired of doing nothing, and went outside in the warm spring sunshine. She climbed a tree, walked down to the pond and looked for crayfish and salamanders. She’d spent hours doing those things earlier in the week — but they weren’t as fun without friends, and eventually she joined me out on the front lawn, where I was bent over a couple of saw horses and two pairs of wooden canoe paddles in need of touching-up with varnish.”

Ursula asked Jim what he was doing. “It was a Tom Sawyer moment,” Jim wrote, “and I seized it.” Within minutes, he had Ursula roughing up the paddles with sandpaper and laying on thin coats of spar varnish and he was walking down to the barn to retrieve the wood-and-canvas canoe. A few spots on the gunwales were showing wear, and Jim figured that as long he had the varnish and brushes out, and Ursula was willing…

They did two rounds’ worth on the paddles and a round of sanding and varnishing of the canoe’s gunwales and thwarts, ate tuna fish sandwiches on the porch, picked up some downed limbs in the field, raked a few piles of leaves, and split some wood together — all the while listening to the Red Sox-Orioles game over the car radio from Fenway Park.

Last night, with me back home, Jim and I were talking about getting the kids to do more chores around the house. He remembered last Sunday’s long afternoon with Ursula. He hadn’t thought of it as a teaching moment at the time. But coming back to it, he recognized lessons: that things made of wood need maintaining, that firewood put up in April comes back to warm you in November and December, that spring cleaning in the country can also mean cleaning up after a winter of storms. He realized, too, that the afternoon taught him something, or at least reminded him of something that’s easy for parents to forget — that working together with your kids, side by side, on something real that matters, creates a special kind of bond. More, it offers a glimpse of a maturing relationship.

Soon, we’ll have another warm afternoon when nothing seems pressing. The beds will be made and bathrooms cleaned. Jim will ask Ursula if she’d like to take the canoe out on the pond, and she’ll say yes. I think that when she dips her paddle into the water, she’ll feel an extra measure of satisfaction and pleasure, a sense of having earned it.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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Kristen Laine

In 2013, Kristen Laine won an EXCEL gold award for outstanding feature writing for her work in AMC Outdoors.