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Last night I began Thanksgiving preparations. We will number 19 people tomorrow, and that means serious mashed potato poundage. I planned to have at the spuds alone for some deluded reason called habit, but I spontaneously enlisted my 13 year old to help me peel or chop–his choice. He grudgingly agreed, and I figured he’d peter out after one tater. It turned out he liked cutting the potatoes as a knife-wielding/geometry exercise.  The work passed quickly and enjoyably?!? Later my 10 year old surprised me by “calling the mashing” as in I CALL THE MASHING. He did so extremely effectively, both by hand and with the mixer. Make no mistake about it, their helping made the task go twice as fast and many times over easier than had I shouldered it alone. I loved cooking side-by-side with my kids! Exactly like never in the past!

When raising little kids I relented/encouraged them to “help” by giving them small tasks, because I knew the importance of work to their development. The reality of littles helping manifests as cute if totally ineffective at best, and painstaking if chaotic disaster at worst. Maybe we call that antithesis harm; helpful disaster-prone toddler harm.

It’s one thing when, exasperated, you can set them up at the sink for their own “cooking” water play while you get the actual work done, and quite another the day you realize they need to leave the house knowing more recipes than “food coloring coffee grounds fusion” which can only happen if you teach them.

As my boys grow we try to remember to continue raising our expectations about what and how much they do around the house so they learn housekeeping and life skills, become aware of and contribute to our family labor, and hopefully launch from our home one day equipped to feed and care for themselves and contribute to their future dwellings and people.

With a 10 year old and a 13 year old much work remains for us to give over and teach them. I still do all the cooking and husband still does all the dishes, for instance. They do their own laundry, unload the dishwasher, set and clear the table, help with mowing and yard work, help put groceries away, and care for the cat. A clean-the-bathroom primer needs to happen yesterday. Some of this labor happens organically by them now, but coaxing and leveraging often enters the equation one get your wet towel off the bedroom floor, by one please get your dirty socks off the dining room table at a time.

The evergreen truth remains that often it’s much easier to do the work ourselves as parents (or even siblings, adult children or partners), rather than deal with the inevitable complaints and our inevitable nagging. This dynamic makes for a very effective parental disincentive to teach. Until! Until you cross the threshold into bonafide effective human helpers. Especially when the effectiveness miraculously coincides with pleasantness!

I serve as helper to my own parents this year by taking over Thanksgiving hosting duties. I helped myself by keeping expectations low with a casual buffet and humbly requesting our guests bring a dish to pass. Husband will help me by cleaning, making trips to the store, ignoring my numerous extra special party sighs, and fingers crossed not getting in the shower or “running out to guitar center really quick” 10 minutes before our guests arrive.

If your helpers–regardless of age– fall more into the harmful category this holiday, good on you, bless you, and I’m sorry.  You’re doing the lord’s work and your future sends an emoji prayer hands and a thank you.

If despite your good intentions, you take over in one grand and sweeping holiday tantrum, you are right on schedule. Save a seat for me pal, I’m only a few more GET YOUR SOCCER BALL–OH FORGIVE ME I STAND CORRECTED EVERY TYPE OF ORB PROJECTILE OR.. WHIP? DOWN TO THE BASEMENT OR OUTSIDEs away.

If like– my grandmothers before me–you prefer everyone stay the hell out of the kitchen and let you become the gourmet Thanksgiving Czarina due your birthright? Have at it, I bow down to you for reals. P.S. your guests’ protestations are false. They love sitting at your table with nothing to do but enjoy your talents.

Here’s to helpers; may we find them, may we raise them, may we become them.  In the mean time, Godspeed.

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