Sunday, April 05, 2009

‘Workings’ together not just side by side

At Christmas or a short time thereafter a box arrived on the doorstep from my father-in-law addressed to his son.

Inside were two pairs of ordinary work gloves made of blue and red stripped canvas ticking and gray-colored leather; one was an adult-sized “Large,” and the other was a tiny replica meant for a child.

However, it was a letter tucked in with the pristine protective hand wear that was the true gift, for it bestowed the origin the family tradition of “workings.”

“Workings” being the term my husband’s grandfather had good-naturedly bellowed most weekend mornings after breakfast; a term his children (and later, grandchildren) understood to mean they were expected to dress for the weather, whatever it be, and join their elder taskmaster outside, where they would be expected to assist him in an endeavor that was destined (as it was loudly and proudly announced) to “save the universe.”

Usually, my father-in-law’s letter stated, “workings” were small tasks the elder gentleman thought convenient to share that morning with his diminutive workforce: Saving the world, one leaf pile at a time.

As I read the missive, I pictured “workings” as the ordinary tasks that always need doing: the raking of leaves, the weeding of gardens, the painting of fences, the organizing of tools.

I felt a surge of shame.

All the tasks that are woefully neglected at our house since the people over the age of six have proven incapable of keeping their eyes on those under the age of six and still manage to accomplish a task.

But it was winter: The wind was biting, the temperatures daunting.

And despite the urge to bundle up the kids and drag them outside in the snow to push something around with a shovel calling “WORKINGS” into the winter wind, the desire to stay warm and comfortable blocks forward momentum.

Oh, we of prematurely sedimentary ways.

I closed the gift box. I put it away. It left my mind.

Until just the other day when I awoke to the sound of the coffee grinder, slowly oozed out of bed and lumbered into the kitchen, lured by the aroma of fresh drip.

With my husband sitting behind his computer at the desk, and my son perched next to him plunking away of the keys of his own plastic laptop, I saw our 21st century equivalent of “workings” in action.

The scene reminded me of the shame and the box and the letter, and my winter desire to do something else: to plant something, to just dig in the dirt, to accomplish something together, not just silently side by side. There is so much to do; so many workings to share if we could only get started.

The wind is still biting, and the tasks that have piled up are enormous. One would need to grow a will the size of a walrus to keep the whirling dervish and the toddler busy AND still manage to make any progress. And I haven’t forgotten there are naps to navigate, a kitchen to clean and laundry to fold and put away.

But Ittybit knows what workings she wants to do; she wants to start planting. She’s got the seed packages ready and the scissors poised, just waiting for the final “OK, we’ll do it.”

I wasn’t so sure. I had just mopped the floor. And how would we keep the Champ from eating the dirt?

But she was adamant. “It will be fun …”

“OK, we’ll do it.”

And with that we gathered our supplies: “We’ll need egg crates, and potting soil, a teaspoon and water. We’ll need newspaper to spread on the table. We’ll need to roll up our sleeves,” I said as the things piled up.

“And we’ll also need gloves,” she said with a smile.

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