I think we might have it all wrong. Parents (and worse, grandparents) try to please the littlest members of the family with what we believe are fun activities for children. But often, it’s the mundane chores of our everyday lives that are the stuff memories are made of.
This was brought home to me recently when I had my seven year old granddaughter visiting in Iowa for a week. Ruthie lives in Chicago, and this was supposed to be a special week with Grandma in Iowa. What would we do? An amusement park. The zoo. Living History Farms.
Only thing is, I mixed up the dates and Ruthie’s visit began the first week I would be teaching school at the university. Oh dear. I had hour and a half classes, back-to-back.
“I could come to school with you,” Ruthie suggested.
Indeed she could. I told her that she could help me by taking attendance and we would practice the names beforehand. She could pass out the syllabus and the booklist. We would eat lunch in the college cafeteria. Then she could help me grade the papers my students wrote. “It would be a help to me,” I assured her.
Ruthie chose something grown-up to wear the first day (adding one of my scarves to her dress). She took her own book-bag when we walked to class among all the college kids, and I knew she was pretending to be a real college girl. To say she was excited is more than an understatement.
I introduced her to the class as my “assistant.” And she quite soberly sat at my desk, taking notes. She even “monitored” the class by going up and down the aisles while my students completed a writing assignment.
“This was the best time, ever,” Ruthie said after the week of classes ended.
It struck me that kids have fun often when they are taken seriously, doing grown-up things and not necessarily when we plan activities for them. Not everyone can bring a child to work for a whole week, but most of us are able to include our kids in the ordinary things that we grown-ups do.
Grocery Shopping. It’s a chore to be sure, but your child can be more than a kid-in-cart who makes demands. Make out a list with your child before you go grocery shopping. Include him or her in decision making before you get to the cereal aisle. There are purchasing decisions that even small children can make for the family: The flavor of the yogurts, the number of apples, the shape of the pasta.
Gardening/Yard Work Little watering cans for little people. Child-sized gardening gloves that are just like grandma’s. Little hands are perfect for placing tiny seeds in the ground. My grandchildren love to dead-head petunias and pick a bouquet for the vase on the dining room table. Who doesn’t like raking leaves and then jumping into the pile?
Housework. My grandson likes to dust with a Swiffer. He loves to spray the glass screen door with Windex and wipe with a crumpled- up newspaper. He has his own child-sized broom and can happily spend time sweeping the porch. “Good job,” we tell him and mean it. The most fun quality time? Take a child to a do-it-yourself carwash before the weather turns. The nozzles and sprays. Working the rags to wax and wipe a car to a bright shine. A very good grown-up afternoon entertainment!