Wood Cutters, by Tom Roberts. 1886. (Gratefully, not the way we do wood splitting!)
Spring has inaugurated the pecking season. That season where one never finishes but faithfully pecks at the list whenever possible until October. Saturday was a family work day. The sheep barn is clean, we put in some hours with the wood splitter (a shiny red machine, not a person), we made a start towards cleaning up some more of the pasture, and we spread brown treasures around the property. Our manure spreading is shovels and pitch forks from a wagon pulled by the smallest tractor driver who can still reach the gas and brakes. We also leveled some places for our new hives, picked them up, and got them in place.
Not a single child was excited about family work day. The older three accomplished quite a bit. The youngest did a little. There were lots of complaints, some good natured, some not. Feet drug in a range from periodic to emphatic. The after lunch return to labors was especially unpopular. It ended like this:
“I actually really like family work days,” I said. We were stacking some more of the wood we’d split.
“Me too,” said voices from every side of me.
“They’re one of my favorite times together,” I said.
“I know what you mean,” said one.
“Me too,” said another.
They began recounting all they’d accomplished, especially impressed that some of them could no longer reach the top of the stack we had started along the wall of the shed on the ground that morning.
Family work days give me hope. Not because we ever come close to what we thought we might do. (Why my husband and I spend such large amounts of time debating what should be done on the list which we never complete is a good question.) Not because everyone is happy all day. My husband and I disagree on and off about how best to do it all. Once every fifteen minutes or so, someone hides in the bathroom, stomps off incensed at an egregious insult, or insists that they are starving, exhausted, or seriously injured. I tell myself as I re-motivate another child that work days are like democracy: the only thing worse than doing them is not doing them.
Before this year, there is no doubt that my husband and I could have accomplished more in a day working by ourselves than with the family. But the scales have tipped. Not a lot, but a little.
Family work days say that work is an important part of life, but efficiency is not everything.
Knowing in the moment, the difference between failure and success, might not be a particular human specialty. Maybe the point is to keep at it as best you know, celebrate the stacks of wood and piles of poop you have, and leave the rest of it as tomorrow’s problem so you can go inside eat meatloaf with baked potatoes.
On Friday, the boys arrive in the house triumphant, almost dizzy with joy.
“We’re going to tell you a secret,” declares boy two to the girls.
“After dinner,” says boy one.
“But you’re never to tell.”
“Best fort in the whole world. Ever.”
“But no grownups allowed to know about it.”
These pronouncements are met with vows of everlasting fidelity from younger sisters. The fact that I am standing three feet away is part of their fun. They want me to know that their secret is so good, they can’t possibly tell me.
Detective mom is now on high alert. The case of the secret fort has begun.
“Sounds great,” I say as if I’m hardly listening.
“No adult can ever, ever go there.” Boy two can’t stop moving, he’s so happy.
“No, never.” Boy one sighs content.
It has been pouring rain all day. Their lack of appropriate soakage despite their absence is working against them. Detective mom considers the implications.
“If your fort is outside, no problem. If the fort is located in a building that we own, and Dad or I accidentally find your fort some day, there are no guarantees about privacy. The buildings get used for farm needs.”
“You will never accidentally go into our fort,” says boy one. They want to tell me so badly I think their chests might burst from the pressure of holding it in. But neither wants to be the one that told if the telling goes badly.
I am satisfied. Petrified. Horrified. But the case is solved. They are pleased when I guess the location but I say little. I can’t bear saying yes or no.
As my brother would say, here is what you need to know:
The fort is roughly 6 x 10 feet, with walls and a roof. There is a decent size window to let in light. Currently, there is precisely one entrance” to the fort. I am guessing it to be 12 x 18 inches at the most. An easy fit for the younger three. The oldest says he has to wedge his shoulders through on the diagonal and shove. The entrance was not designed for humans. Until recently, it was heavily trafficked by 30 chickens. The fort was their coop, the entrance, their access to their outside run.
Normally, the second coop is accessed by going through the main coop, using a very people size door. With the meat chickens gone, and winter coming, an insulated wall has gone up between the two coops. This keeps our egg layers cozy. We had fancied the second coop inaccessible until the wall came down.
Saturday they bring out speakers and music. Apparently hooks were put up. They come back cold, filthy, wet, and very pleased about the indoor snowball fight they have managed with bits of hail and snow scrapings.
I say, strip off those clothes and get in the shower. I add bleach to the wash. I never say yes, I just can’t quite manage to get no out of my mouth.