Joyful Union of Work and Play

Anne Mason and Thea Mason

We can find play––and joy––in work. And the chores we give our children can develop a capacity to approach work with the fullness of being.

Sisters Anne Mason and Thea Mason examine and discuss.

Transcript below:

Anne:                                         00:00                       Okay. All right. Here we are. Take 17.

Thea:                                         00:06                       Hi, Anne!

Anne:                                         00:09                       Hi, Thea. Okay. So if I can just get my words together. So we’re going to talk today, a kind of continuation on last week’s where we were talking about the importance of children’s chores––and how necessary it is for children to participate in the family’s survival, operation and more and how that very much aids in their development, their sense of purpose self-esteem and wards off feelings of depression and angst. So, so we decided, you know, it was not a really long conversation and we thought we would continue on with maybe identifying some concrete examples of the types of chores and tasks that we can assign to our children, but specifically…

Thea:                                         01:09                       Sorry, I need to just speak to my child…

Anne:                                         01:10                       Okay. Let me, let me pause it for one second.

Thea:                                         01:14                       Okay. Sorry. All right. Please don’t eat that, which is dinner right there…

Anne:                                         01:21                       Okay. So we’re recording again. So part of what we hit on was the fact that it seems, and from our perspective perhaps as women, but it seems that the world that we live in, the modern world here in the States––I live in the suburbs, you live in a small city––does not provide as many natural opportunities and tasks for masculine activities. In the same way it does female activities. And by that we’re talking about, you know, the difference in––certainly between people and different temperaments, but also between girls and boys. Girls, you know, the type of household chores we have all the time. There’s never, never in short supply––doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, vacuuming, tidying, making things pretty. Even some of the yard work seems to resonate perhaps, maybe more with my daughter than it does my son. And when I was stretching to figure out, well, what is it that, that my son really resonates with? It’s chopping wood. It’s, it’s getting the firewood to build, building a fire. Though my daughter is pretty pro at that too. It’s, it’s digging. I remember, you know, how he really got into helping my husband taking apart the deck to then repurpose the wood. And fixing things. And it then led me to thinking about, well this house that we built in our backyard, I wrote about this in an article I just wrote about for his third grade year, Waldorf curriculum is building your own shelter. And we built a six by six by six by six foot A-frame wooden house in our backyard.

Anne:                                         03:37                       Something I never imagined I had the capacity to do, and we did it mainly without power tools except when we really needed my husband’s help here and there. Right? And that was extraordinary. And so one of the things I wanted to, to share was this book, a couple of these books that the Christopherus Curriculum––Donna Simmons writes, does this extraordinary curriculum, Waldorf curriculum that’s designed for homeschoolers, multi-age homeschoolers. And she had recommended Lester Walker’s Housebuilding for Children, written in like 1977 or something. And Lester Walker’s Carpentry for Children, you know, it was around the same era. And we followed these his plans in here. And I mean, this is, you know, that’s the house we basically, we built and it just, it goes through showing, you know, building the walls putting the roof in.

Anne:                                         04:47                       And there’s so much, obviously that’s incorporated into that, you know, just from a homeschooler’s perspective––algebra, geometry and more. Right? But anyways, so we had wanted to come up with a prescription for the boys more specifically because it didn’t seem as apparent in this, in this urbanized world that we’re living in. And I thought back to another project that my son had done with my husband, which was a bookshelf. I needed a bookshelf, and I needed one fast. And I’m particular about what will fit in the house. Not that my taste is so high end, but it’s just, you know, I just needed a, a particular kind of height and a compactness for the space. And they took these two old dressers, wooden dressers, and repurposed them and reconfigured them and then built some shelves into it and built a bookshelf. And how wonderful that is. I mean, I walk by it every day, several times a day. My son sees this useful manifestation of his creative force..

Thea:                                         06:07                       Will forces.

Anne:                                         06:10                       Yeah. And that I needed, that he provided. And so that was the suggestion I wanted to give anyone listening and who’s been thinking about this themselves. You know, no matter how small an apartment one has, how no or little yard or back deck, patio or whatever someone has, you can build a bookshelf. You can build a small bookshelf in that. You can build a small table, you can build a spice rack, you can build a cabinet and that is so terribly satisfying, and there’s so much learning going on in so many levels when that’s happening. But I think that that, that kind of task is something that is important to give to your son. Or daughter. I mean, I am so pleased that I, know the basics of building a house now from building this house. I feel so competent. I do as a almost 49 year old having learned this just a couple of years ago. And this is following on our father who was not so inclined that way. And you know, I mean his version of a shed, I mean, we loved him so dearly and he was so great at so many things, but not this.

Thea:                                         07:41                       But he did make the effort, which…

Anne:                                         07:44                       Well, he made the effort, which may not have been the greatest example because his version of the shed, I don’t know if you remember, but was like basically buying a few pieces of plywood and leaning it kind of up against the back wall of the garage, nailing it together and slapping some paint on it. It was a shelter, but I think that kind of thing was left with me and I probably didn’t feel all that competent in my abilities to do something as well as we did these couple years ago with just some good plans. Right? So I highly recommend Lester Walker’s books. Again,  Carpentry for Children, Housebuilding for Children, they’re used books. I can’t find books like this anymore. This, this was written back in the 70s when kids had more time. And time to fill up with purposeful activities like this.

Thea:                                         08:54                       With their own problem solving and skill building, yeah. So with those ideas, I think we can also just weave into that cause I think there’s a lot of room for those sort of projects if we are willing to take the time to fill out the little spaces in our life where it might be a different habit than what would be convenient to get this thing that you need for something, but to them slow down and allow an opportunity for your child or children to make that which you need out of maybe something you already have around or you know, repurposed things or getting the materials. So it’s just a slower pace to give those opportunities to our children, I think. Is another window to look through regarding that topic.

Anne:                                         09:49                       Yeah. I absolutely agree, which makes me of course, think about even the slower pace of growing our own food. Right? Whether you’re doing it in a window box garden or a small garden bed or a community garden or your own backyard, that has been infinitely rewarding for me in understanding many layers I think of just even this existence and making connections. I mean, it strikes me that now that we don’t have a lot of people growing their own food and I know there’s a movement back towards that, but we lose touch with just the process and just the process of life and the miracle of life. Just the fact of taking the seed and planting it in the ground and watering it and with the sun and the nutrients in the soil.

Thea:                                         10:59                       And caring for it, nurturing it too, or allowing it to have its time to do its own. I mean all the analogies for life are in…Isn’t that Thoreau? The seed? What is the quote? I can’t think of…whatever. Life, eternity in a… I’m mixing things up.

Anne:                                         11:26                       But yes, that is. I mean, the miracle of life. I mean, it’s occurred to me, it’s not just that, but health and wellness. You know, a farmer understands that the soil is critical to the health of the plant and that without amending the soil and nourishing the soil over and over again, there’s nothing for that plant. No matter what you do to it, it’s not going to thrive. And so, you know, so gardening alone, yes, brings so many understandings essential understandings back to us, right? A spice garden even, right? Just a tiny little one. Yeah. Or like you said, or the process of building the small table, a small bookshelf. To know what goes into that Is, you know, all, all that is of value in that is hard to even put in a language. And you know, when we’re so used to a world where you can get online and order it with a button now and it’s delivered to your door in two days.

Thea:                                         12:43                       Well there’s something too, just that picture of taking, you know, what’s in your hand and scanning over it. Like you run by it and you don’t really notice it. And then when we slow down a little bit and we stand in that space of––what’s in your hand and you just start to see all that it is, where did the wood that you’re using grow, what was the, you know, what was the journey of that which you’re holding to become that which you’re holding? And that’s, you know, that’s not so much the pace of the world around us. So it’s the real choice to come into that, to slow down, to have appreciation for that, the becoming of each thing that has become, or is becoming.

Anne:                                         13:35                       Absolutely. if we don’t stay in touch with that, we lose touch with everything. I mean, as you’re, as you’re talking, I kind of feel like maybe all this seems like a given intellectually, but I can attest to having been transformed by putting it into practice. You know, I grew up very heady and abstract, you know, and unlike you, I didn’t, I never knitted or cared at all to do macrame or handwork or crochet, or anything like that.

Thea:                                         14:13                       I remember. I know. I’ve watched you go through all of these things.

New Speaker:                      14:19                       And I was forced to by my own choice to homeschool my children using a Waldorf curriculum, which appealed to me for a variety of reasons that resonated very deeply in me, but you know, all of that I kind of dreaded really. And as I have come to each one of those subjects or new learnings, it’s been remarkable how, I mean, I say this, I can’t say it enough. It’s like exponentially transformed me. It has––my spirit, my being, my senses, my awarenesses, my connections have woken up like exponentially, right? Just in knitting, learning to knit. And understanding what goes into then everything that I have that’s knit/knitted. Understanding, as basic as this sounds, but I mean, making yarn, you know, learning to make yarn, the wool that comes from the sheep and beyond, beyond, beyond. Right? But we’re such a society and culture here of immediate ready-made consumption that, you know, the true prescription, I think for reconnection fulfillment, reward that is all here in front of us to appreciate is to get back down to those basics. And not just for a weekend camping, but to start to incorporate that into our lives and recognize how critical that is in order to keep us whole.

Thea:                                         16:21                       And tethered to that force of creation, really. To not be adrift and lost in the darkness.

Anne:                                         16:31                       Yes, yes. Especially for those times of challenge and struggle. Yeah, that aids me, that has aided me in how I have gotten through challenging times in my life, having gone back to those basics and exercised so much more of me, myself. It’s all very hard to quantify and talk about. It’s not tangible. Right?

Thea:                                         17:00                       I don’t know. I mean, I wonder about the tangibility, but I think it’s also, there’s something in there that is the reminder that we are creators ourselves and so that is remembered and recalled and exercised––it is then recognized through all of the weavings of what’s around us.

Anne:                                         17:25                       When it’s exercised on a daily basis. Right? And so, so that brings us back to this with the children’s chores and children’s work and children’s tasks. Our own chores and tasks, our own, as you brought up in the last one, cooking our own food and not going and buying it made or made and ready to heat up. There is so much that we have lost in embracing that sort of convenience.

Thea:                                         18:00                       Yeah. I mean it goes into every facet, really, of what’s necessary for us to live. You know, we think about the way we’ve––I mean this could be a quite the discussion just going from being such community people, you know, where you washed the clothes at the creek or where you, you know, harvest the food or the water, all of these things that our culture is so removed from. And I think what part of that has done––and we were touching upon this for a moment before we started this conversation––those things that are, and there is, there can be drudgery in those monotonous necessities. We know this. And there can also be a lot of joy and camaraderie and space to daydream, space to create ideas. And I think that in that there’s somewhere that the joy of work and that work is play in a certain way that those are two sides of the same coin I think essentially. But we have pretty successfully in our culture seemed to separate them in so many views when I look. That work is something separate than play, and work is to be something that we minimize and want less of so that we can have our relaxation or recreation. But really, if we have the time to come into our work in such a way with our fullness of being, there’s joy there. And within that comes that element of play, which is what allows us to be human, really, and to relate to others. I mean, you know, I work, I work five days a week outside of my home and so I, every week I sort of think, gosh, there would be a better rhythm if I didn’t have to go out to work five days a week, but did four, so that when I’m doing my home work, my housework, I have the space and time to fill that capacity with more joy. To do these tasks with more joy because there’s a little more time to fill them out.

Anne:                                         20:40                       There’s more room, right?

Thea:                                         20:41                       More room, because you know everything is about balance. I love my work that I go to, but I need to balance that with the work that’s essential for just maintenance of life. And it’s always trying to find how to live into the, the work of life with joy, you know? And so that’s what we want to be able to give our children experiences of. That work can be joyful, playful, all of those things. We want them to exercise it and create avenues for those experiences to be there for them to step into those capacities as they come into different challenges and workspaces of life.

Anne:                                         21:24                       Yes. And to have that experience that even in a a task that might seem even drudgery there is in that there is discovery to be had. So to have the experience of discovery, which becomes joyful and leads to the next. And so it keeps us always sparked. It can help keep us sparked, inspired and interested in just everyday living, if we’re allowed to see it through that way. Right? And merge, as you’re saying––and I’d like to discuss, maybe examine this more in the next one, but––work and play as you said, it’s kind of two sides to the same coin. Rather than being so separate, where one is resisted and the other so indulged in.

Thea:                                         22:19                       And then the other thing I had the thought to share, you know, especially for our children and these ideas, if people are working to exercise to find new spaces to give their children these experiences or spaces for these experiences or activities. They’re not always going to be like, “Sweet, thanks!” You know, that’s our job just to hold the line and continue to invite someone to pick up this new way of being. This new way to find meaning and purpose in what is needed in a house.

Anne:                                         23:08                       Yeah. And what I will say, and I, I don’t know how much time, I think we’re pretty far over. I didn’t watch when we started. But a key I think to it is doing it a little bit alongside at first. That really gets a momentum going and then you can kind of leave them to go at it once they’re engaged and involved, so.

Thea:                                         23:30                       So there’s more to discuss here. I mean, it’s a pretty broad and deep idea, I think, that continues to deepen the further we follow it and its ramifications. What we see in the world and what we’re looking to see developed more of. So thank you, Anne.

Anne:                                         23:55                       Thank you. All right, well ’til next time. Hang on a second.

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