A couple years ago, I broke my ankle. It was such a stupid thing. You know when you miss a step, and you land a step lower than you expect, and it’s no big deal except your heart is in your throat and your body completely overreacts with adrenaline? Yeah. That’s what happened. Except I dislocated *and* broke my ankle. In three places no less.
One of my friends commented, “You need to get a better story.”
I had surgery, and it’s been a longer road back than expected. But that’s not this story.
THIS story is about the weeks just after the surgery. I’m telling you, that took the wind out of my sails. I spent day after day in bed, falling asleep. I hardly moved, but still lost weight. Healing is a lot of work, apparently.
My husband could have taken time off work… but we couldn’t do without his income at the time. So he went to work, and I stayed home. And our kids stepped up. Like a boss. Erm, bosses. You know what I mean.
At the time, they were 7, 9, and 11.
My 11 year old took over baking bread (in a bread machine). And making breakfast (toast for everyone – that was his idea) and making me coffee.
My 9 year old started making my husband’s lunch. Every.day. The first week, I talked him through it. Then, he informed me (respectfully) he had it and didn’t need help. Just so you know, at the time, my husband was anti-sandwich. So every lunch was pretty much a combination of meat, vegetables, instant rice, and seasonings that were packed into lidded containers to be heated later in the day.
My 7 year old didn’t take on those sorts of tasks, but he did pitch in – equal to the others – on laundry day. We did laundry on Saturday mornings in laundromats, not having a space of our own at the time. Such a big deal – loading all the laundry for a family of five into the truck, unloading, loading machines, swapping machines, folding, then trucking it all home. I think I tagged along for every trip (I may have missed one). Rather than being helpful, though, I suspect I was another obstacle to work around. The supervisor-mom on the crutches, or more often, a bench.
And we were homeschooling at the time, yes. The boys just picked up all their stuff – books, kindles, papers, pencils… and carried them to the bed. Silent reading they did in the afternoons, before their pals came home from school. After school, the deal was that they could play outdoors, provided they stayed in the sight line of whatever window I positioned myself next to. They really “got” it – I don’t recall a single time I had to send a boy off in search on one who’d forgotten and gone where I couldn’t see.
As I watched just how MUCH they were doing, I started to feel guilty. Not guilty that they had to do it, although that occurs to me now. We (our family) had just gone through a big move, and I guess I’d spent all my mom-guilt at the time on them leaving one home and set of friends, leaving them needing to find new friends.
As I watched them do so much, so much more than I had any idea I knew they could… I felt guilty for not allowing them to do more, sooner.
As I healed, I was able to get back to my routines, and they happily turned the various chores back over to me. But I have tried to remember what they can do, and when it comes times for them to pitch in at home, I try to remember not to always have them sweep, or wipe down switch plates. Sure, that’s easy and they can handle it. But they can handle SO MUCH MORE. And after a while, sweeping is boring.
And… I’ve tried to apply this in other areas, too. I let them (chaperoned) seek out more of their own resources, create more of their own solutions. When I test products, if it’s designed for a child, I hand it over,and watch while they go to town. They have stepped up every time.
In 2015, I received a product to review. It was a robot, designed for children. I noted others had complained online how difficult it was to build. Well, I knew I could build it. But it wasn’t a product for women in their late 40’s. It was supposed to be for kids. So I handed it over. I watched them, made them take breaks when they got frustrated, and spent a lot of time saying, “What did the manual say?” and “What did they say on the demonstration video?” Other than that, I did not help them one bit. And they built it.
I try not to ask too much at any given time, or too closely together. I do have the advantage of knowing what (all of) their school work is, so I know when they can take on a little more, and when they need a break. But they seem to really enjoy the additional challenges. So, while I would have gladly skipped the whole broken ankle drama, I’m glad I learned this about my kids when I did.