One morning as we were on the way to school, I spoke to my kids about the need for them to help out more around the house, so Mama doesn't go crazy. We're a family, and families help each other.
Berto, my eldest, responded with, "I hate working! Just slow, boring walking around picking up stuff. If I'm going to work, I want to be playing sports. It's more exciting."
I think my blood went from tepid to boiling in less than five seconds. In his words I heard the cry of a generation so in love with their electronics with which they waste a great deal of their time and with the multiple freebies from their parents that they do not value personal effort, work ethic and proper communication. It wasn't the first time my son had said, "But I hate work!" as an excuse, either.
The first time it happened was a summer or two ago when the children and I were out in the front yard, clearing up storm debris from our eucalyptus trees. Berto was responsible for sweeping our neighbor's driveway while the rest of the kids were supposed to pick up bark and twigs from their grass and our rocks. Berto gave a half-hearted attempt to his task, complaining as he did so, before pronouncing it done, and the younger ones were soon off on larks, not helping one bit.
I frankly told Berto the job he'd done was pitiful, and then showed him the proper way of sweeping a neighbor's driveway - much more thoroughly and with more energy. As I scolded all of them for leaving the work to their mama, Ana came and scooped up a couple pieces of bark guiltily before deserting moments later to collect rocks. Ella was simply running around in the hot morning sun.
Boy, was I ever mad.
I marched those kids inside, and I took a welcome seat in the recliner, demanding that they all line up in front of me. A couple of them tried to sit on the couch with sullen faces, but I quickly cried, "Nope, nope! Mama's the only one who gets to sit right now. I did all the work. You guys are going to stand right there in front of me until I'm done talking!"
And I talked alright, in the tradition of my own dad's lectures. I talked about how work is an essential part of existence, that it creates a sense of self-worth and builds confidence even in the youngest person, that it is healthy exercise, and that it is absolutely necessary to achieve dreams.
And then is about when Berto interjected, "But I hate work!"
I think my jaw dropped. It was one of the silliest things I'd ever heard, though I'm certain many children, including myself, have said it before him.
Once I recovered, I answered, "Do you think anybody loves it?" And then I lectured for many more good long minutes.
When my Berto repeated this excuse on the car ride to school, I believe my outburst went like this:
"Berto, that is the most ridiculous excuse I have ever heard, and this is the second time I've heard you say it! Don't you ever let me hear you say that again. You can think it all you want, but you better not let me catch you saying it! Do you think any of us like work? Work is necessary. If nobody worked, the world would be a mess. When I was eight-years-old, I was already hand washing dishes, and by the time I was a teenager - no, an adolescent - I was pretty much cleaning the whole house, because Grandmama worked with Paca all day in the woods. And that includes mopping floors and scrubbing bathrooms, too! And Aunt Vinca did it before me! Your Aunt Annie and Uncle Natie were out in the woods rolling wreaths with Paca and Grandmama and digging roots, too. And we didn't even work as hard as the generations of children before us! They had to help out on their family's farm, getting up at dawn to feed and groom the animals and working in the fields, too. Just read Little House on the Prairie, for crying out loud!"
And then I may have said some unkind things about the current generation feeling entitled to everything with little to no effort on their part to earn any of it, how I had read many articles about bosses bemoaning the fact, and how I would be danged if any of my kids grew up to be the pampered, spoiled young adults who expect everyone to hand them life on a platter, without proper communication or even taking their eyes off their phones, and who get a rude awakening when they realize the world doesn't give a damn about their expectations.
Of course, then I realized that maybe, just maybe, I should say something about my own flaws, like the fact that although I value work as good exercise (even carrying laundry back in tiny piles, room by room, in order to get the most steps in for my day) and honest employment, and I actually like some kinds of work much better than others, I have a terrible tendency to complain that my work is never done and never stays done.
For instance, I can be heard saying things like, "Why is this sink so filthy? I just cleaned it yesterday!" on a regular basis.
I confessed I find our small home overwhelming sometimes to the point of near inertia, of defeat, for I cannot let go of the fight for one instant or the house will be overrun by school papers, junk mail, dirty or outgrown clothes, dust, debris, toys, grime and piles of dishes on every flat surface, but it doesn't help the crusade at all to complain, as I so often do, that it is never clean. I admitted that I don't love to cook (steamed broccoli, raw carrots or canned green beans for a side again, anyone?), that to make a mess of a kitchen when the house is still in disarray is no picnic, but that I just need to close my trap, put my smile on and do the best I can, because cooking is a way of showing love for my family.
Cooking is love...cooking is love....cooking is love...(repeat as often as necessary until empowered to whip up something new and unusual and elaborate for dinner that two-thirds of your kids will promptly refuse to eat but that you will stubbornly shovel in even if it is absolutely revolting).
I told my children I'm attempting to alter my thinking and to curb my speeches of frustration. There is a scene in one of my favorite romantic comedies, Return To Me, in which the heroine, Grace, asks her grandfather if he needs any help, and he responds, "No...no, darling - not at all. I'm blessed with work."
Blessed with work - yeeesss, hmm: not complaining, as I am prone to do, just valiantly maintaining constant effort against the tide and thanking God that you have the health to continue to do so. What if we all saw it that way and taught our children the value of what they can accomplish through labor? We may never grow to love work, but we can at least learn to appreciate the results it brings - and not just the tangible physical benefits but the boost to our mental and emotional health as well. After all, there is nothing quite like an honest day's work, especially if a good part of it is spent in the service of others.