Tonight I experienced the frustration of watching a child rush through a homework lesson haphazardly without care being taken for accuracy, and instead the focus being only on getting through with it. I felt myself becoming angry with my daughter as she scribbled down numbers so that they all ran together illegibly. I found myself adopting the tone of disgust that my father would mutter when he observed me doing something with less attention to detail than he would have liked.
But, my father diligently worked his job with the Post Office day in and day out without missing a day (I’m sure without taking even a single Day On), and I’m sure what he felt was a frustration that in his few daily remaining hours with his kids, we weren’t doing things with attention to quality. We were all tired then, and now, thirty years later I am the head of a household in which each member is stretched perhaps thinner or at least as thin.
I was spending 50-plus hours a week supposedly attending to my boss’s needs and approximately twenty-five attending to the needs of my two girls. Now, my boss was fairly articulate when it came to describing what he expected from me even if he did have a way of cramming an ever-expanding amount of tasks into our allotted fifty hours. In half that amount of time that we are allowed to spend with our children we are expected to take care of their physical needs including preparing food for them, packing their lunches, helping them get from place to place, and among other things, providing funds when they require them.
But, we are also supposed to provide them with guidance both explicit and implicit. We are supposed to teach them what it means to round a number to the tens and hundreds and millions place as I was trying to do with Emily. But we are also expected to be effective, and one of the best ways to be effective is not to try too much into too little time. The hour was getting awfully close to Emily’s bedtime and her mind was getting foggy with fatigue, and as a result she was having a hard time taking in a new lesson and demonstrating her mastery of it. The result was frustration; hers and mine. The lesson might have been: This is why you don’t wait until the last minute to do your work.
But I was as guilty. There simply are not enough hours in the day to be able to afford spending so many of them in a place that pulls me away from my family for so much time. I began realizing this several years ago around the time I was being laid off from a teaching job. When I explained to my friend, the school’s youth minister, that my next step wasn’t going to be to rush headlong into another job, a career, another enormous commitment of my time, he looked at me genuinely puzzled.
I explained to him that I really wanted to pursue a large writing project, a community newspaper/magazine that I had been thinking about for a long time. I told him that I really thought that I had to try taking my three months salary that I would be paid through the summer and use it as a cushion to take a leap of faith. The youth minister looked truly perplexed when I spoke the word: faith. “But, he objected. “You have a family.”
“All the more reason to take this chance,” I said. “I think I owe it to them as much as to myself. I have always wondered if I could make it on my wits and god-given talents. I wouldn’t want my daughters to have to go thirty-three years or maybe more standing at the edge, wondering.”
I think the lesson of how to think and learn is an ongoing one that comes from hanging out with people who have mastered these skills. Sometimes, out of convenience or what we tend to call necessity, we relegate these teaching roles to teachers. But, in fact, I think that the true grasp of things that leads us to A Day On is the same deeper appreciation of the world that lends itself particularly well to a teacher role. The ability and drive and creative impulse to take A Day On is precisely what we need to be teaching our children in order to ensure that they evolve to their rightful place above those who can’t or won’t get up off their hands and knees in the dust. Teaching the art of thinking outside the box is precisely what we are best equipped to teach them.
I propose a national keep your daughter home to work day. And like A Day On, I propose taking another and another.
Gone for us are the mistaken creation myths that Man would have to earn his keep by the unpleasant sweat of his brow. Work should not be a life-depleting, limiting task that only provides us a little bit of daily bread and no time to enjoy eating it.
I have a friend who describes his goal in life as one of becoming “truly helpful.” It is our responsibility to liberate ourselves from unnecessary roles and relationships to people, institutions and things to make ourselves as useful as possible.
In his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida illustrates his concept that a growing number of creative people are rejecting the button-up, nine-to-five reality of previous generations in search of a more rewarding relationship to their work. They are deciding how it will fit in with their life. They are deciding when they will work, what they will wear when they work, how much they will work, and perhaps most importantly what their work will mean to them. Florida cites an author who claims that someday children will look to their grandparents and ask: Tell me about when people used to go to work, Grandpa.
Emily was heading off to school this morning and she asked me if I was going to be working from home today. I told her I was and she said: “When I grow up, I want a job like you’ve got.” Something in my mind clicked. Perhaps it was a feeling of success. It is a yearning that most people feel, and yet most don’t believe that it is attainable. It took me thirty-three years to realize that you just have to begin putting the pieces together in your mind and in your life.
I smiled to her and promised I would help her get to the point where she could make decisions like that one in her life.