Kathrene Pinkerton was a prolific, 20th century writer of both fiction and non-fiction books. In Three’s a Crew she tells her own story, including how she and her husband managed during the Depression years. She speaks of organizing an artisan’s co-op and how, by banding together, the participants generated more income than they were able to rustle up on their own. Her frustration jumps off the page as she writes of the co-op’s demise as government assistance became available. The co-op participants’ motivation for working hard eroded as they, perhaps even sub-consciously, felt less dependent on their own actions.
I re-read Three’s a Crew while spending time with my two year old granddaughter recently, and like many toddlers her favorite expression is, “I do it.” Whether the task is one she can accomplish, like getting into her chair by herself, or whether it is beyond her capabilities, such as getting herself one hundred percent dressed, her first instinct is to be self-sufficient.
I can scoop her up and carry her up the stairs in a quarter of the time it takes for her to get upstairs herself. (On the other hand, by sliding on her stomach like an otter, she gets downstairs in half the time it takes me). I can put her shoes on the correct feet the first time and when she helps unload the dishwasher it becomes a prolonged activity rather than a quickly accomplished task.
Children seem to be born with industrious souls. If we could harness the accumulated energy of infants and toddlers, there would be no energy crisis. Unfortunately, we often treat that energy as a nuisance and tamp it down. Wouldn’t it be smarter to encourage children’s spirited attitude? Unfortunately, the required environment actually runs counter to current culture. It is difficult to find non-electronic or battery operated toys which promote imagination; it is a struggle to provide unhurried, unscheduled hours with time for children to learn skills and participate in family tasks.
Admittedly, it is a stretch to draw an analogy from Kathrene Peterson’s Depression year experiences to interacting with children. Nevertheless, I do think it worthwhile to remember how easy it is to extinguish a ‘can do’ spirit and how the human soul intrinsically values being productive, capable and independent.