A Measure of Work

I’ve worked hard in my life. I’ve been what you could call poor. I never went hungry or without shoes, but I’ve been poor enough as a child to consider a Barbie doll an uncommonly generous gift, and new shoes a real splurge. I’m not poor anymore, but those lean years have added something to my life that my children may never experience.

When I was a girl I saved every penny for a bike that became my transportation for many years. I learned how to change the brakes, adjust the gears. I kept it polished and oiled and ready to fly down the flat Idaho roads of my girlhood. Years later I loaned it to my sister who needed something to get her around. She eventually bought an old car and sold my bronze beauty for ten dollars. I was unaccountably angry, even though I could now afford a new bike, a fancier one. For a long time I hid my resentment until it became the soft sadness of a declining thought.

I learned to work as a child. My brothers and sisters and I cleaned house, folded clothes, mowed the lawn, and in the summers I worked on my grandfather’s ranch digging up waist-high plants he called Chick’s weed. Grandad said it would make the cattle sick if they ate it. Chick was the trickster of his stories. Chick was smart. Evil. Chick planted poison. Made potholes in the road with his teeth. Chick gave you bad dreams and laughed. “There he is!” Grandad cried as we worked in the fields, “Oh, you missed him. He’s fast. Ducked behind those weeds.” The mosquitoes hung in clouds while we worked, the sweat rolled down my back in the Idaho heat. At the end of the day Grandad gave me a dollar. I rolled it up and put it under my pillow. At night I dreamed of Chick stealing it away into the dark.

Growing up I was expected to work. Expected to leave the house at eighteen. Go to college if I could save enough money. I never felt deprived or diminished. I burned down to the edge of who I thought I was, and rose up again stronger for it.

My children are carefree, optimistic. I can tell by the way they fling themselves into new situations. The way they sink into sleep at the end of the day. Oh, they have their grievances and fears. They howl about Saturday chores, mourn about not fitting in. But sometimes I think life is too easy for them. I worry they will grow fat with a complacency that won’t burn away. I worry my children will never know the uncomplicated reward of earning a bike with counted hours of work.

Suffering does not make one wise. Wisdom is cultivated when we learn to love and be loved. The first covenant: to love. The next is to prepare my David-children for a Goliath-world. Earning the courage of true warriors is difficult. They must fight many battles without me by their side. They must learn to meet resistance with perseverance and face the endless world with faith and passion. If we have done our job right, our children will link their imaginations with work. They will measure the labor that makes a dream come true. They will flush a laughing Chick from the weeds and catch him with their eyes before he disappears.

First published in Ten to Eighteen


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  1. Thank you for this reminder to us all. Life is about wisdom, love and imagination; not suffering despair and sadness. We all have a chance to put imagination into our work and this can pull us through those tough times. I will look for tricky Chicks all day… Thank you for the uplifting message.

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