This past weekend, I decided to experiment a little ... and it ended up being quite a family bonding challenge with a reward sort of experience. I honestly had no idea how it would turn out, or if it would even turn out good, but always up for a challenge, I decided to present it to my little kids anyway to gauge their reaction ...
On Friday evening, I collected them and announced my idea:
Tomorrow, if together, we get the outside landscaping areas and flower beds in the front of the house weeded, trimmed, and cleaned up, I'd treat them to a trip to their favorite toy store the next day. Now, I have to insert here: I was fully aware of the fact that this would be a HUGE job for all of us considering the extensive amount of weeds in our flower beds. We've never attacked this particular project as a family before, but I do know that anything we have done together has typically always been fun and has always reinforced our belief in a teamwork approach. And, to get to the root of the issue, from a parent's perspective, I obviously wanted to get the outside cleaned up, but equally wanted to drive home the "hard work ALWAYS pays off" principle. So, I set up the challenge over dinner on Friday night, and, much to my delight, the kids cheerfully accepted! I was kinda shocked and very impressed. These kids didn't seem to be afraid of a little work, especially when visions of toys began dancing in their heads! So far, so good.
The next morning, I made a delicious breakfast and when the kids were done eating, they asked if they could get started awhile. Sounded good to me, so as I cleaned up inside, they headed outside to start the outdoor cleanup. I joined them a short while later, and, much to my surprise and delight, in the short time it took to clean up the kitchen, they already had two tall piles of weeds picked. This is good.
I collected rakes and clippers and buckets and our little red wagon and headed first to the most visually offensive flower bed. The kids followed me, received instructions, and got busy. I perched my phone on a nearby air conditioner unit (or whatever that gray metal box thing is?!) and turned our favorite music on full blast, so everyone could hear. We weeded, chatted, and sang aloud as we plucked those pesky weeds, side by side. Once in awhile, we paused to marvel at our progress. Then continued on ...
Soon, we were thirsty so I ran inside and made a pitcher of icy lemonade and we took a break together on the porch. There was actual excitement in the air while we drank lemonade, refined our plan, and realized that we just MIGHT be able to do this! I had set it up as a HUGE challenge and readily acknowledged the enormity of the job, so as the kids were marveling aloud at the possibility of us accomplishing this task today, I was right along with them! We returned to the weed beds and while I weeded a million miles an hour, I assigned some kids specific areas to be weeded, answered questions from others, and directed Joel, the wagon puller, and Leah, his wagon assistant, where to pick up piles of weeds next -- and where to dump them. And ... we continued to listen to music and weeded on this beautiful sunny, breezy day.
Alexis thought it was so fun and kept repeating this to all of us. Collin was fun to watch because his hard working side and determination shined through -- especially when he saw just how quickly his area had gone from weedy to beautiful! I smiled as I watched him taking his assignment seriously. "That'll get him far in life," I thought to myself as I realized this was far from the first time I'd seen that quality in him. Hannah enjoyed learning how to clean old hydrangea stalks out to allow the new plant to grow. She was eager to learn and then do it herself! It made her happy to step back after she had done an area. "So pretty!" she remarked. "So cute," I thought. When I began hearing occasional grumbles, including a few from myself, I looked at the time and realized that it was lunchtime. So, I ran in and made lunch and served it, then I popped the kids into the car and took Cara to her lacrosse games, dropped her off, and headed home.
After a nice quiet rest in the car, and a listen to their iPods, my little helpers were ready to attack those pesty weeds once again! Joel commented, "I'm not even tired!" Ohhh to be 8 -- almost 9 -- and have that kind of boundless energy! So, once again at home, we resumed our spots; weeded and cleared. And soon, it was popsicle time! Oh, yeah, and snack time too! Again, we sat and enjoyed our break together and talked ... As we looked out, we agreed we were getting close to our finish now and this made us ALL very happy!
Following our popsicle pause on the porch, I literally dashed back out and weeded in double time, knowing that we had limited time to finish, pick Cara up, make and eat dinner, AND get to the toy store before it closed. I was already extremely impressed with my kids' helpfulness, so now I was more determined than ever to work and reward all in ONE day -- in order to make the connection that "hard work ALWAYS pays off." As the time was slipping by, I softened the expectations and willingly left a few areas unweeded because I knew we wouldn't make it to the store if I didn't. At this point, the weed work seemed less important than the life principle and certainly less important than seeing my kids roam the toy store, with huge happy grins on their faces doing their absolute favorite thing: choosing toys (is there a kid anywhere who doesn't consider that their favorite thing?).
So, as we swept and raked the last of the areas, admired our work, and slapped high fives, another unexpected and very delightful thing happened. Mady emerged from the house where she had been all day, working on a homework project, and offered to weed the back patio area with a few of the little kids who were willing to help!
Are you kidding me? Thank you, Mady! Off she went with a couple of kids, chattering to them about how thrilled she was to be outside now that she was finally done with her homework! I sent two lollipops per person along with her (do you see my theme here?! I grew up weeding because it was "my job" and I know from experience that weeding is A LOT more fun with a lollipop in your mouth and frequent popsicle breaks. And, for the record, the toy store was never offered to me, although I always wished it would have been) to keep their mouths happy while their hands weeded! Next, we picked Cara up, and stopped at the grocery store to grab "quick" (but healthy) dinner foods in an effort to get us fed and to the store in time before it locked its doors!
FINALLY, after dinner and nine lightning-speed showers, we piled into our BBB (Big Black Bus) at 8 p.m.! We were all SO EXCITED! By the time we arrived, the store was quiet and rather empty with just 45 minutes until closing time. Joel wondered if maybe we'd meet other families who were shopping for toys after working together that day. We all decided it could be possible ... but, seeing only one or two other customers in the entire store, we realized we were likely alone in this today. Without time to spare, we quickly divided up and set out to our two favorite areas: Legos and Calico critters.
In under an hour, each child peacefully managed to pick out something they were over the moon excited about, AND chose additional items to be wrapped for their birthday in JUST 12 DAYS, at that time. Leah is the keeper of the birthday calendar, by the way. All the way down to the hour.
In my opinion, that toy trip was a win to the sixth power overall. A win because the weeding work got mostly done. A win because we made it to the store on time. A win because the kids received an unexpected shopping trip for toys. A win because I was able to cross "birthday shopping" off my never-ending "to-do" list. A win because I saved a lot of money during that trip using coupons and special promotions. (You know me! This is definitely a win.) And a BIG win because of the life lessons we all learned!
We loaded up the check out area with all the new toys, then proudly headed, each with their own bag in hand, to the van. I almost felt that I didn't even have to verbally reinforce what the day had proven to us. I could feel the kids' sense of satisfaction and definitely felt the excitement in the air as they proudly assembled into their seats, pausing occasionally to take yet another quick peek at their well earned rewards inside their very own bags.
Sure, we make occasional "for no reason" trips to the toy store, each with their own money they've saved up over time, and those trips are always VERY exciting, but to me, this trip definitely felt different and I didn't think it had to do with the fact that MOM did the buying.
I knew what I sensed, but I wanted to know what the kids thought because I wasn't 100 percent sure of what their answers would be. I imagined I'd hear some very positive and some slightly negative responses as is pretty typical of a large group of kids when discussing pretty much anything.
Before I even had a chance to start the van or get, "So, was our hard work today worth it?" out of my mouth, the "Thank you, mommy. That was SO fun" comments starting flooding in! So, after I melted with appreciation for their gratefulness, I called out, "You're welcome and THANK YOU too. Such hard workers you all are! And, I take it that you think it was worth the work?" And, without hesitation, my bus full of children, buckled in behind me, unanimously answered, "OH YES! It was a lot of work but it was fun! Can we do that again sometime?" (I'm serious. That's what they said.)
So, after I laughed, I said. "Do you know why we did what we did today? I wanted to teach you that HARD WORK ALWAYS PAYS OFF. Hard work is hard and anyone can quit and settle for 'okay' but doing your best takes hard work! It takes lots of determination, but it will always take you far in life and will always bring the best rewards. I promise. Don't ever forget that, okay?" "OKAY," they chorused emphatically, which was followed by a couple of happy giggles.
I realized then that I had a big smile on my face, which matched my heart that was literally overflowing with love in that moment. "Whew, it worked," I breathed a sigh of relief as I buckled my seat belt. Then, I started up the BBB and we headed home, making sure to drive especially slowly up our driveway, just so we could marvel, even though it was now dark, at our "hard work" one more time.
What is your favorite life lesson that you've taught your kids?