Theoretically, we school year-round, which allows us greater flexibility to take breaks during the traditional school year, and tends to blunt the pain we would otherwise experience every fall when “shades of the prison-house begin to close” upon the growing children. So this isn’t exactly a back-to-school story, but because of the way events worked out during our summer, the effect is much the same.
When the baby first arrived, we rather let things go around here, easing up on lessons and forgoing any ambitious house-cleaning projects. Such anarchy was bound to catch up with us eventually, so I recently started handing out more assignments again, and the “extra” chores threatened to encroach on the newfound leisure time. Much grumbling and complaining ensued, and one morning I drew my little brood around me and spouted off the following:
Once upon a time, there lived a gracious and lovely queen who generously scattered largess to the populace. For some time, as the kingdom grew more prosperous, she dispensed a dollar a day to all the villagers who lived in her kingdom. They appreciated this generosity, of course, and usually they did work for her when she asked them to—normal, everyday stuff such as tilling the land, planting the food, harvesting the food, and so on, so that everyone could eat.
Eventually, however, the expenses grew so much that the queen could no longer afford to give everyone a dollar. So she scaled back her liberality and started handing out fifty-cent pieces, instead. And do you suppose the villagers remained grateful for the free money, anyway, despite its diminished amounts?
Alas, they became grumpy instead, whining about the decrease of money and complaining that they were being punished for no good reason. And no amount of reasoning on the part of the queen could convince them that any money at all was a gift, and they should be grateful for whatever they received, no matter how the exact amount fluctuated.
Of course, the point of this impromptu analogy was obvious to me, but it took a little explaining on my part to convince the children that free time = money.
The reaction to the story was mixed. Our logical child pointed out that free time wasn’t the same thing as money, so the analogy was flawed: there can always be more money, but you can’t ever make up for lost time. (Clever girl! One of my favorite observations!) The sensitive child was upset at the suggestion that she was ungrateful, when all she wanted to do was to play a little more. The happy-go-lucky one thought it was a fun story, and ran off to play. The mischief-loving child had long since disappeared.
Well, anyway, I got the point across in a (hopefully) fun and light-hearted way. The children didn’t like being shown how their grudging attitude reflected an ungrateful spirit, but agreed that, sometimes, being given less of something was still a gift. Did the lesson stick? Not right away, but it gave them something to think about, and I expect that the notions of gratitude, optimism, and cheerfulness will be a recurring theme as we press our noses back to the grindstone.
Photo Credit: All photos by Rose Focht.