Thank you so much for all the great response to my first I Want to Be Wilder post. I’m so glad to see it struck a nerve—or rather that it revealed so many kindred spirits. Please keep commenting, I’d love for this to be a spot of like-minded people trying to figure it out together!
One of my favorite stories in Farmer Boy happens on Independence Day. Almanzo’s cousin buys a cup of lemonade for 5 cents and dares Almanzo to ask his father for a nickel to buy his own lemonade. Almanzo fearfully asks his father and…
Father looked at him a long time. Then he took out his wallet and opened it, and slowly he took out a round, big silver half-dollar. He asked:
“Almanzo, do you know what this is?”
“Half a dollar,” Alamnzo answered.
“Yes. But do you know what half a dollar is?”
Almanzo didn’t know it was anything but half a dollar.
“It’s work, son,” Father said. “That’s what money is; it’s hard work.”
Mr. Paddock chuckled. “The boy’s too young, Wilder, he said. “You can’t make a youngster understand that.”
“Almanzo’s smarter than you think,” said Father…
“You know how to raise potatoes, Almanzo?”
“Yes,” Almanzo said.
“Say you have a seed potato in the spring, what do you do with it?”
“You cut it up, ” Almanzo said.
“Go on, son.”
“Then you harrow–first you manure the field, and plow it. Then you harrow, and mark the ground. and plant the potatoes, and plow them, and hoe them. You plow and hoe them twice.”
“That’s right son. And then?”
“Then you dig them and put them down cellar.”
“Yes. Then you pick them over all winter; you throw out all the little ones and the rotten ones. Come spring, you load them up and haul them here to Malone, and you sell them. And if you get a good price, son, how much do you get to show for all that work? How much do you get for a half a bushel of potatoes?”
“Half a dollar,” Almanzo said.
“Yes,” said Father. “That’s what in this half-dollar, Almanzo. The work that raised half a bushel of potatoes is in it.”
Almanzo looked at the round piece of money that Father held up. It looked small, compared with all that work.
Mr. Wilder gives Almanzo the half-dollar and tells him he can use it to buy lemonade and “drink it away” or he can buy a sucking pig with it and raise it and sell the babies for $4 each. When Almanzo brings the half-dollar back to show his friends, they are shocked. And what does Almanzo do? He looks around for a pig.
I was going to talk about the future in this post. I love that Almanzo understands the seasons and the work that is involved in planting and reaping potatoes; in raising a pig and its babies. But as I was talking to my husband about Almanzo’s story, something else popped out to me. We might get back to the future and the long-term vision I want my kids to have but today we’re going to focus on believing the best about our kids.
When Mr. Wilder was explaining the value of a half-dollar to Almanzo, Mr. Paddock just laughed and brushed him off, “He’s too young.” Mr. Wilder could have agreed with him. He could have said, “Yeah, you’re right. Have a nickel. Go buy some lemonade.” Instead he said, “No. My son is smarter than you think.” Mr. Wilder was thinking about what his son was actually capable of. He believed his NINE YEAR OLD was old enough to see the difference between the temporary pleasure of lemonade (and affirmation from his friends) to the long-term reward of raising a pig on his own and actually earning money from it.
As parents today I think we brush their kids off and believe, “Kids will be kids.” or “She’s just a child.” or “He’ll understand one day.” We lay out our kids clothes and help them lace their shoes. We put food on their plates and whisk the plate away the second their last bite is ingested. We do their homework, stand under the slide and introduce them to the friends we want them to have. It’s the helicopter parent syndrome. But it’s more than that. We shield them from hurt, from failure and disappointment. We allow them to live in a bubble of perfection and instantaneous results.
I’m all for watching my kids at the pool and making them wear pads and helmets. I want to protect them from bad influences and rough examples. But I don’t want to be the parent who sets my kid up for failure and disappointment because their only experience is the crutch of a doting mom and dad.
When Lydia turned 4 we took her to a Create-a-Puppet Workshop at the Center for Puppetry Arts. While we were putting our puppets together (under the instruction of a very capable guide), the father across the table from us was meticulously putting together his son’s puppet. The boy was older than Lydia and obviously capable of gluing on foam pieces and coloring a puppet’s face. This father apparently didn’t want to see his son’s puppet look like a 5 year old made it so with every move, he’d hold his child’s hand and place the glue in the “correct” spot and lead his son to put the button in the “right” spot for an eye or nose.
After watching them out of the corner of my eye, I quickly stood back from Lydia and let her make her puppet however she wanted. And you know what? It wasn’t very cute. I don’t think it had all the facial features it should have. The little boy’s puppet was much better looking. But my daughter thought her puppet was amazing. She named her something amazing like, “Foof” and we were off…my daughter leaving with a puppet AND a sense of accomplishment and creativity.
Now, I’m not advocating unschooling or let-your-kids-discover-whatever-they-want. It’s important that kids learn to color in the lines. But it is not necessary for them to color in MY lines. The idea is to give kids the step up, the boost and the belief that they have the ability to make good decisions on their own!
I recently heard an interview with Dr. Leman, author of Have a New Kid by Friday. His 16 year old daughter called him and said, “My friends want to go get pizza. What time should I be home tonight?” He replied, “At a reasonable hour.” She said, “What does that mean? Just tell me. What time?” He said again, “At a reasonable time.” She continued to ask for a specific hour and he continued to respond with “be reasonable”.
He finally hung up the phone and allowed her to grow up a little. If she did choose 3am as her reasonable time, think of the great conversation she and her father could have about responsibility and respect. As opposed to a “You were two minutes late. What do you have to say for yourself?”
Dr. Lehman gave his daughter the benefit of the doubt and let her know he was giving it to her. She could have failed (which would have been a learning experience) or she could step up to the plate and be responsible and respectful and act like an adult. I love this!
I don’t want to be a helicopter parent about the jungle gym or making a craft. But that is immaterial in comparison to being a helicopter about faith issues, moral choices and responsible decisions. I want my kids to know I trust them AND to know that they have the ability to make decisions beyond their years. To make choices that are more mature than their peers.
Yes, even at 4 years old!
Practically speaking this means I’m giving up control on some issues sooner than I want. It means to stop being the controlling perfect parent and letting my kids handle something they might break, say something that might be wrong, respond to someone in the worst way. Then I have to pay more attention to their heart. I have to make everything a teachable moment. It’s less control on the front end, but more on the back. How much easier would it have been for Mr. Wilder to give Almanzo a nickel? Instead he gave him a half dollar and then had to deal with a 9 year old raising a pig. There was MORE for Mr. Wilder to do and parent by having his child step up!
In essence, this is the idea that I’m setting my kids up to do hard things at their level. I’m helping them understand what God tells us in Romans 5:3-4 says, “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
What, Amanda?! You want your kids to suffer?! You want them to do hard things? Yes. Yes, I do. I want them to experience it on an age appropriate level and not in an extreme. But I want them to experience it from the mindset that they can overcome! That they are more than winners! That they can do anything! Not because their crutch of a mom has helped them do everything. But because their mom has empowered them. Because their parents have believed in them. Because their parents have let them try and fail. Because they have been shown the tools to step up, to do better and to take responsibility.
I want my son to look at a half dollar and see a pig, not a glass of lemonade.
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See the whole of the I WANT TO BE WILDER series: