We Become our Parents

This morning we woke to another 3" or so of snow. As I was dressing to go shovel the drive, #2 called from her bed:

When will I get to help shovel the driveway?

She has asked every snow this winter. I have, in the interest of efficiency, put her off—a 6-year-old rarely speeds up the process. This morning, however, I didn’t have a good reason not to let her “help.” “So on with the boots, back out in the snow” the two of us trudged.

I shoveled to the garage, moved some tools, climbed over some others, until I found and could retrieve her little red snow shovel. She stood by the side door watching excitedly.

As I climbed over my Havahart trap and reached back for her shovel, I realized that she was watching me the same way I had watched my dad climb over his tools to extract my shovel or rake or whatever when I was her age. I remembered how excited I had been when he would let me “help” work on something, the yard, the car, the house, whatever. As I turned to hand #2 her shovel and started explaining that we would get her started with the front walk, I heard my father voice saying similar things to 6-year-old me: “Let’s get you started on the side yard” or whatever. My father always spent a few minutes helping me get started, minutes he could have been spent actually doing whatever task was at hand. So too, this morning, I spent a few minutes helping #2 get the hang of it. When I left her to the walk while I started on the drive, she told me not to shovel it all because she wanted to do some. So I promised to leave a section for her to finish, just as my father had always left a section of whatever for me to finish.

As an adult I now realize how much longer projects took when I “helped,” at least for a number of years. I also suspect that my dad knew two important things. First, although initially projects took longer because I “helped,” he knew that at some point I would be able help him. Then projects would be easier and quicker. Second, he felt that time spent with me was worth whatever extra time and effort it added to a project. He always welcomed and encouraged my “help,” even when I must have slowed work. I can recall countless mornings, afternoons, and days working on various projects. We had fun. We chatted. We got to spend time together. I am thankful every day for his having spent the time with me.[1]

Sure, #2 and I spent an hour or so shoveling the walk and the drive, a task that would have taken me less that 30 minutes, but it was worth it. One day, she will make projects quicker and easier. But that’s just icing on the cake. The important thing is we got to spend some time together, just the two of us. We had fun. We chatted. We spent the morning together shoveling snow. As a parent, I am thankful to have the chance to spend time with #2 and rejoice in her wanting to spend time with me.

In the hectic, annoyance-filled, over-scheduled days of our adult lives, it’s easy to forget how little things, like shoveling snow, can be so enjoyable. And as Harry Chapin pointed out years ago, it’s easy to forget that our progeny are going to become us one day.

  1. I have many similar memories of my mom, though in very different contexts and doing very different things. Here I focus on my dad because I am, well, a dad, and because #2 and I were outside this morning, where my dad and I worked together most often.  ↩


2 thoughts on “We Become our Parents

    • You are so right about the pragmatic and emotional benefits—not a day goes by that I don’t thank my father for teaching me to do something or giving the skills and confidence to figure out how to do something. If I can instill similar confidence and skills, I will be delighted.

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