Sophie knows that Andy goes to work every day. And that he works on a computer every day. And that his work earns our family money every day.
She attends a Montessori preschool and the word “work” is used often. So she also understands work as an activity she pulls off of a shelf and takes to a small rug to complete.
But I don’t think she quite understands my work. She certainly doesn’t consider the stay-at-home-mom work I do every day as work. And I don’t want her to think of my taking care of her as “work,” even though every once in awhile I secretly would like her to know that the reason she has food every day and clean clothes every day and a bath (most) days is because of the “work” Andy and I do.
But I also have other work, freelance editing and writing work. I’ve tried to explain this work to her. But she simply thinks (and tells people) that my job is playing on the computer. Lately, however, my editing work has been a bit more old-fashioned—I’ve been editing on paper, with a red pen. And having grown tired of all-nighters (something I was able to do quite easily in college, but has become increasingly hard for me the older I get), I’ve been trying to do more of this work during the day, while the boys nap. Sophie is intrigued by this work. And after hearing me say “no” for the 10th time to her request to “help” me with my work (which invariably involves drawing a flower on the pages I’m editing, something I’m sure my editors love) she gets out her own work.
We have never pushed workbooks or flashcards or the like on Sophie, thinking that she will have enough of that in her lifetime. But we’ve also discovered that she loves workbooks. Loves them. She loves tracing letters and doing simple addition and subtraction and finding opposites and differentiating between big and small. Of course, she loves playing with her plastic princess figurines and wooden castle and ponies and dolls much more. But when she sees me doing my work, she insists on doing her work. Hence the picture above (and yes, she’s wearing her bathing suit and sporting a train tattoo on her arm).
She concentrates so hard on this work. And she zips through workbooks so quickly. Grandma and Paw Paw brought her two this weekend, and she’s almost through both of them.
I love that she loves her work. I love that she’s eager to learn. I love the way she wrinkles her brow and purses her lip when she’s trying to think something through. But I also worry. I got As and Bs (and some Cs) in school, but unlike some people, I had to work for the grades—really work for them. And I stressed over my work. This was not my parents’ doing. In fact, they once approached a parent-teacher conference with concern over the amount of time I was spending, worrying about homework. As such, for the rest of the year, my teacher would put a time limit on the top of all my homework assignments, big, red, circled. Once the time limit was up, I had to stop, no matter how unfinished, how imperfect. At first, this additional hurtle worried me to no end. But in the end, it was one of the greatest gifts ever given to me.
I think the best kind of work is work that doesn’t feel like work. I feel those who live that life are lucky. I try to live that life, with caring for my children and my other work, my writing and editing. (But trust me, when it’s 2am and I still have hours of editing left, I often don’t feel lucky.) I also admire those who find joy in work I love to hate—laundry, scrubbing bathrooms, weeding, even cooking. I strive to find joy, fulfillment and contentment in these everyday chores. Some days I do, some days I don’t—even when I remind myself to be grateful that I have a yard to weed, bathrooms to scrub, clothes to wash and good food to cook.
But for now, it’s clear Sophie finds great joy in her work, tracing letters, X’ing big stars and circling little stars, matching. So I let her be. Let her grow. Let her learn. And I hope that passion for work stays with her always, not in an every-day always, but in a big-picture always. And perhaps most, I hope her grownup work is work she loves just as much as her childhood work. Work she looks forward to doing, enjoys doing, loves having done. I realize this requires a combination of skill, luck and attitude, but it’s something I so desperately want for her, for all my children, for everyone.
“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” —James Matthew Barrie