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Life with Liz: Figuring it out

“Figure it out!” This has become the mantra of our family. It’s quite a paradox. Even though we have nowhere to go and not much to do, the Wonderful Husband and I are usually quite busy trying to keep our jobs while we’re working from home. Since both of us like to try to get started early, we’re usually knee deep into things by the time the kids roll out of bed and start to want things like breakfast and help with their homework.

After the first week or two, we realized that they really did need a lot more help on their homework, and “just figure it out” wasn’t going to cut it. So, we tried to flip the schedule so that they had more chores and daily tasks to do while we were working, and then we could save the late afternoon hours, when our work day was winding down, to really help them with their homework.

So, early in the morning, the WH and I would have a quick meeting and come up with things we wanted done around the house. We tried listing things on a chore chart. The kids caught on quickly that the early bird could take all the “easy” chores, and the slowpoke would get stuck with the really tough tasks.

Additionally, we wanted them to have to work together on some things, and the chore chart usually ended up pitting them against each other, instead of inspiring them to work together.

Then, we tried making lists for each of them. As always, they immediately went to comparing chores and whining ensued. We were just making more work for ourselves, which was defeating the purpose. Finally, we made lists for ourselves. As the kids started to appear, we could dole out assignments as we saw fit, and as they would hopefully cause the least amount of infighting.

Along the way, we discovered that assigning them tasks that they really had no idea how to complete had the added benefit of taking up more of their time, which meant less time on screens and less time to fight with their siblings. So, the boys started getting an assignment to bring two loads of firewood to the porch. No other directions.

They were met with a “talk to the hand” and a “go figure it out.” E’s request to “bake something” was met with a recipe and a “figure it out.”

It’s been entertaining to watch them do things the hard way, and gradually come around to a better way of doing things. Or, not. It’s my exercise in patience trying to bite my tongue and let them struggle and do things the hard way. Normally, I’d be tempted to jump in and show them how to do it, but since we have nothing but time, they can figure things out for themselves.

On one front, I’m fighting a battle with them doing things “the right way” when it comes to keeping up with their schoolwork. Time and time again, we go back to “did you read the directions” and “what did the teacher tell you to do the first time?” So when I turn them loose on household chores and yard work, it’s nice to be able to say, “just go do it.”

We’ve had some mixed results. E set out to make a vanilla sheet cake the other day. It was a straightforward recipe. I specifically chose it because it used ingredients that she’s used plenty of times before. However, when it came out of the oven, it was obvious something got missed. She had a cake pan full of ooey, gooey, caramellike goop that almost instantly hardened into concrete. It was delicious, when smashed with a mallet and crumbled over ice cream, but as a cake it was a complete disaster.

The boys have started a small firewood business for themselves. The WH has designated several older logs that are well dried and prime candidates for firewood. The boys are on their own to split it and bundle it. Based on the man hours they are currently putting into the project, I suspect their profit is about negative $20, but that’s up from the negative $40 it was last week. It will probably be another week or two until their income equals their efforts, but what they’re gaining in experience is priceless.

Of course, there has been the odd occasion where they’ve come up with a new and improved way of doing things or taken a “long-cut” that has turned out to have an unexpected benefit.

G’s methods for chicken rearing are unorthodox to say the least, but a happier, healthier, more productive flock of chickens, I have never seen. They all come running to him when he opens the gate in the morning, and he pets them and calls them by name. At night, he rounds them all up, including the wily guinea fowl, who had developed a bad habit of sneaking off to roost in the trees, where they were owl bait.

Whatever magic he has done, they now line up and head right into the coop when it’s time for bed. My methods included chasing them around with a hook and rounding them up Old West style, but his method is definitely better.

I do think that my kids are going to be well-served by the education that we’ve been developing over the past few weeks. I feel like this is the first time they’ve ever really been able to practice ingenuity and be rewarded when it succeeds and have to live with the consequences when it fails. I think they’ve started to build up a lot more resiliency to failure than they had in the past.

At the very least, they’ve developed a tad more patience than they had before, and a willingness to stand back and look at a project and think about the best way to do something. That’s a lesson that I feel like I may have just learned at almost 47, so even though our lives have been on hold for a few months, they’ve gotten ahead of at least one curve by a few years.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.