We’re beginning to see a return on our investment. We started our family about eleven years ago, not fully realizing what we were doing, and not really planning ahead. We knew that humans don’t hatch from eggs and crawl away, of course, and that we were making a commitment to raise this new life by hand, putting all our resources toward making what I often call “a decent human being.” But we didn’t know how long it would be before we had a good night’s sleep again, or when we would begin to see members of the family pulling their own weight, or when (or if) they would begin to take care of each other. Something magical has happened this past year, but how or when it happened I can’t recall. Maybe it was gradual and I just didn’t see it until it came to fruition. We’ve begun to work together like a team. Not quite a well-oiled machine, but a team just the same.
This became clear to me just after Rachel’s birth. With the last couple of kids, I brought a baby home to a house-full of toddlers. There was no rest for the weary, and for the first year of childhood, everyone’s in survival mode. This time, it was different. With a four-year gap since the last baby and a ten-, nine-, and seven-year-old at home, I came home and really rested. We had planned ahead and talked about how adding a baby would mean everyone working harder to pick up the slack. The kids made breakfast and lunch, folded clothes, did dishes, kept things tidy, fetched cold drinks for their nursing mama, held the baby, and ran errands. They felt important, and we started to see the teamwork that we had always hoped for developing. It isn’t always smooth—there’s still push-back and bickering—but it is the beginning of something great.
One morning, after an interrupted night’s sleep, I came upstairs to find Rachel on the potty eating cheerios out of Sarah’s hand, and Aaron pouring the coffee he had made for me. Eli had already put the clean dishes away, and he and Sam were working on their school work. I blinked a couple of times and then pinched myself. Another time, I sent the two oldest boys to the farmer’s market for bread and fruit. They came back with the needed supplies and had used the surplus to buy a gift for their sister. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but again, I was incredulous. We’ve recently developed a new docking plan which capitalizes on this team ethic. We leave the three oldest children on the dock with fenders in their hands while we take the boat out of the slip and then out the entrance to the marina. The kids get into the dinghy and make a rendez-vous with the mother ship in the river. Coming back in, we take the same steps in reverse: launch the dinghy full of dock hands and then come into the marina with helpers ready and waiting, fenders and lines in hand. The last example is probably my favorite: Jay suggested something we call “team shop.” This works well when he is out of town and I can’t sneak out to the store by myself. Since the kids know exactly which products I buy at the grocery store, I can make out several small lists and split up into teams to divide and conquer. I send two kids to the dairy, two to produce and wait in the line at the deli/bakery with Rachel. People at the store have started to notice this and I’ve become somewhat of a celebrity. Whether we’re famous or infamous depends on who you ask!
This teamwork, more than being an end in itself, is also a means to an end: sailing this big boat requires an able crew. Eventually, we’ll have kids who can navigate, take the helm, trim sails, trouble shoot when there’s a problem, scrub the bottom of the boat, dock and anchor, make repairs, prepare meals, and take watches. It excites me to think that we’re already beginning to see the kind of teamwork developing that will make going on an adventure both fun and relaxing, as many hands make light work. What other rewards we may all reap from this experiment can only be guessed at, but I can imagine nothing but good in the future of someone who learns at an early age to work well with others toward a common goal. People get married partly because the couple can become more than the sum of the individuals, and having productive children can cause that family to become a formidable force!