It’s warm in New England this morning, and the sun reflects speckled patterns across the vibrant lawn. I am brightened by the fullness of the squash-colored trees that line my yard. They will be bare soon, so I try to notice them often. I smile at the familiar sight of the woodpile, seasoned, split and ready to be stacked. We ask our children to stack it every year. They will tell you, like the woodpile, they too have been seasoned by chores.
When my oldest was in middle school, he stopped talking to us, as boys will do. He was locked down like a bunker. My husband and I struggled to find ways to get in. We needed to navigate past the moods, the attitudes, and the disinterest in sharing anything with us. We also needed help stacking two cords. What we discovered when these two goals intersected was that nothing gets a boy talking like a stack of wood.
Of course, there was, at first, the outright refusal. “There’s no way I’m doing that,” was a typical first response. With some goading, that turned into, “Alright, but I’m not doing the whole thing by myself.”
My husband and I would often get outside and work with them. This way we could show them how hard they were expected to work and how neatly the job was to be done. We thought if they saw us working alongside them, they would understand that hard work is both important and honorable.
What surprised us was that, a little ways into the work, their moods typically changed. Maybe it was the crisp air, the sweet smell of an autumn fire, or the anticipation of hot chocolate when they were done, but something about the work opened them up and got them talking. They would chat about whatever was going on in their lives at the time. They began to share their troubles, their worries, and their dreams. As the log stack grew taller, they too seemed to grow with pride in their work.
And as they got older, we would send them outside together to weed, or stack, or rake, or to do any of the other chores that the seasons of New England return to us each year. At first, older brother would boss younger brother. They would fight about who didn’t work hard enough or fast enough and who threw dirt in the other one’s face. Each one always thought he was a better worker than the other. And then, when they stomped inside refusing to work together, my husband and I would agree that they could work alone. The idea of working alone always seemed to resolve any complaints.
We learned a lot about what was going on in our children’s lives while doing chores with them around the yard. They developed a sense of satisfaction about their work that will carry them into adulthood.
This is why I gaze fondly now at the woodpile outside my window. Stacked wood means they took pride in something, that they learned that hard work feels good when done right. Stacked wood means they absorbed responsibility and an understanding that each family member should be contributing to the household. Stacked wood means they know sacrifice and have come to the realization that nothing is free.
If there is a fire, it is because someone stacked wood.
And, the best part: stacked wood means the fire will crackle and burn during the long New England winter months that will begin soon.