Photo by Kristy Rammel
When writing this blog each week, I often look words up in the dictionary to confirm I have an accurate and precise definition, as well as avoid the potential for misinterpretation. This week I looked up the word "hindrance.” The actual dictionary definition states it means: a person or thing that makes a situation difficult. So, in other words, Jack!
While I hate to label any child a hindrance, let’s face facts. Jack does, on a daily basis, make life more difficult. Although I would never trade him for anything in the world, nor could I imagine my life without him in it, I could, on occasion, use a little less "help.” However, my sanity is able to stay in check because I know I am not alone. I have read hundreds of comments on Facebook, blogs, and magazine articles regarding kids help becoming a hindrance. So, I figured we could address a few of the more common farm kid scenarios to see if together we can find a solution (that doesn’t involve alcohol).
1. Make Use of Too-Early Harvests
I love that my kids want to help in the garden. I love it when my 9-year-old impatiently waits for his precious melons to ripen or his beloved blueberry and blackberry bushes to bow under the weight of the fruits they carry. But it drives me nuts when one of the little ones, usually Jack, brings me tiny green tomatoes to see if they’re ready. They just don’t understand why we can’t put them back to "grow s’more”!
To help cut down on the "put it in the compost pile” situations, we’ve tried dozens of different tactics, but have had the best results when we employ multiple lines of defense simultaneously:
- Harvest Calendar: I keep this picture-based calendar in the kitchen to let the younger kids know when they can expect their bounties to be ready.
- Life-Size Photo Comparisons: It’s very easy for your tots to get caught up in the thrill of picking when surrounded by a sea of green flora dotted with a rainbow of brightly colored fruit. I tried to keep seed packaging next to the plants so the kids could see what their melons or tomatoes were supposed to look like when ripe, but all this managed to do was create havoc on my budding fruits and veggies. My toddler only compared size when evaluating his ready-to-pick plants, but not color. "Yes Jack, that tomato is actually the same size as the one in the picture, but it’s not red!” For this little hurdle, I started copying the seed packs, enlarging the picture to a relatively close version of actual size, and then print them out to be kept near the plant. This gives Jack a chance to compare color, shape, and size.
- "Unripe Food Goes Here” Signs: Like most things in life, neither of the above safeguards can provide 100-percent security for my growing, not-yet-ready fruits and veggies, so I use homemade signs to help decide between tossing the pre-picked produce in the animal food pile or the compost pile. My brain just isn’t built to withhold all the information needed on this farm. Luckily I don’t have to search the recesses of my mind to remember which plants the rabbits or chickens can and cannot eat. I just look at the signs and chuck Jacks unripened daily picks in the appropriate pile.
2. Egg-Gathering Solutions
When Jack was finally old enough to help gather eggs himself, my mother bought him a little basket that she lined with padding. She knew we were having an issue getting the eggs to the house without first making a 2-foot drop onto the ground. This basket was a wonderful addition to my mom-approved/animal-approved/vegetation-approved arsenal of children’s farm tools.
But again, hindrance came in the form of a toddler. One morning, as I set about the chicken yard filling water and food bowls, my little Jack went to collect his eggs. Within seconds of his entering the chicken house, a fight ensued: hen versus toddler. It was unclear when I arrived on the scene who was actually winning. When I inquired about the issue, Jack informed me the hen was refusing to give him his egg.
Turning from me, he shouted to the chicken "Get up! That’s my egg! It goes in my basket, see?” And with that he took his basket and gave the hen a close up view of its empty contents. It is in that moment that I decided my husband’s saying "asses and elbows everywhere” was an apropos depiction of my daily life. Needless to say, Jack now must leave the basket right outside the coop door and simply gather the eggs two at a time.
3. Show Not Tell
Most parents I know have been brought a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers and weeds at some point or another. Unfortunately, the woods around my house also provide a lovely selection of poisonous plants. No wildflower bouquet is complete without the rich red coloring of a few poison oak sprigs. This problem is further compounded a few hours later when you realize all the 2,000 body parts a toddler manages to touch or scratch! While I do preach the "leaves of three” saying, the only thing I can really do is keep plenty of salve on hand and teach the kids to wash, wash, wash when they come inside.
Have you ever looked around at the average barn or tool shed? Nearly every part of this lifestyle involves sharp blades, axes, pitch forks, butchering knives, heavy machinery and wire covered with tiny barbs or surges of electricity. Parents have two options here:
- forbid children from certain areas of the farm/homestead
- teach safety from Day 1
My toddler is extremely bullheaded. I can’t simply tell him "don’t touch it’s hot,” "this will cut you,” or "that will hurt you.” He doesn’t believe poop stinks until he leans down and sticks his nose in it himself. Instead of telling him, I have to show him. No, I don’t cut him! But, I will take a piece of cardboard to demonstrate how sharp something is, or desecrate a paper towel roll to show how easily barbed wire can become entangled around a limb or the damage that can be done.
I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, this does not always work! So, I continue to try and educate the kids on poisonous plants, dangerous machinery, and yes, poisonous (gag) snakes. The bottom line is we do whatever we have to do to keep our kids safe, but we don’t want them to fear everything! Parenting is always a tight-rope act, but adding the additional responsibilities of a farm is a tight-rope act over a lion’s cage. The act may be the same, but the danger is taken to a whole new level.
There are dozens of topics and hundreds of directions we could cover, but we simply don’t have the time today. It is the wee hours of the morning for me, and I must begin to set up my daily lines of defense. I want the kids to have adventures, learn new plant and animal species, and help with the maintenance and care of the farm, but I’d like to make sure they don’t burn the place down around me first!
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