My father, although a really pleasant man, did not view vacation time as a time to laze about counting stars and such nonsense. Vacation time to him meant one thing and one thing only. Free labor. Every summer he had some kind of very extensive, very exhausting project that needed completing. One year, when I was about 11 he wanted to landscape our "yard". (It wasn't the kind of yard that we have here in Oregon. The houses in Oregon are close enough together that if you need to borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbor you just open your window, reach into their kitchen and get it yourself. In Montana, the yards are big enough to let everybody walk around naked with the shades up and not have to worry that you're gonna end up on "the YouTube" -as I like to refer to it.) Anyway. My dad's idea of a landscaping project was to line the entire perimeter of our property with a three foot wide border of broken brick. Maybe brick is supposed to have protective powers - ward off the evil eye or whatever and Dad thought that by surrounding the house he was keeping us all safe. Probably he just liked the color contrast- he was an artist. Regardless, that brick wasn't going to break, haul and spread itself.
If you've ever seen pictures of an old school chain gain where the men are breaking a big pile of rocks, then you've got a pretty good idea of how my sisters and I spent the summer of 1985. Just swap out the big sweaty men with big hammers for little sweaty girls with little hammers... and gallon size buckets - the kind cheap ice cream comes in. Then, add in all of the neighborhood kids that found out that our dad would "pay" them with a huge soda from the Maverick Convenience Store and Truck Stop at the end of the day and so decided to volunteer for service on the Ecker and Daughters Demo Crew. (Where was Amnesty International then I ask you.) Seriously, all I remember is a bunch of kids running willy-nilly around huge piles of brick, sweating profusely in the very hot Montana sun and swinging hammers left and right. Luckily for my dad it was "back in the day"- which basically means that he didn't have to worry about little trifling things like sunscreen or protective eye wear or closed toe shoes. Maximum productivity with minimal overhead.
I started thinking about this particular summer vacation as, (during this winter vacation), I was outside, alone, using my bark dust rake to break down and clear away the slushy/snowy/icy furrows that are giving my street an appearance similar to how I imagine the border lands between Pakistan and... whoever borders Pakistan. I thought about how if I had been my dad I would not be the one doing the raking. If I were my dad, I would've organized my three children into a work party and let them learn the benefits of some good, hard, physical labor. I would've recruited their friends. I would've had a big work plan. But, in actuality, that's just... so hard. It's so hard to listen to the complaining. It's so hard to get them to complete their assigned tasks. It's so hard to stop my three year old from converting his broom into some kind of Samurai Warrior's weapon and launching an attack on anyone within strike range.
It's so much easier to put my kids in front of a computer game and just do the work myself. I want so much for my kids to be hard workers like my mom (who one day, early on in her time working for UPS, loaded package cars all night, went home and literally had a baby), or my grandfather, the carpenter, who dug the basement of my father's childhood home - by hand. (One of the other summer projects I got to do was install a sprinkler system with him. I got to do the "by hand" digging that time. Big fun.) But, when it comes down to giving my kids an opportunity to learn the principle, I shelve the "teaching moment" in favor of the more efficient "get the heck out of my way so that I can get this done already moment".
I never realized, as I was hauling that brick, that my dad had a lot of other options for getting that work done- most of which would've been easier on him than transporting and supervising a baseball team's worth of kids, armed with hammers and very loud voices around in a van with no seat belts, (which meant freedom of movement) very limited air conditioning and vinyl seats. I never realized as I was working and no doubt, fighting with my sisters that my dad had to endure not only the labor, but the laborers. I never realized as I was savoring my Orange Crush at the end of each day, that it was such hard work to teach kids how to work hard.
You might think that I hated those days. I did not. My vacations are full of good memories of a father that spent time with us, that made us finish what we started, that had a plan for his children. The plan wasn't always fun. Now I know that it wasn't fun for him either. But sometimes what's needed in a child's life - and in a parent's, isn't vacations full of parade marching or star counting or computer playing. What's needed is a vacation full of a pile of bricks... or a road full of snow.