I sighed a private little gust of weariness when I saw those bags of apples on the front porch, still sitting there, getting riper and sweeter by the day. I mean, I don’t even like applesauce myself. Except maybe frozen/chunky/with cinnamon, and then only when I have pizza or casserole. I ate so much applesauce as a child, I completely filled my life-quota before I turned 16.
But my children love them some applesauce and it is about as cheap and easy a side dish as you can imagine. Not to mention “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and all that.
So there I was, walking past those apples every day and pushing them to the back of my mind because we needed to do school or we had to fold laundry or it was raining or the leaves needed raked or the seasonal clothes swap was more important or the canner was full of tomato chunks in the freezer.
This year, for the first time ever, I needed to do 3 bushels, because we had been out of applesauce for months, except for occasional batches of chunky stuff we made fresh. So yesterday I was out of stalling material, except that two of the children were mopey with sore throats and headaches. We decided to just get ‘er done anyway.
Friends, we cranked out 60 quarts in less than 5 hours. That included washing the dishes, even the nasty, sticky food mill and the canners. Just me and the kiddos. I couldn’t quite believe we were done at 3:30, but there it was. And I had flashbacks to about 10 years ago when I only did 2 bags of apples and had a 1 year old and a 3 year old who were constantly pushing chairs across the kitchen and taking bites out of random apples and sticking their fingers into the sugar. I remembered how I would be cleaning up the mess at supper time and feeling as exhausted as if I had been attempting to employ a lively flock of gophers all day.
I also recalled how tempting it was to shoo them away, the little ones who pushed chairs around me, everywhere I went for at least ten years. There were just always these chairs to trip over. The floor in front of the sink became a lake by the time the apples were washed. They wanted knives to chop and I had a special set of really dull ones with bright handles for them. They wanted cutting boards. They dropped apple snitzes on the linoleum with such regularity that I quit picking them up until we were all done and then just salvaged the whole lot of them. They insisted that they were big enough to crank the food mill, then strained and panted as they slowly turned the handle and watched, fascinated, as the applesauce squished out.
It just took really long back in those days. I am not going to pretend that I was always sweet about that. We all know better. It is a special sort of therapy for adults with an agenda to include little children in their work. If you have ever tried it, you know how all the squirminess inside you has to simply slow down and just chill, you know, because it will be all right and we have plenty of towels to sop up the mess.
Here is the thing I can’t quite get over. It only took a few years and now they can actually really help. If I had sent my oldest son out to play or sat him down with a movie every time I did a project, then yesterday he would not have known how to assemble the food mill and exactly which picnic table bench we always use to attach it to and why we do it. If I had never bought those brightly colored dull knives for them, my middle boy may never have graduated to whacking skillfully with my chef’s knife like he did yesterday. If I had never let anybody mess with water, then my girls could not have washed those apples like a boss (sorry, I just like that phrase) yesterday, and without even needing to change clothes when they were done! I shouldn’t forget to mention that they hauled all 60 empty jars upstairs. Divided by 5, it’s not so bad!
This is an aspect that I didn’t really consider back when it was a trial to let the children help. I think I mainly involved them in what I was doing because then I could be sure they weren’t getting into trouble somewhere else. Honestly, I had no lofty goals about teaching my 3 year-old life skills. But that is how it works, and when I think back, I know that is how my mom taught me things. I have known how to make applesauce ever since I can remember because… we all had age-appropriate jobs when we made applesauce. The chicken butchering didn’t quite catch hold in the same way, no matter how much Mom said every girl should know how to butcher one before she gets married.
All this is just to say, you young mamas with your hands full and your long chore lists that you have to accomplish single-handedly and your small fry hovering around and breathing your air… Do you wanna work yourself out of a job? Don’t just hand them a device all the time and tell them to bug off. Let them “help”. Let them feel the importance of making a contribution in the household effort. One day you will pinch yourself when you realize that they are, indeed, making your life a lot easier and there is no need to dread applesauce day anymore.
(Love, love The Family Circus)