If there is one thing that I was taught well in my childhood, it is that you should work hard.
I always had chores- whether it be taking care of the chickens or helping to haul in firewood to washing dishes and cleaning the house.
We didn’t get paid for these things, but we were always expected to do them as part of the family.
Allowance was something we saw on TV (on one of the 3 channels that we had, assuming the foil-covered rabbit ear antennas were adjusted properly).
I got my first paying job at age 10 when I started helping my mom clean the office at the lumber mill.
At 12, I got my first “real job” washing dishes in near-boiling water at a bakery and scraping raisins off of the floor with a razor blade- and getting paid under the table because I wasn’t legally old enough to work.
At 13, I began working at the fudge shop in town, and so on it went.
I always worked, and even when I got into college and really started to screw up my life, one thing remained without fail: my non-negotiable ability to go to work, no matter what.
And as a parent, that is something that I have worked to instill in my own children.
Of course, every child is different. Different personalities require more- or less- counsel in particular areas, and certainly in the area of hard work.
But our 8-year old has always just been one of those kids who seems as if he was born to work.
Being outside, in the woods, hauling brush and logs and cutting down trees with the machete is his version of fun (and also why we brush off the gasps of horror when friends and family learn we allow our small child to wield a machete unsupervised).
So when he decided that he really wanted to buy his own chainsaw a year ago, we went about deciding how to make that happen for him.
And because we are also not the sort of parents who hand our kids whatever they want, we came up with a plan.
Taking care of the chickens every morning morning before school and every evening was already his responsibility, so it seemed only natural to allow him to go in that direction. It was decided that he would purchase his own small flock of (15) laying hens. He worked all spring picking rocks and other jobs such as hauling brush, etc. where we paid him hourly until he earned enough money to purchase his baby chicks.
When the chicks arrived, he immediately assumed all responsibility for them. He was in charge of keeping them supplied with food and water. He would move them every morning from the livestock tank-turned-brooder-box in our enclosed porch to the portable chicken run outside so they could be on fresh grass during the day. And then, every evening, he would pick them up one by one and return them to the porch for the night before moving the portable run to a fresh spot for the next day.
They received names like “Carrot” and “Sparkles” and “Stinky”. If they escaped between the porch and the run, he would catch them (catching chickens is a skill we should all acquire). He continued to work to pay for feed. And 5 1/2 months later, all of the hard work and patience started to pay off. Literally pay off because his young pullets started to lay.
The month was November. And suddenly, when every other hen had either slowed or stopped laying altogether, we were getting 15 beautiful brown eggs. Every day. All winter long.
The agreement was that I could use as many eggs as I wanted for our own eating. The rest he could sell, as long as he continued to pay for his portion of the chicken feed bill. Which he did, without complaint. That is what’s so beautiful about this child. He assumes responsibility. When we brought home a new bag of feed, he would run upstairs to his bedroom and pull out $5 and hand it to us. No words exchanged. Just an understanding.
He carefully collected, counted, and saved. The only thing he pulled from his savings to buy was a $7 faux leather wallet so he had something to stash his cash in. And when he had finally put away the $195-odd dollars needed for his Stihl MS 170 chainsaw, we made the trip to the Stihl dealer.
He approached the counter with a wallet that was so thick with mostly $1 bills he couldn’t close it, as well as a metal tin box that held all of the loose change (eggs are often bought in small currency). The guy behind the counter had the painstaking task of counting it all, while another walked our son through all of the safety measures and how-to’s of his new saw.
And as I paparazzi’d the whole event, my heart swelled and nearly overflowed at witnessing the culmination of nearly an entire year’s worth of work, patience, and persistence. Of a 7/8 year old.
You just don’t see this today.
You see it in classics like “Where the Red Fern Grows”. But today’s kids? Not so much.
Delayed gratification is almost non-existent.
But for one small boy, delayed gratification has produced not only a shiny new chainsaw, but also the valuable understanding of what it means to work hard and save and have something to look forward to. That his parents love him so much that they don’t just buy that shiny new chainsaw for him. Instead, they show him how to earn the things in his life. That the reward is not just the object, but the satisfaction found in the using of one’s own two hands.
So what’s next for this young entrepreneur? No sooner had we brought the chainsaw home did he decide he really wanted to start saving for a sweet 1980s Chevy pickup truck. A goal quite a bit larger than the last, but certainly reachable by the time he is old enough to drive. And he has been diligently saving ever since.
He will be acquiring another 15 chicks this month, to grow his flock and to ensure that laying isn’t interrupted. Afterall, by the time his new chicks start to lay, the older hens will begin molting.
And so on it goes.
Every morning, every evening. From frozen water buckets in winter to opening up the door to a free range summer.
I will leave you with a quote from probably my most favorite part of Where the Red Fern Grows. Billy, a small boy about my son’s age, had worked hard and saved for 2 coon hunting hounds. And one night when the dogs chased a raccoon up into a gigantic sycamore tree, he had to set about chopping that tree down with an ax- a task that was insurmountable for even an adult. But the determination and perseverance of this young boy I’ve always felt was such a fine example for us all, and the attitude I wish to cultivate in my children:
“‘I thought about that, Papa,’ I said, ‘but I made a bargain with my dogs. I told them that if they would put one in a tree, I’d do the rest. Well, they fulfilled their part of the bargain. Now it’s up to me to do my part, and I’m going to, Papa. I’m going to cut it down. I don’t care if it takes me a year.'”
– Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows, Ch. 8