Work Early

My late paternal grandma used to say, “Do not fear of having to work, fear when you have nothing for work, because then you will have nothing to eat.” She directed the admonition at me and my cousin sister as we were quietly grumbling at the sink full of dishes from our weekly big family dinner. My father seemed to inherit just the same philosophy, for every morning during school holidays, we would jump off our bed from his shouting from the shop downstairs.

“Get down here now! Time to work!” was his line which we hated so much. We would then be ordered around to write down the customers’ shopping lists, weigh the sugar or oil or coffee powder, carry packs of bee hoon and also bundle up a dozen bottled drinks into a neat 2-3-4-3 formation, among many other works common in a traditional ‘kedai kelontong’. Such a holiday spoiler.

But of course, now we will tell anyone what our senior generation ‘forced’ on us was the right and good thing. Even as kids, behind the murmurs and complaints, we knew it was for our good. And I shall not fail to mention about how good it felt to complete one customer’s shopping all by my own, or, my favorite, to bundle up bottled drinks all nice and tight! (It’s a skill that I’m proud of till today.)

I guess, it’s the same feeling when I managed to tidy up my toys cabinet, whip up a meal, or complete a project. It matters not whether it’s in my childhood, my professional years, or my current stay-at-home moments. The joy of doing meaningful work and the rewarding satisfaction are universal.

To quote Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft, the knowledge and experience of doing, making or fixing things with our hands not only affords us joys but also is essential to our well-being, to our flourishing. I can testify that one of my husband’s most joyful expressions is obviously seen when he is baking bread. Those who know him know how flat his default poker face is.

So, we are doing the same thing to our own children, and we start early; insisting that they dispose of their used diapers to the bin, make their beds and tidy up toys, help out with vegetables rinsing and cutting, help make the pizza, et cetera. Yes, the kids don’t always like it or do as told. Yes, we are hearing murmurs, protests and whines, and will still do for quite many years. But there are times when the littlest will clap having tossed her used diaper into the bin, and when the eldest will say with pride “Daddy, that veggies you are eating, I cut them this morning.”

That’s what it’s all about, passing down the gift of joy and satisfaction of doing meaningful work, and being useful and helpful in tangible ways to others around, as early as possible. As my father used to say very often, “If you don’t learn to work in your youth, what good will you be in your adulthood?”

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