I spread the newspapers on the table, and place the rolling pin in the center, with the dry bundles of spearmint stems Madeleine picked last week with her friend Merry. I start the tea kettle and set out the willow-ware teapot and cozy.
“Wait! Are we making the tea from my spearmint? I WANT TO DO THAT!”
“Oh, you want to crush the tea leaves? Okay. Grab an apron.” I hand her the rolling pin. The first fish is reeled in, ah!
In the calendar of the children’s year, the weather has turned and the clocks have turned. The light lasts for perhaps an hour after we arrive home. We watch for pretty sunsets at four-thirty, then light a candle or turn on low lights. It’s the season for hands-on projects—without an on-going project, each child degenerates, forgets all house rules, begins practicing the high kick with slip-on shoes and giggling heartily at whatever breaks in the process. Without projects, I find a girl shrieking that her brother is shoving her, and he swears he did not (he’s been arguing that he is NOT pushing for all the years since he could talk, often arguing even as he is evicting whole families of people from warm and cozy beds or favorite seats on the couch.)
I tend to speak needs clearly—this is what I’ve been trained to do in the adult world of communication. I state. But as a mother, I state and I state and I state, and clearly I am talking to myself. I ask. I tell. I repeat and I raise my voice. When I am lucky, I remember the futility of this method before I launch.
My children are not direct-eye-contact beings. They are not, primarily, rational beings, though they do reason fairly well in some instances. They are Not Suggestible. They will tell you all the reasons “why not,” to exhaustion. As it has always been, if I accidentally ask “would you like to?” the answer will be a resounding NO. Projects must be employed, but a certain amount of stealth is required. When I am lucky enough to forget my communication training, I turn. I tempt. I sneak up. I appear, as if from nowhere, with a chore that is no longer a chore but instead A Great Mystery.
Within minutes, Brendan insists it’s his turn to use the rolling pin and I interrupt the bicker by placing the mortar and pestle squarely in the center of Brendan’s work space. The rolling pin is trumped and somehow a trade agreement is worked out by both children. I take a spoonful of the crushed leaves into the teapot and pour hot water, cover the teapot with a cozy, right next to the table. I set out the honey and three tea cups.
I lift the newspapers and aim the pile of crushed leaves into a small jelly jar. Plenty of leaves remain left to be crushed, so I spread the papers again and pour cups of tea laced with obscene quantities of honey to reward my sweet-toothed workers. Two armloads of spearmint leaves fit easily in the jar. Some of the mint is actually crushed into dust, lovely green dust that rubs into the aprons and skin and the children still smell of mint for the rest of the evening.
Madeleine skips off to find fabric scraps and scissors, and the jar is then “capped” with a pretty floral cloth and a rubber band. She haphazardly writes “Mint Tea” in silver Sharpie pen on the former jelly label, and a late afternoon is saved by an hour and a half of good-smelling work.
Scott looks at me to offer a silent “thank you,” and I think of other ways to rope them in, after dinner. I set up a shallow bowl of soapy water and the basket of cookie cutters for Madeleine, while Brendan takes a bath—we agree that she can experiment with my loose wool to craft ornaments for Christmas gifts. When Brendan emerges from the bath, he is eager to choose cookie cutters and do the same project, “felting wool inside a form,” which I wrote about for Living Crafts. He crafts several ornaments from a house-shaped cookie cutter and she crafts hearts and Christmas trees, while they sing Beatles songs.
Scott made the mistake, last weekend, of reasoning instead of tempting—he announced he needs button replaced, and stated clearly where he would put the shirts. I will remind him of the trick, soon, of baiting hooks and placing them carefully for small imaginations: put out the button bin, a threaded needle, and make convincing gestures that you are about to do the work yourself. Then disappear for twenty minutes. Stealth doesn’t work every single time, but often enough, I get lucky.
I place sandy shoes on newspaper beside my son’s workbench this morning, with an old toothbrush. I start to remove the dirt imbedded in my sneakers, tsk and move onto making breakfast. Sure enough, I look up and sand is everywhere, but he is vigorously at work, happily scrubbing off the sand and soil before his breakfast. When I ask Brendan “for a favor,” he answers “first I have to know what it is,” and he invariably says “no” or asks how much money he can make from this. (I’m a cheap date—I often offer a quarter if all the million socks are folded and put away, or a penny per towel folded.) But there is no argument today. I get three pairs of shoes cleaned enthusiastically and thoroughly, because it sort of looked like fun.
When I am thoughtful with stealth, I become Tom Sawyer and harbor my own desires secretly, and instead of words I focus on gesture, temptation, disappearance, mystery. Alas I cannot fish them into folding towels or other non-mysterious tasks, but for some things, baiting and waiting is just the communication I need. I need to think ahead for the evening and consider what project might reel them in, today.
I put the idea in the back of my mind. I need to sneak up on myself and get some work done.