Start them early

For days the 11-month-old grandchild kept her mother glued to the stairs during an intense climbing phase. She bent her knee, placed it carefully on the next higher step and pulled herself up the stairs one step at a time. Then at her mother’s insistent tugging of her legs down, she reached behind her with her toes and practiced descending the stairs.
“It takes a lot of time to watch while she is practicing,” my daughter sighed. She spent days following the tiny gymnast up and down the stairs.
It would be easier, faster and initially safer for Momma to simply carry the child up and down the stairs, but since the child wants to climb the stairs, she must learn to go safely up and down.
A gate blocks her entrance to the stairs most of the time. However, babies who like to climb have a way of figuring out how to get around fences. And, her pre-school siblings only have to forget to close the gate one time for her to take a tumble.
So because she likes to climb, her mother sits on the stairs while the little one learns how to deal safely with the potentially hazardous stairs.
But what else should I expect from my daughter? She comes from a family that believes in the capabilities of even the smallest of children … a family that  has steadfastly refused to adhere to the child labor laws.
As we prepared a meal at her home, my daughter called her pre-schoolers to come set the table. With the obligatory whine of a child, the two-and-a-half-year-old flounced her way around the table placing silverware. Using a step stool, she filled glasses of water to hand her five-year-old brother. He carried them to each place setting.
Afterwards, when the dishwasher had done its job, Momma called them back to the kitchen to practice their skills in matching similar items by returning the spoons, forks and knives to their correct slots in the drawer and the plastic cups to their basket in the pantry.
At about the same age, my mother let me help her mop the floor. I remember lots of water and my sopping wet clothes, but she never decided it would be easier to do it herself.
No one expects the short folks to reach the highest dresser drawer, but no matter which grandchild I visit, I have noticed they all know who owns every piece of clothing. Snatching their own items from a pile of clean laundry to fold, they quickly sorts the clean clothes and save their moms one more bit of work.
My son’s daughters move around the kitchen with the expertise of a chef, confident and creative, and then they talk with me about their creations.
Many helping hands means less work for everyone – but the training begins early and small. Before I entered first grade, my interest in my mother’s household tasks found me pressing the wrinkles out of handkerchiefs – with a hot iron.
When I wanted to sew just like Mom, she handed me a needle, thread and one pressed handkerchief, folded in half to make a doll’s sleeping bag. I gave a similarly simple sewing lesson to the granddaughters the week they sewed onto T-shirts to decorate them.
For some reason, I missed the opportunity to drive the tractor on the farm with my dad or grandfather. But, my brother had his hands on the steering wheel long before he could touch the pedals. By the time he could manage both, my dad spent a morning teaching him how to back a tractor, and the manure spreader behind it, into the barn. Not an easy task for even a licensed driver, but a necessary skill on a farm. And, it really builds the child’s self-esteem as they master each adult skill.
Farming families expect their children to quickly become another helping hand with all that farm work. City folks can, too.
All that work and learning must not have bothered us too much – we each passed the expectation along to our children. And, they have done the same, even if it means sitting on the steps while a little bit of a person practices going up and down, up and down.