Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My team of helpers is slowly coming together (or not)

Team spirit is a great concept. Americans adore it. Truly, we are huge fans of team sports, and consequently, they make up a goodly portion of the high school educational experience for many. We learn to work together, to value all the players, to suffer through painful practices, to party after a win, to shore up our morale after a loss. We discover the value of the group over the individual. We also learn a certain level of "shut up or put up." We learn to subjugate our personal feelings and just keep on doing what's expected and needed. We adapt to the demands of a strict coach. We seek admiration and respect from our peers. Our behavior, our view of ourselves, our ability to listen and be present, all these are enhanced by being on a team.

Team sports are not part of the French educational system. The academic day begins at 8:20 and ends at 4 or 4:30pm. There's an hour for lunch (or even two), but no time in the afternoon, and often not the facilities present, for organized school-based team sports. However, you can choose to join a team or activity outside of school. There are private non-profits that tap into national and regional subsidies offering kids the chance to play soccer (practice on Wednesdays, game on Saturdays -- for the rest of your life), or as in Leo's case, handball (practice twice a week, matches twice monthly on Saturdays, optional intensive practices over the vacations). Many students do take advantage of the numerous offerings out there. But, they will never have their classmates show up at a match to root for the home team, nor any pompom girls. Nor will they have the experience of practicing five days a week, three hours a day, throughout either a season or the entire year. Sports (unless you go to a special school specifically for one) are decidedly outside of the main curriculum.

In our home, I am aiming to create a team of helpers. It would be nice, no? Mothering six kids, you'd think that the pay-off might be more help stacking wood, burning brush, raking leaves, sawing branches, breaking up kindling... The list goes on.

In fact, our most successful group effort of late was to push our van so that it would start, thus permitting me to bring my brood to school. Our biggest and strongest, Gaetan, was already off -- he'd hopped on his bike before 6:30 as he had to be at school at 7AM, and I'm afraid my bringing him was just a wee bit out of the question. It was a 40 minute ride on the smaller roads between Avignon and Le Pontet, and he made it with nary a wrong turn.

So, as 8 o'clock ticked upon the clock, and my poor motor wheezed most faintly at me, we were just the five smaller children -- the eldest, my thirteen year old girl, the youngest, my seven year old Jonas -- and me. The task required pushing this old nine-seater van up a gentle and curved slope to the flat road by the Rhône, our Chemin des Canotiers, where we were finally able to push with more ease, and get it up to the speed where the motor would at last turn over.

Laughing giddily, weary, yet very proud, they hopped into the car. We were only ten minutes late to school. Pretty good, eh?

Nothing like a bit of adversity to knit a group of disparate beings together.

However, this was not the case for the brush burning party this afternoon. I was reminded of a French 'Survivor' inspired TV show, 'Kolanta.' I'm afraid our team would lose quite early in the game. The task at hand was to bring the brush from the back garden to the courtyard and burn it in the tin drum, as safely as possible. Add to this raking up leaves, etc., There was a lot of cane which needed to be broken down before being inserted, scratchy bay tree branches, leaves that hissed and whistled as they burned, butterfly tree bows needing folding and compressing, to then be pushed down deeply into the drum., etc.,

Being numerous (mostly me, Leo and the younger boy, M) I thought this task would go quickly. But I didn't count on the amount of sitting rather than doing that they meant to do. At long last, once Gaetan (having finished his homework) came out to help, and our older girl (neither my little girl nor Jonas were with us), I thought it was under control. The last wheel barrow full of brush had been brought out. It needed only to be added to the drum, followed by a bit of raking and cleaning up, for the job to be done.

So, I delegated and went to the back garden to mow. I then took a much needed shower and came back out. What? they're all gone and there's still stuff on the ground which needs burning? and the place hasn't been picked up? the wheel barrow is in the path of my neighbor's car, and the rake lying on the ground, and...

I was disappointed. Was it too much to expect that they actually finish the job before disappearing? But, monkey see, monkey do. Once one disappeared (perhaps only to pee), the others quickly followed. Not a one had it in him or her to properly finish the job. Yet again, it was left to Super-Mom (or Madeleine Croft as I've been called).

I don't know about this...

I did my schpeel of what it is to truly finish a job. I bitched and moaned a bit. And then I got over it. But, I didn't make dinner. They did. Crêpes anyone?

Next week, I bring out the saws for the branches... I've discussed with Leo the value of physical activity -- especially at his age -- in helping him sleep well at night. He immediately related to the sensation of being mentally tired, and yet having his limbs move and jiggle on him. I told him how traditionally, the tasks of a life fatigued us sufficiently to send us to bed properly, physically weary. But now, many go to gyms to achieve this. That I can either do yoga, or clean the house top to toe. Take a long walk, or mow the lawn. Etc., -- yes, I was working a bit towards positive brain washing. But wouldn't it be great if he learned this lesson too? (amongst many another).

By the end of the year, if I've enough projects, I might actually whip this group into a proper team. My aunt's family of nine they are not, but then again, I've not any walls to build, nor barns to shovel out at the moment. Nevertheless I am very tempted to put in a chicken coop and a bicycle shed. And then there's the vegetable garden... I'll just see what I can do. I may need to purchase some boxes of ice cream, or bake brownies. Sometimes when the work ethic is not yet ingrained, a carrot of sorts is necessary.

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