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How To Parent With A Shovel And Raise Smart Kids
“I like that one!”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I do, I do! I like that one!” My twelve-year-old daughter chanted as she pointed toward the assortment of shovels hanging from the pegboard wall of the retail-chain hardware store. I paid for the shovel and we walked out into the parking lot.
The drive home was entertaining and animated ending our perfect daddy-daughter-lunch-date. We arrived home safe. As we entered our house, I asked her to put on some “walking clothes”. These were code words. They meant we were going to take a walk along the large bay that graced our porch view.
My job as a traveling ER nurse had taken my family and I many places but settled next to the San Francisco Bay was our favorite. Because of this traveling lifestyle, my wife and I chose to home school our daughter and her younger brother. We all had spent many hours walking the edge of the San Francisco Bay but this stroll was to be different.
My daughter had hit a wall with her education. She lacked focus and had lost her drive. Always a good student, now I could hardly get her to read without friction and conflict. The matter had reached a breaking point.
No threat, barter or bargain had changed anything. Considering the heavy-handed discipline of my youth, I was desperate to find a way to motivate her. Not with the rigid stance of shaking a closed fist but with my knee bent offering an open hand of understanding.
Then an idea struck me a month before our wonderful daddy-daughter-lunch-date. While preparing a lesson plan on creative writing, I came across an old proverb. It said, “A pencil is lighter than a shovel.” I realized my daughter did not understand this concept.
After all, it had been this way for me. I had spent the entirety of my 13th summer working alongside my father as he built a church from the ground up in a small North Carolina coastal town. I missed the work when the project was completed but realized that kind of work did not appeal to me. The experience was among the reasons I went to college. I had to teach my daughter the difference between a pencil and a shovel.
Skipping along to my long strides, she carried our new shovel. We had been walking about 15 minutes when we came to a clearing. Then, we stepped off the beaten path and sat down on a log from a tree fallen long ago.
As she remained seated, I got up and measured an area 3 feet by 3 feet on the ground. Then I picked up a nearby tree limb from the ground and marked off a 3-foot length. Finally, I stuck the shovel into the center soil of the measured square and announced the lesson plan for this day.
With love, I said, “You will use this shovel and dig a hole 3-foot by 3-foot by 3-foot. Take as long as you like. When you are done, we will walk back home.”
I sat down on the old tree as she walked out and took hold of the wooden handle. Her face announced many questions but it was time for her to dig. As she turned the first shovel full of fresh sod over, I pulled a paperback book out of my pocket and began to read to myself. In silence.
I am sure the next hour and a half seemed longer to her than I on that California afternoon in July. Every now and then, walkers passed nearby, glancing at us with curiosity only to continue their trek. “Why is there a grown man sitting on a log reading a book while this young girl digs a deep hole?” their faces asked.
The answer came after I measured the dig at three feet deep. I relieved my daughter of her new tool and asked her to have a seat on the log to rest. I began to fill the hole back in. Sweat glistened on her face and arms in the beaming daylight. Her breath was heavy. I had her undivided attention.
With love, I said, “It does not matter to me how a person chooses to make a living for themselves and their family as long as it is legal and does not harm innocent people. I believe in honest hard work. However, you had better make sure you know what type of hard work you want to do. Are you going to choose the pencil? Or are you going to choose the shovel?”
My daughter was quiet and retrospective the rest of the day. She may not have been on speaking terms with me. It was a risk I had to take.
With the next morning came my apprehension. Which would she choose? She met me at the breakfast table with the same beautiful smile I look forward to every morning. We discussed the previous day’s event over a couple of bowls of corn flakes. She told me she understood what I was trying to do and promised to forgive me, just as soon as her back quit aching.
She started her studies and never looked back.
Four years later, she attends public school and is blossoming. She averages reading 2-3 books a month, has a GPA greater than 4.15 and is the student editor of her high school newspaper.
I keep her shovel around and pull it out when I need to dig a hole or two. She just smiles and walks away from it. Maybe I will give it to her as a present one day. Maybe on the day she graduates from college.
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