Mulch Me -a/k/a Object Lessons

Several years ago, my eldest son announced at dinner that he had decided that he had all the education he needed – he was in 5th grade. While I choked on my food, my husband calmly asked him what he then intended to do with his life.
Lucas blithely replied that he intended to be a garbage man (now, lest you take offense that I have not used the politically correct term “sanitation engineer”, bear in mind I am recounting what HE said).

Frankly, I was dumbstruck — I had been diligently homeschooling him for more than four years, slaving over lesson plans and thinking constantly about what would “enrich” his educational experience. And here he was, having the audacity to say that education was not important, and that, thank you very much, he had all he intended to have.

My quick thinking husband, Pat, said, “Well, OK, Lucas, but you really ought to experience what life is like as a worker. I think that the majority of garbage men are union employees, so you ought to evaluate the experience from the perspective of being a union employee.”

I looked at Pat like he had rolled his last marble.  He continued on, “So, how about this – starting Monday, you do not have to do school anymore. We will arrange to have a union job ready for you. You will begin work at 8 a.m., have a 15 minute break at 10 a.m., lunch at noon, another break at 2 p.m., and a 5 p.m. quitting time. How does that sound?”
Before I could say, ‘have you lost your mind’, Lucas enthusiastically replied, “That sounds GREAT Dad! Thanks, for seeing it my way.”

Let me tell you, I could not WAIT for that kid to get out of the kitchen so I could shake my husband until his teeth rattled!! Lucas jumped up from the dinner table and Pat turned to me and quietly said, “Call and order the 3 yards of mulch we were discussing last week. Lucas can spread it and learn a life lesson in the process.”

So, in the interest of family harmony, and the desire to tread lightly around the insane, I did as I was told. The mulch arrived late the next afternoon, to much fanfare with a beeping dumptruck dropping it onto our front driveway. Lucas was so excited!

His first “union workday” dawned with a beautiful spring morning, sunny and mild. Out the front door he bounded, new work gloves in his back pocket, thoroughly congratulating himself on his own precociousness. By quitting time, he had mulch in his ears, and a Cheshire cat smile that I mortician could not have removed. What a great first workday!

The next day however, dawned rainy and cold as only a Maryland spring can. He looked out the window and said,             “Oh man, I can’t go to work today – it’s raining. What a bummer!”

Pat promptly explained to him that union employees work rain or shine, and told him to go find his galoshes and a baseball cap. He said, “Make sure you dress for the weather, you don’t want to catch cold.

By the time his 10 a.m. break rolled around, he looked like a drowned rat. His observation was that mulch was much heavier when it was wet. (Duh!) By the second break of the day, he was begging Pat to let him lay off for the rest of the day.  “Dad”, he said. “I have mulch EVERYWHERE”. Pat said quitting time was 5 p.m.

Needless to say, the next morning the weather was equally promising, and Lucas announced across the breakfast table that he was probably mistaken and that he really needed to get back to doing school, as he was getting behind. Pat said, “Oh no, YOU my friend have contracted on a union job to move those three yards of mulch, and your ‘work experience’ will not conclude until the mulching is done.” From the look on Lucas’ face, you could have sworn that Pat told him he had to distribute the mulch naked! I nearly bit holes in my cheeks trying not to laugh.

It took Lucas nine very long days to finish his “union project”. At the conclusion, he opened his books and said not a single word about “having enough education”.

And I learned the intrinsic value of homeschooling with “object lessons”.