My mom and dad built our family home, Northwell, before my youngest brother, James, was born. My Grandfathers family owned large tracts of land in the Eastern Cape area of South Africa. My Grandfather gave us an 11 hectare block of gorgeous, wild, African land for us to build our house on. To thank my Grandfather, whose name was North Wells (yes, his first name was, indeed, North), my mom and dad called our land Northwell. We lived at Northwell for 21 years and most of my childhood and young adult memories are infused with tendrils of this magical homestead.

Before the house was built, there was great debate on where it should go. At last my mom and dad settled on the perfect spot, which happened to be right in the middle of a Port Jackson forest. They set about clearing the trees and I can remember, I was 7, spending many hours playing with my younger brother while they worked. My brother and I had our jobs too… we were to pick, out of the sand, each and every little Port Jackson sapling. There were thousands, as tall as my baby finger. We were to fill our gumboots with saplings and, for each full gumboot, we were to be paid 5 cents. We were so excited to be earning money and immediately set about filling our gumboots. It seemed to take forever, bending down and pulling the little plants out of the ground. And, it was ‘African’ hot but at last my gumboot was full. In utter triumph, thinking of all the bubblegum and toffee I was going to buy with my money, I presented my full gumboot to my father. ‘Good job’, he smiled, ‘But it’s not full’, he said as he pushed his hand into my boot, compacting all of the little saplings until my boot was only half full. He sent me back to work. The unfairness of it stung but off I went to fill the rest of my boot.

I thought of this the other day on one of our family outings to collect acorns.

We each had buckets and my children worked at filling theirs for quite some time. But soon they got bored with the work and started to play instead. No amount of bribing could get them to actually fill their buckets. I was reminded of my sapling/gumboot lesson and couldn’t help but think how different my children are to me. And how different A Good Man and I am from our parents. We would be so impressed at a full bucket that we’d NEVER not reward them… if fact, we rewarded them for their half full buckets! Their lives are so much easier, we give them so much more. Is this a service or a disservice? We are so much more focused on our children than my parents were on us… they loved us, deeply, but they focused on their things, we tagged along. It’s kind of the other way around these days. Is this good or bad? Hmmm, makes you think.

Blessings and magic,


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14 Responses

  1. I loved this story. I think about this theme alot these days as my children grow and have their won familes. When I was small, it was about survival. We had nothing, so work was a necessity. My parents built their house from scratch, so we worked extra hard, like you, to make a solid foundation for it. Slacking was not acceptible.

    I have worked very hard to make sure my children know that hard work is important, but also that childhood is important. I want their life to not be full of the worry that we had as kids.

    Better or worse..who knows.

  2. I enjoyed reading this story about your childhood. I don’t remember being asked to do a lot of hard work when I was young. But I did work hard- pulling weeds, digging flower beds and trying to make the yard look pretty. It embarrassed me to have it looking messy. I was never rewarded for it, other than my personal satisfaction in a having pretty yard.
    I probably need to ask my kids to do more work than they do. They have it pretty easy. Interesting topic!

  3. Hi Donni
    I love this story of your homestead. I remember us working hard as children but not serious hard work. We loved to pick cotton and get paid for the weight we picked. I have been thinking recently these same thoughts. How easy things are for our children. I feel mine could do with more ‘work’. Surely it helps with encouraging a sense of achievement, focus, self direction, value and all that.
    Best wishes to you always

  4. Great story! It is just the same in my family. We were taggers-on to our parents, who loved us but the way people saw children in those days was quite different from now. We found our enjoyment either where we could in the adult world, or in our separate child world – whereas these days with my own dd our worlds are more united. I do think though I could require more of my dd in the way of hard work, lol!

  5. I do ponder about the fact that the only tasks my children have to do is things like laundry, trash and dishes. We do not live on a farm or have difficult things to do.
    I grew up oldest of 11 and life was hard. Our parents had no time for stories or play. We did not always have enough to eat. One of my brothers will not let his children get dirty with nature because he equates that with poverty.
    I am a better parent than mine were as far as the attention and love shown but I do not have any of the struggles my parents did. My hope though is that my children have a good work ethic and take pride in a job well done even if it is in small things. I’m off to enjoy a delicious book with my kiddos and savor every moment.

  6. I talk about this sometimes with my inlaws here in Italy. Kids here dont really do anything at all, leaving everything to the mom. My MIL is always amazed at what our almost 4 year old son can and will do. He helps out a lil bit with his 9month old sister (throwing away the diapers, cleaning toys, etc) and will be getting his first chore this next week: feeding the pet rats that we are getting. My inlaws think that I am nuts tho with expecting him to feed them since they are kids, and kids don’t do anything. We shall see how this goes!

  7. What a beautiful story. I agree, I remember having done things as I child I thought would please my parents only to find they we not yet pleased, or didn’t realize my effort. Part of what I love about Waldorf and our homeschooling journey in general, is that the children do have meaningful work. We just make it so much fun. In my house the children have no chores, but are expected to help when asked, to contribute. Am I tagging with them, or them with me? I think we are just here, doing life together.

  8. My dear Donni, My lesson to you and your brothers was to instill in you that Life’s Gumboot is better half full than half empty. Your Dad.

    I am just thankful you are alive because your gumboots were to stop the puff adders biting you. Your Mom

  9. I loved reading your adventures as a child in africa. Very wonderful. I especially like reading your parents two cents. I had my own version of the bucket story picking wild salmonberries in the Oregon forest. My bucket was never full because I ate most of them.
    I think our children do have it easier but surviving has gotten easier, at least in the west. Is what our parents gave us was meaningful work where today it just looks like busy work. This is where waldorf comes in. ;) Be well and have a great weekend.

  10. I think we as parents retard our children if we don’t have them work. And I don’t mean just busy-work, but genuine work which contributes to the betterment of the family unit. And no, I am not referring to supplementing the family’s income, unless it is necessary. I look at some of my friends’ kids, and they have no direction, or rather self-direction. If someone isn’t telling them what to do and how to do it, nothing happens. My children began washing their own laundry as soon as they could see into the washer, they would often cook (from scratch) dinner. My son has been making the Thanksgiving turkey since he was 6 years old. Cooking is wondrous to him, and he’s good at it. He’s paying for university with his baking. My daughter makes and sells handbags. She too, is paying for university with her work. They both have very , very good grades, and expect to be content in their chosen professions after graduation. Because they were required to work, they know what it looks like, so were not shocked when they left home for school. Too many of their friends are flailing about because they never learned to ,nor were required to, work. Working requires one to focus, and manage time, and resources. So yes, I think you should return your focus from your children toward your partner, and require them to work. By making them most important you are not showing them what good parents looks like, just how pals look.

  11. If you remember correctly, you were lucky to earn 5 cents from your ‘hard’ work…. me 3 years younger (admit my gumboot was smaller) earned 1 buck…. love you Don, your little brother….

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