Whistle While You Work

Dead HostaWhile it seems as if the first beautiful green Hosta leaves were just poking up through the ground last spring, that same foliage has already faded to shades of yellow and brown. Thus it is time to begin the grueling process of cutting them back to say goodbye for another season. We literally have over a hundred Hosta plants in our yard, so, needless to say, this is somewhat of a time-consuming job. With our busy schedules and juggling the children’s needs, I usually can only plan to do a dozen or so at a time. But it goes a lot faster when I enlist a helper and a positive attitude. Today, my trusty assistant John was once again the man for the job.

Although it would not hurt the plant to leave withered foliage, I prefer to clear it away in the fall so as not to see dead leaves all winter long. It also makes for faster clean-up in the spring. Leaving the foliage gives slugs and other pests a handy shelter until spring too. I usually cut each plant away in a few different chunks. If you have another adult to help, have them hold the leaves up as you cut. Then your helper can dump those leaves as you move to the next plant. Cut stalks down to approximately two inches above the ground. They will fall away in spring when new growth begins.

Fall is a good time to divide and transplant Hosta too, as the soil is more moist than in summer months. I usually prefer to do this in the spring before the foliage gets too tall, but you can also do so this fall after you cut back the leaves to make the plant easier to manage. Next spring I’ll tell you why I have so many hosta plants, I’ll show you all the gorgeous varieties I have collected and I’ll share my tricks for keeping those darn slugs away. For now, we have work to do.

John was actually a big help. Of course, he can’t fit much in his tiny wheelbarrow so I did the heavy lifting, but he legitimately helped me gather up the clipped leaves, put them in the wheelbarrows, take them to the woods and dump them in the compost pile. While we were only at it for 30 minutes or so, we cut back and cleared away about a dozen plants. I promise, he actually volunteered to help. There were no bribes involved. Not this time at least. While I finished up, John searched for bugs, as usual, and was thrilled to make a new friend. When we came inside, I reflected on his willingness to help.

Children are capable of more than we sometimes give them credit. I’m not making a case for child labor here or suggesting that you send them out to get a job. Andy and I try to teach our kids, among other things, that life is not always about playtime. There is a lot of work to do (I don’t need to remind you of that) and Mommy and Daddy can’t always do everything for everyone on their own. We shouldn’t always have to be rushing around in the 2.5 hour window we have while our children are at preschool to cram in and check off as many things from our to do list as possible. Let them in on the action. Let them help you check things off your list. Of course you’re not going to make them spend the entire day working. It’s just for a little while and then they’ll run off to explore in the yard, ride their bikes or find bugs. But you will have taught them an important lesson about work ethic and responsibility. Encouraging children to do hard things and accomplish something that may have been new and a bit difficult for them gives them a big boost of self confidence too.

WormIn my experience, kids want to help (except perhaps when it involves picking up toys.) It’s all about the approach you take. I often marvel at the way all the kids in my daughter’s Kindergarten class rush to clean up when their teacher’s timer goes off after free choice. I frequently wish I had Mary Poppins’ finger snapping magic and angelic voice to help my children pick up their toys. What do both of these amazing women have in common? Mindset. They have taught the children that they are expected to help. It is not an option. It is part of the day. But, more importantly, they make it fun. Snow White was also really on to something as she whistled while she worked with her forest friends. “It won’t take long when there’s a song to help you set the pace.” And Barney has the same attitude, even though he annoys the crap out of me. I guess my husband already learned this lesson, as he has started putting on “dance party” music when he asks the kids to clean up the basement. Turns out it works a lot better than me yelling at everyone and launching into a tirade about how unacceptable it is for the basement to get so messy. The kids are downstairs jamming while they put things away and before they know it, it’s done.

Now, today I was not literally singing in my yard as John and I cut back Hostas. The point is that I enjoy working in my yard and my children see that, so they think it’s fun too. I understand not everyone likes yard work or cooking or cleaning. Do you think Snow White really wanted to clean up after seven dirty old men? Ah, no. I admit that I become like the Evil Queen some days when I am picking up after just three children. But lately I’m trying to trick myself into making the best of the things I DON’T enjoy. I’m trying to mirror my child’s Kindergarten teacher and maybe even Mary Poppins, Barney and Snow White.  “When hearts are high, the time WILL fly.” Sounds “Pollyannaish”, I know. But I can’t get mad at my kids for being grumpy about helping out if I’m grumpy too. If I’m trying to teach my kids to have a positive outlook, then I should probably do the same. On this day, John was not grumpy about helping with the yard work, because I was happy and having fun.

While having your children help in the yard may slow you down a bit, it ends up being a lot more fun and it’s a great learning experience for both child and parent. I taught John how to clear away Hostas. He reminded me to stop and smell the roses, or touch the worms in this case. We were whistling while we worked.

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