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From My Window

Issue Date: July 12, 2017

What We Lost - Automatic Dishwashers

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

A thoughtful friend pointed out something I had not thought about when he read the column on dishwashers. "How much time did a human dishwasher and a human dish drier spend talking to one another over the sink?" That "togetherness time" during not only this work task, but many others, has been lost. I reflected that my sister and I were busy commiserating, complaining and teasing as we stood together doing the dishes by hand. There was no TV visible; no texting, tweeting or posting to be done; and no radio in our kitchen. Sometimes we'd sing the songs we learned at school, or planned out the next adventure in the yard when our loathsome chore was done. We even played a game we called "Joseph Time" which involved running from the sink to the refrigerator and eating cabbage in a competitive way. (Please do NOT ask me to explain the origins of this game. I have NO idea.) It is true that there is something that was meaningful lost in the automation of chores, and reduction of "shared family work tasks" in general.

My husband grew up in a large farm family where the kids earned money with a "pickle patch." The tending of this garden was another example of sibling time together, with plenty of opportunity for friendly banter as there was no other diversion available as they worked outdoors. The kids were also in charge of butchering chickens together " a necessary task, made easier and more enjoyable with the extra hands available to lighten the workload.

I can't recall a single chore my two kids did together on a regular basis. There are probably several factors in play for these changes " automation like dish washers is part of it, but also families have gotten much smaller. My husband was one of eight; there was a family close by with 16 children. Fewer families now make their living as farmers or ranchers, so there are less outdoor chores " the ones left in non-farm families, like mowing lawn, are one person tasks. And there are a lot of people who think our children are totally overscheduled between school, sports, clubs and hobbies.

Even our long childhood car rides, with six of us packed into my father's VW bug, were opportunities for long conversations. Dad didn't believe in stopping until he reached his destination, so we'd look out the window and point out things to each other, or play Old Maid cards in the cramped back seat to pass the time. It could have been a miserable trip, given the crowding, but we helped each other make the best of it.

My siblings and I have a tradition of meeting most years for some sort of group work project. Those projects now sometimes include some of the grandchildren, and we enjoy the satisfaction of pooling our diverse skill sets to build something, or tear something down, to benefit a family member. But more important is the time we spend reminiscing and teasing. It always brought my late father, and my mom, special joy to have "all the kids" home again, if only for a couple of days. The "work" is the reason we all make it a point to be in one place at one time instead of splitting up our visits, and I am not sure we'd prioritize the synchronization of the visits without that task-based focal point.

I don't know what the answer is to this change in our lifestyles. We really can't go back, but it is good to search out ways to establish bonding time with family members, and doing that over "work" is one of the best ways to do it. "TV free" time; banning the phones at the dinner table, and getting kids outside and unplugged are also worthwhile pursuits, but it's not quite the same as doing something to benefit something or someone, but especially the family unit.

There is a well-known saying "the family that prays together, stays together." I also think families "work at the task, and treasure the memories." Or "the families who work, don't go berserk."



You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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