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Let Me Get That For You

By Melissa Young

I want a Toyota Sienna. It is my dream minivan, if I dare admit such a thing. A Toyota was not even on the radar screen when we bought our used Chrysler; but with a fourth child on the way, we needed to get something. Two rows of seating seemed heavenly, even if we weren’t always reliably “moving forward.”

My neighbor drives a Sienna. I have a bit of trouble with the tenth commandment when I see that gleaming vehicle. This same neighbor called me a few weeks ago and asked me to pick up her kids from school. No problemo. I rumbled over to the school, parked, and waited. Out they all came, with her kids running ahead of mine (no doubt they were excited about the opportunity to ride in a Chrysler), when they stopped at the door and just stood there . . . and stood there. After several seconds it dawned on me that they were waiting for me to open the door for them. With the automatic door opener. That our van does not have. I pulled my disjointed thoughts together and was about to roll the window down (well, not actually roll, we do have power windows; do we need a new expression for that?) when her oldest boy recognized our lack of automation and opened the door himself.

I should have recognized the problem more quickly. I’ve sat behind my neighbor in the mommy line of vans while we wait to pick up our kindergartners. Up goes her hand to that magic button on the ceiling, open goes the door, in bounces her daughter, and zhhhhm click click closes the door. Very slick. My little guy has to throw his entire body weight against our door to open or close it. When closing from the inside, he has learned to watch for the light to turn off so he knows it is completely shut. Sometimes it takes four or five tries. If he gets it closed on the first try, he is completely tickled with himself.

Life would definitely be easier with automatic doors. Automatic anythings are much appreciated when you are the mother of young children. Yet after that moment of awkwardness—me waiting for them to open the door and them waiting for me to open it, each of us wondering what was wrong with the other—I’ve wondered about the possible side effects of convenience saturation.

Some conveniences have evolved into necessities. When my microwave died for a week, I was appalled at myself. I could not function. How exactly did people heat up their leftovers or cook chicken nuggets back in the day? Apparently, they used a pan and stove or oven, as I did for that week. I learned something about food (it heats very nicely on the stove—no hot and cold spots; takes forever though), about myself (I can adjust to new—or should I say old?—routines), and about women who lived without microwaves (they washed a lot more pans). But what about my children, who are growing up in a very instant and convenient world? I feel they may be losing something—not their actual capacity to do for themselves, but their awareness of that capacity. How long will they wait for opportunities to come to them, or doors to open, before they reach out and grab, push, or pull on their own? Being one generation further removed from memories of “life before _________” (insert favorite gadget here), will they know what to do when inconvenience strikes?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating tossing all microwaves and cell phones out the window as a declaration of mechanical independence. Modern conveniences are a delight, and doing without them for some martyr-like sense of accomplishment does not float my thoroughly modern boat. I’m just saying, I worry sometimes about the possibilities that might be lost in that space of time where my children wait for doors to open for them, and also the sense of entitlement that is sometimes generated by our automatic world.

I can hear my rocking chair calling to me, wherein I will sit and quaver, “When I was a kid, we had to open our own van doors”¦”

If I ever drive a Toyota Sienna, I may occasionally skip the button on the ceiling and see what happens.

About Melissa Young

(Emerita) is a native of Utah and lives in Cache Valley, Utah, with her husband and three of her four children in their emptying nest. She has an MA in TESOL from Brigham Young University and currently volunteers with the English Learning Center.

7 thoughts on “Let Me Get That For You”

  1. "Convenience saturation" –I love this, Melissa. One of my favorite authors in college refused to use a computer to write his books. He wrote and his wife later typed, if I remember correctly. I got on the bandwagon and shunned modern conveniences with that "martyr-like sense of accomplishment" you mentioned (that was also quite self-righteous, I might add). I'm past that now, grateful for modern conveniences and such, though I have a love-hate relationship with microwaves and I do cook my dino-nuggests in the oven and popcorn in a pan on the stove.

    I don't remember his argument for resisting some modern conveniences (it may have been a little martyr-ish), but I really like the question you bring up: "How long will they wait for opportunities to come to them, or doors to open, before they reach out and grab, push, or pull on their own?" Hopefully I can teach ours to "be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will" and not sit waiting for that automatic button to be pushed.

    I love the symobolism you found in watching the kids passively wait. Great post!

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  2. Hey! I want to sell my Sienna! Do you want it? I only have 2 kids and want to sell it and buy a smaller, more efficient car. Also, the automatic doors are fun but sometimes mine gets tired and I have turn it off for a while. Sadly without the motor the door is really heavy and not very convenient.

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  3. I'm with you. Sometimes I make up hard things for the kids to do just to get them working. Isn't that terrible!? "Hey, go get a toothbrush and scrub those floorboards! Please take a list inventory of every book in house." It's great fun.

    We told the kids that in many cultures they were considered adults at 12 or 13, so we think they should start acting like adults at that age, and accordingly contribute to the welfare of the house in increasing increments. The world around them is so dang convenient that they don't feel the compunction to do anything, and I soundly buck against that. (Probably too soundly)

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  4. Melissa,

    Great post. You bring a great insight out of a simple, daily moment of awkwardness. My husband and I go through regular rounds of bucking our kids' sense of entitlement, as Justine said. But then we get tired.

    Justine, we tell our kids the same thing about other cultures. They grew (grow) up because they had to, because their work was needed in order to survive. A shiny kitchen floor isn't a matter of survival (for most people), so Eric and I have to put all this emotional energy into overcoming kids' inertia and their sense that life is about playing.

    I'm all for childhood and playing, but I think Melissa's observation shows up everywhere. You see kids waiting, assuming the momentum comes from somewhere outside themselves. You see it in their over-scheduled lives, never a chance to get bored and have to figure out what to do with their own time. You see it passive entertainment on computers, cell phones, video games–I saw a kid yesterday walking around a little family farm playing on a game gadget while the cows mooed, chickens squawked, and the donkey hee-hawed around him.

    It didn't start with this generation (heaven knows my mom had plenty of trouble getting us to help out!), but I think it has accelerated.

    What to do? Well, our kids have very limited screen time (TV, computers, Playstation). Our 13yo son is expected to make good use of his computer time to better himself, learning coding languages & creating simple games instead of just passively playing them. This doesn't mean they never play video games, but (I think) they understand that it's leisure, not a life staple. It's not easy, and the 13yo often putters, wastes time, and stays too long on the computer. It's a constant effort to stay balanced.

    Work is even harder, because, really, like I said, parents almost have to invent it. There's so little (comparatively) that we have to do to survive. In our family, we just keep trying to come back to it, like a pendulum. We lose energy for a while and the laundry piles up and the kitchen floor gets gross. Then we have a big clean-up day and get back to some routine of daily & weekly chores. And then back down again.

    And here I sit "interacting" via the computer. While my husband and son play a video game on the other computer.

    P.S. Microwave popcorn doesn't hold a candle to stove-popped.

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  5. I have had the same experience with befuddled neighbor kids perplexed by our manually-opening van door. Ours even has a thumb thing that has to be pushed all the way in before you can close it after it's been opened — tricky even for adults to figure out. I kind of hate that clunky door, but I have to admit I've also had the thought that it was a little absurd for kids never to have to open their own doors. (Not that I don't covet a new minivan.)

    I don't have a hard time coming up with work for the kids, I just have a hard time remembering to take the time to make sure they really do it — when I'm feeling lazy, they're off the hook. I should probably be teaching them to do their chores independently of oversight; I guess it is some guilt and sense of injustice gets in the way. Maybe I need to tell myself that having carried them for nine months and given birth to them and nursed them — etc. — balances out any chores they may have to do now whilst I lollygag.

    Oh — another thought that pertains to this a little: I used to feel bad that I don't wait for my husband to get my door when we go places with the kids (he does get my door on dates, but the kids don't see that) because my son wouldn't be learning to treat his wife in a gentlemanly way — but then I decided that Dean's getting the doors for the kids and buckling them in is the form of gallantry I prefer in those situations, and since my son regularly helps with all the door-getting and seatbelt buckling for his three younger siblings, I decided he's still learning good manners.

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  6. I don't know. . . as I've read the comments and posts, I've had a lot of different thoughts. One thought I had is that we don't need to invent work for our kids. And work for the sake of work is not necessarily a virtue. Work without instruction and value becomes meaningless and pointless.
    I don't think asking your child to mop the floor is a pointless exercise or invented work. While it may not be necessary to the immediate survival or the individual or family it teaches several things: that we contribute both to the cleanliness and messiness as a family. That is, that we are a family unit and we, as individuals, help that family unit function better or worse depending on our contribution.Finally, by giving kids a chance to participate in household chores, we give them a valuable chance to practice running a household. I am firmly convinced that one reason why so many women struggle with the roles expected of them as wives and mothers has a great deal to do with being unprepared to run a home. And, also, as we teach these skills to both sons and daughters, we instill in them that men and women contribute to the household responsibilities.

    I like your point, Zina, about appreciating the fact that your husband helps buckle in the children rather than opening the car door for you. That, to me, speaks volumes about what it truly means to be a gentleman than a man opening the door for his wife and then impatiently waiting for her to get all the children buckled in, or ignores the dirty diapers, etc..

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