Saturday morning strawberry picking. A gorgeous sunny morning with a good breeze to keep the bugs away and keep the berry pickers cool. I was loving the sun and the smell of the berries, and trying not to worry how I’d stand up from my berry-picking crouch, when I heard a family of four in the neighbouring row. Young parents, little boy maybe three years old, little girl no older than five. A sweet sight, you’d think. Until the Dad huffs and puffs about picking ONLY berries that are ALL red, and getting them in the basket. Until the Mom frets that they’re not concentrating, and keeps demanding that they stand still for cell phone pictures, barking “stop touching your clothes after you’ve touched the berries!” (for the record, I'd wiped my fingers on my pants a few times by then, and had cow manure on my crocs). Made me think they were more interested in the Facebook photo-op: "Look at our perfect family outing this morning!"
The little girl skipped up the row a few times, finding berries she thought were amazing, and would come back: “Look at THIS one! Lookit, Daddy!” No response from the dad, who was too busy to exclaim over her find. Finally he looked up and said sharply to his little daughter, “YOU’RE the one who was so excited to come here. So get busy filling the basket.” This wasn’t after an eternity of corralling misbehaving youngsters. They had only been there maybe two minutes. Broke my heart a little.
And made my heart so freaking glad to have been raised with adults who loved to dawdle, who lived in berry-stained, dog hair-covered clothes, who loved to sing and laugh while they worked. If my five-year-old self had skipped up to Uncle Mike and shoved a fat berry under his nose, he would have said “That is the most fan-fucking-tastic strawberry I have EVER seen, IN MY LIFE!” and then he would have talked about berry farmers, and fertilizer, and the best way to protect the crops, and wouldn’t have cared if the basket ever got filled.
My family has always been hard-working. They’ve also been workers who laugh, and talk, and sing while they’re working. We all have demands, obligations and responsibilities – not enough time, and too much to do. But my grandmother raised nine kids and still made life fun: once, my five-year-old cousin was ‘helping’ gather eggs in a pail, and because she was so little, the pail banged against her legs as she walked. “Careful!” her mother scolded, “you’re cracking all those eggs!” She just smiled up at her with a sunny grin and said, “Grammy doesn’t mind.” Talk about a Lifetime Achievement Award in one little sentence: Grammy doesn’t mind. Because Grammy knows what’s important is not hurting a little kid’s feelings, or making her think a handful of eggs is more important than her grand-daughter having a good time helping out.
I did have to keep my head tucked down to hide my grin as I left with my full basket, when I heard the mom exclaim to the toddler, “Wait – are you EATING every berry I give you to put in the basket? WAIT. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Are you smooshing every single berry I give you instead of putting them in the basket?? That’s it. You don’t get to help anymore.” His nonplussed chuckle made my day.
Let 'em help. Let 'em get dirty. Life is short, and childhood? A blink of an eye.