Kids, Chores, and a Sense of Purpose

Word is out that the Obama girls will continue making their own beds and doing chores at the White House, just like they did back home in Chicago. Maybe they’ll take turns feeding the family dog and taking their new pet for bathroom breaks on the White House lawn. I hope so. I hope they even have to scoop a little poop.

Kids need outdoor chores. We all do. The only time I didn’t have outdoor chores was when I moved to Santa Fe for a year and a half in 2006. Within a few months, I started volunteering weekly at the Santa Fe Horse Shelter. I loved the sense of purpose that came with pulling on my “chore clothes,” getting in the car, driving out of town and into the high desert, then arriving at the Shelter. Lilly, the bay mare I worked with, greeted me with a nicker and suddenly all was right in my world. Hers too, I like to think. That's my daughter with her in the round pen.

I made it a point to visit with some of the youth exhibitors at Denver’s National Western Stock Show last weekend. “Do you like 4-H?” I asked young rancher Jade as he was waiting to show his glossy black Simmental calf. He nodded and told me that he does chores every morning on the family ranch.

Young Ky, too, has chores. He helps take care of the Tibetan yaks on his family ranch near Elbert, Colorado. “They’re pretty fun,” he told me, petting a cow. “She’s kinda protective,” he said, pointing to the calf next to her. “She’s still nursing.” According to the Grunnien Ranch website, the family got started raising yaks when, “Grandpa and I were driving through the country and he saw some sort of beast standing on the back of a trailer and tossing hay to his friends. Turns out they were YAKS! Grandpa wanted some...” Within a month, the yaks were on the ranch and the family’s journey had begun. In yak circles, Ky might someday be a good enough handler to be called a Yakalero.

When I met Katlin Hornig, an 18-year-old from Alamosa, Colorado, she was holding the reins of two Heston Brabant Belgians. We visited while she was waiting her turn to compete in a driving competition. She told me that the Brabant is the foundation horse for the American Belgian. She’s been driving teams since she was in third grade and plans on attending Colorado State University this fall as a pre-vet student. I was impressed with her confidence around the big horses and was reminded of what it felt like to watch my own daughter drive the old Ford tractor when she was harrowing the fields on our small family ranch in Wyoming.

Chores not only give us a sense of purpose, but when chores involve animals, they also give us a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves. A child welcomed each morning by the nicker of a horse, or the bawling of a calf, or the eager yipping of a puppy waiting to be fed, is a child grounded in what it means to matter. And matter, as defined by Random House, means to have substance.

Substance, and grounding, are important. Especially for the children of a movie-star President and his First Lady. Maybe, on days like this when the schools are closed, Sasha and Malia will be able to venture outdoors and return with a little dirt on their boots, the kind that grows grass, and flowers, and trees, and character. Hopefully, they won't be "fertilizing" the new White House rugs installed by designer Michael S. Smith. But I hear he likes to mix casual with formal -- fancy furnishings with dog-friendly fabrics.

Which reminds me, I've been wanting to do a blog on public parks and anti-dog ordinances. It won't be pretty.


Anonymous said…
Page this is fantastic!!!!

I am with the Equestrian Coalition of Orange County, Orange County, CA

We are working here a lot to save our stables and start new ones. Would love to quote you and pick you brain!!

Absolutely love your site.

Thanks for this and look forward to talking to you more.

Janice Posnikoff DVM
MaggieBee said…
I completely agree and it gave me renewed perspective on some of my own chores. Thanks.
Anonymous said…
Janice, it sounds like you're doing some great things in Orange County with the Equestrian Coalition. Yes, get in touch!
Anonymous said…
Margaret, thank you for taking to read today's post. When I didn't have chores to do, I felt disconnected from what I love the most. Glad my post gave you a renewed perspective!
Jerrie Hurd said…
Una and Oliver are the horses I remember at the shelter
Anonymous said…
Jerrie, thanks for stopping by. Una was one of 4 mares brought in together off the range. Lilly was her buddy. I worked with them both. Oliver was a sweetie, but I didn't work with him much. The Shelter has twice as many horses now. I'll be down in Santa Fe in a few weeks, and will be able to reconnect with both Lilly and Una. I'm looking forward to it.
Cheryl Pickett said…
Just found your blog today via a Tweet promoting your writing retreats. As far as the retreat, maybe someday, will have to save my pennies it looks absolutely awesome!

Also just a quick note about the comment you made about kids getting their boots dirty etc. There was a headline on some show a few days ago stating that some "experts" have now shown if kids get dirt in their mouths (on purpose or not) it's good for the immune system.

Having grown up with Morgan horses, spending most of the summer outdoors, all I have to say to that is Amen!

Cheryl Pickett
Anonymous said…
Cheryl, thanks for writing! Glad a Tweet shoutout about my retreats brought you here. Dr. Larry Dossey's book The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things has a great chapter on DIRT. Yes, it does boost our immune system, so be grateful for all the Morgan horse manure you used to carry on the soles of your boots! (By the way, growing up, the Morgan was always my favorite horse!) Hope to see you at next year's Literature & Landscape of the Horse retreat!
Anonymous said…
I agree completely about the connection between chores and development of responsibility and a sense of purpose. Wish my grandchildren would take this to heart!

Carol Grever
Lindy said…
Page, I am looking forward to that blog on public parks and anti-dog ordinances. I am particularly interested in your comment that "it won't be pretty".

We don't usually go places if our "girls" can't go with us. There is a lovely park - a center commons on the green - in Prescott, AZ. Dogs are more than welcome. The city provides the little plastic bags and small trash receptacles around the park. Works great. We love to visit and socialize our girls with all the others who are taking their strolls through this very attractive setting.

Lindy in Aguila, AZ
Page Lambert said…
Turtlewoman, thanks for the comment, and the nudge about the blog post I hope to write (soon) about dogs in public parks. We adopted a little rescue dog about a month ago who was in desparate need of socialization - both with humans and with other dogs. It's so important that they have safe, off-leash places to interact and PLAY. Same goes for kids, yes? I'm a Senior Associate with the Children and Nature Network and a firm believer in unstructured time in still-wild landscapes - for all of us!
Gayle Gresham said…
How fun to read this post and realize I know Ky! And his brother and their Mom. Some favorite patrons in my library.

Me and my kids will never forget our years in 4-H and the many memories of fun, hard work, tragedies, and the life lessons learned by raising animals.
Gayle, what fun that you know Ky! Both my son and daughter saved over $12,000 toward college with their 4-H projects. Nothing teaches us about ourselves and nature the way taking care of animals does. I'm grateful my children had that kind of growing up.
Christy Heady said…
Page, how timely it is for me to read this in light of the book I am writing for single moms and parenting...and being a mom, too, of a young boy. I especially like what you wrote about "substance and grounding", and can see how important those two words are for my own son as I raise him.

Christy, I was very blessed to have been able to raise my children with animals to take care of, and in a landscape where they could be a part of the changing seasons and better understand how everything is tied to these cycles. Children reared in urban landscapes can have chores as well! What's important, I think, is that these chores are tied to a sense of purpose, and thus connect the child to something larger than themselves.

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