Work and Play

I spent a few months with an Amish family several years ago. The father's concerns sounded like those of many modern American fathers. He said he wished he could spend more time watching his children grow up. To me, this was an interesting observation, since he was a farmer, his children were not of school age, and so he was around them most of the day.

He mentioned how his oldest son, Sammy, then almost five, was just starting to "notice things." While walking to the house one night after milking the cows, Sammy looked up at a half-moon in the night sky and declared, "The moon is broke." When we went out with the horses, and father yelled, "Whoa," Sammy followed by shouting a "Whoa!"of his own.

His son was also at the age where he was old enough to start having some responsibilities. One day Sammy was given the task of throwing some hay down from the main floor of the barn to the horses below. Father patiently waited while little Sammy wrestled the hay bale, which weighed more than he did, into position and finally pushed it through the hole. Father told me that when he was a boy, he had started plowing fields at the age of eight.

One Sunday we went to a neighbor's house, and had arrived just as the family was finishing up breakfast and preparing to go to church. Four girls of different ages were cleaning and washing the dishes, putting things away, drying plates, sweeping the floor, etc. One was so young that she had to climb on a chair in order to be able to put the plates in the cupboard. The kitchen had been put back to normal, and all the family, including two very small boys, were dressed and ready for church in about 20 minutes. Everyone had a task to do, and did it.

One Amishman told me his three children, all five or under, sometimes pretend they are having church or a wedding. They take the hymnbooks from the table, go into a room, and hold a "church service." I thought this sounded pretty funny, and then I stopped to think. When was the last time I saw American kids amusing themselves by pretending to have church?

Here were children "deprived" of TV, computers, and so many modern and fancy toys, yet they seemed to be having great fun with everyday things and experiences. In many ways their play was really preparing them for what they would soon be doing as young adults, when the play would become "work." I also observed that Amish men really seemed to get a sense of satisfaction from the work they do, and I sometimes felt that for them, their work had now become "play." Things had come full circle.

I will never forget one day when I humbly observed this fine line between work and play. During my stay on the Amish farm, I had been assigned the task of bolting some silo pipe together. One of the little boys, about four years old, came by and stopped to observed me, the "city boy." I was obviously having some trouble. He watched for a while and then disappeared. I figured that he had gotten bored with me, the college senior, and my struggle to complete my task. To my surprise, the little boy came back a couple minutes later and handed me the exact tool that I needed to get the job done properly.

Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,

For babies grow up, we've learned to our sorrow;

So quiet down, cobwebs; dust, go to sleep;

I'm rocking my baby, and babies don't keep!

 

Amish Country News Publisher's Message by Brad Igou (2001)

 

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