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I went to town all by myself yesterday. As any mother of young children knows, this was no small moment for me. Rarely do I walk outside, work in the garden, or even go to the bathroom by myself. (Is that TMI? I grew up with two brothers and have four small children; I’m afraid there is very little outside of the scope of reasonable conversation for me.)

The moment I got home I snatched up little Ruthie, squeezed her tight, and soaked in the greetings of the older children. The day was sunny and comfortably warm, the breeze blew the mesquite branches outside of the window. The children seemed happy to see me – most likely because I came bearing bags of fruit – but I was probably happier to see them. I am thankful for a life that brings us home.

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Before I left I did what I always do when leaving the boys with Daddy – I rattled off a list of chores and school books to attend to. When I returned they showed me the piles and piles of dishes washed, the laundry being put away, and the kitchen work table cleaner than I’ve seen it in a while. It’s not perfect, but they generally can do whatever it is that we ask of them. Somehow I’m still amazed by this.

I’m falling, not so gracefully, into this point of motherhood in which I delegate more and more. This past year has taught me the hard way that there are some things no one but me can do… and things I’ve always done that are now theirs to do.

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Before Ruthie was born I taught the boys to make tortillas and eggs. It was more in a panic of heavy realization than a deliberate passing on of information. You never know how long you’ll be out of commission after a birth and I figured eggs and tortillas could get us pretty far with the many gifts of food we are graciously given when we welcome a new little one.

When Ruthie came to us as both our neediest baby and worst sleeper, things had to change with or without my permission. And so I backed slowly away from the garden and the dish sink, let go of a good portion of my freelance work, and painfully found my way back to the trenches of motherhood – where a successful day’s only requirements are keeping them fed and alive. (It was the journey back that was painful, not the destination.)

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But this is only possible because these boys – and any other child, I suspect – can do things I never expected them to be able to do at this age. They wash much of the dishes now, clean up floors, and help with off-grid laundry. They haul most of the household water and plant far more seeds than I do. They know better how to milk a goat than I and participate in rooster butchering and house-building with zeal.

I sometimes worry that I ask too much… that they should be doing other things… that they’ll resent us for all of the work and nose-to-the grindstone days we’re carving out for them. Whenever the Mama guilt begins to creep in I often ask myself “What’s the alternative?”. Frankly, I don’t see a viable one and I wouldn’t want to rob them of something as important as learning to be useful anyway.

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So why not chores, school, and a teeter-totter?