This morning my niece started bellyaching that her babies aren’t babies anymore as she signed the youngest up for pre-school. The middle one is starting pre-K, and the oldest is going into the third grade and he’s already freaking out about EOGs.
At almost the same moment as she was having this motherly meltdown, I was looking at the problem in a different way and it didn’t seem like a problem at all. It had occurred to me that my grandchildren are also getting older and are just about old enough to be useful as a source of child labor.
I think she’s looking at this thing all wrong. Babies are pretty useless but a little kid can do all kind of repetitive, boring tasks that bore an adult to tears. That is, if the task involves food.
For instance, even a fairly small child can pit cherries since it doesn’t involve knives. Just throw the kid an unused hair pin. There is no task more mind-numbing to an adult than pitting pound after pound of cherries but for some reason, even the most ADD kid never tires of it. Gouging the pits out must be like some kind of real-life video game.
As much as I love cherry pie, I haven’t baked one since my daughter fled the nest and I lost my best cherry pitter. But that’s about to change.
When I confided to my daughter that I felt her children were almost ready to be exploited as free labor, she broke out into gales of laughter and asked me if I thought she had really been all that cost effective. Did I have any idea how many cherries she had eaten every time we baked a pie? Since the sour cherry season is so short, we only baked one pie a year.
It was my turn to be astonished that she didn’t know that I knew and I frankly told her that I am not an idiot. It takes two pounds of cherries to make a deep dish pie and I always bought four. A bit of shrinkage was to be expected. It was fortunate that I like sour cherries for a pie. If we’d used the sweet ones, we’d have never gotten anywhere.
And then she did surprise me. She said the only thing better than helping me bake a cherry pie was helping me make fruitcake. Fruitcake is a big production at our house. The recipe makes enough for several loaf-size cakes and a dozen or so little mini-loaves. We use a gigundo stainless steel bowl the size of a kiddie pool to mix the batter.
Being traditionalists as far as fruitcake is concerned, we make the old-fashioned kind that just barely has enough dark, rich cake batter to hold all of the fruits and nuts together. And yes, it is mighty tasty so just take your tired, old fruitcake jokes elsewhere.
But amid all the chopping and cutting going on, I really hadn’t noticed that she was chowing down on some of that candied fruit. It never struck me as particularly palatable all by itself but I suppose kids have a higher tolerance for sugar than grown-ups.
My niece is right about one thing, though. They do grow up fast. The free labor won’t last forever. I’d better harness it while I can and make a new generation of memories.
I need to find my daughter’s little tiny rolling pin to pass on to her kids. I’ve been saving it for just that purpose. But I haven’t seen it since I caught one of the junkies who rode to work with me at my old job crushing some Oxycontin with it. Junkies can be so disrespectful. That particular act of disrespect brought on a meltdown for the ages. Poor junkie didn’t know what hit him.
But that’s a whole other story.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.