Monday, August 24, 2009

Working Hard Like Peopleguys, Part 1

This is a reprint of an article I had published in a homeschooling magazine about 18 months ago. I based this article on this blog post, the first parenting blog post I wrote where I approached parenting from an Objectivist perspective. I'm reposting it in a couple of parts because I am out of town (and so was able to schedule this ahead of time), and also because I've had a couple of people ask me about it.

At the time it was written, Ryan was about five-and-a-half, and Morgan was two-and-a-half. We took the photograph of me and the kids that accompanied the article on the day I found out Sean was coming.

So here's Part One!

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As the sound of the garbage truck penetrated my still-need-more-coffee morning mental fog, my 2 year old son Ryan shouted excitedly, “Mommy! It’s the Garbageman Peopleguys!” And with that phrase, a new word came into our everyday family lexicon: peopleguys

So what is a peopleguy exactly? Well, we wondered that, too, and it took us quite a little while to figure it out. Fortunately, Ryan was able to help us define that word over time through many examples. Essentially, a peopleguy is an expert worker. A “worker” can be merely industrious—a capable fellow, certainly, but perhaps not quite as knowledgeable as a bona fide expert. An “expert” is often book-smart, but not street-smart. A “peopleguy” has the knowledge as well as the capability. Kind of like the 6 Million Dollar Man or the Bionic Woman. (Incidentally, the term “peopleguy” is not gender-specific.)

Peopleguys work in every industry; there are Fireman Peopleguys, Garbageman Peopleguys, and Restaurant Server Peopleguys. (The word is always capitalized in my mind when paired with a specific occupation.) Peopleguys do their jobs well because they know everything about their jobs. They use special equipment and often wear uniforms in order to do their work. Another important aspect: peopleguys enjoy doing productive work that makes them truly happy.

Suddenly, there were peopleguys everywhere. Who knew the world was full of such wonders? Ryan was amazed and awed at the kinds of things peopleguys did as a matter of course. Seeing the world through the eyes of our toddler (that perennial joy of parenthood), my husband and I shared his feeling of amazement. I think we also grew to appreciate some peopleguys more than we would have otherwise, too. (Sometimes those Garbageman Peopleguys are a little underappreciated, yet, without them…?)

Curious and eager, Ryan’s fascination with peopleguys drove him to question us with all the vigor and tenacity of a high-powered attorney cross-examining a hostile witness. Or like Macaulay Culkin’s character in the movie Uncle Buck.

Who are those peopleguys? Landscapers.

What are they wearing? Old clothes and work gloves.

Why? So they won’t get dirty and to protect their hands.

What are their tools? Lawn mowers, rakes, hedge clippers.

No, what’s that tool, the one with the big wheel? A wheelbarrow.

What do they use that for? To haul dirt and grass and rocks.

So, the peopleguys know what to do with that equipment? Yes.

How? They learn from other peopleguys. They learn by watching and trying it out for themselves.

Doesn’t it look like lots of fun to be a peopleguy? It sure does.

And the inevitable declaration: Well, I am a Landscaper Peopleguy! I know just what to do!

Then we would drop everything to find the right uniform, equipment, supplies, and workspace in order for him to be the peopleguy he wanted to be.

It’s been three-and-a-half years since we first heard the term peopleguy—and Ryan is still going strong. Each morning I ask him, “What is your work going to be today?” And he will tell me which kind of peopleguy he intends to become, puts on the uniform (if he hasn’t already), and gets right to his work. Often he has several different important jobs to perform in a day’s work and will make changes as he deems necessary.

Childhood is a time for exploring reality, the outside world as well as inner desires and thoughts. So we make an effort to provide a home environment where Ryan is able to actualize his desires to the fullest. To that end (with much assistance from our generous family), we have amassed all sorts of costumes, equipment and supplies. Child-sized gardening tools. Hats by the dozen. Swords and binoculars and bug-catching nets. Realistic uniforms. LEGO and blocks. Painter’s tape. Goggles. His own box of real tools. Really, the list of peopleguy-related items in my house is mind-boggling!

But not having the just the right piece of equipment or clothing accessory will not stop Ryan from becoming the kind of peopleguy he wants to be. He is always ready to improvise (that’s where the painter’s tape comes in, usually!) with couch cushions, rocks, sand and water, blankets, paper, and crayons. Which is nice, because I know that there is not enough money in our bank account nor room in our house to meet the requirements of every possible peopleguy permutation.

Fortunately, Ryan has an abundant imagination. For instance, did you know that roller-style backpack with a pullout handle can also become scuba gear? Or that Daddy’s bicycle helmet can be transformed into a hockey goalie mask simply by wearing it over one’s face instead of on top of one’s head? It’s true! Before the peopleguy craze came to my house, I never imagined we would get so much use out of a regular old pair of pajamas.

Ryan is always happy to pretend to be a peopleguy, but as he gets older he takes genuine pleasure in working as a real peopleguy! Like most families we know, we always seem to have about 23 household projects going on at the same time. Nothing thrills Ryan and his younger sister Morgan (at two-and-a-half, a peopleguy-in-training) more than helping us out with our real work. From simple tasks such as folding laundry or changing a lightbulb to more complicated extended projects like painting the garage or assembling bookshelves, our kids are always active participants. In fact, nothing can keep them away from important projects and of course we don’t even try.

Usually, a household project will begin with a Call For Peopleguys, an announcement of the project and request for volunteers. After the volunteers have mustered, the project is discussed in detail and we will all determine just which peopleguys are best to do that particular job. Equipment and supplies are gathered up and placed in the work area. Next comes the Uniform Fittings, when appropriate, as decided by Ryan. We must all wear the right uniforms, including construction hats if he decides that there is a relatively high head-injury risk. If you do not comply with the safety regulations, then you are off the job, and being the mommy is no excuse to ignore said regulations.

At long last, the project will finally commence! I find it impossible to imagine how learning can not take place when working together. While we work, we talk about our work. What do those instructions say? Can you find eight washers and the two-inch bolts? What is the best way to hold a hammer? What should we do with the old light bulb? Do you see the broken filament inside? How nice the hedges look! Where should the clippings go? What happens when you break an egg open? What are some tricks to flouring a cake pan?

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Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion! :o)

1 comment:

Miranda Barzey said...

Tell me, is it possible to be a student peopleguy? College peopleguy? What would be the "uniform" for that?

And can one be several kinds of peopleguy? Or can you only be an "expert worker" in your major career choice?

I love the idea behind peopleguys and how you encourage the kids to see the value of productivity. I was very much into playing different jobs as a kid (teacher, mom, princess, racecar driver, doctor, photographer, sibling manager). I think it creates an fundamental understanding in children that they can direct their life any way they choose (i.e. be whatever peopleguy you want!).