I spent my first year of graduate school in Jerusalem. Because this was some twenty years ago, communication with friends and family in the States was primarily by mail, which often took two or three weeks to arrive at its destination. So when my father died unexpectedly that year, I received a letter from him several weeks after his death. It was only a few sentences long – a slip of paper folded around some kind of enclosure (a clipping? a check? I can no longer recall) – and these words:
“Do what you love, and love what you do.”
Who knows if he really meant much by it? But, coming, as it were, from beyond the grave, I took the message quite seriously. What I love about the advice is that it recognizes that happiness is not just about following your bliss. While happiness surely comes from doing things you love, it’s equally, if not more important, to learn to love whatever you may find yourself doing. Even what you are stuck doing.
I was reminded of my father’s letter when I read the book Chicken Man, by Michelle Edwards, to my daughters the other night. It may be my favorite PJ Library book of all time – the story of a kibbutznik whose heart is in the lul, the chicken coop. But as he rotates through chores, as mandated by kibbutz policy, he finds the joy in every job he does, from washing dirty laundry, to supervising the wildest children in the kibbutz. While his cohorts on the kibbutz kvetch about their work, he sings his way through piles of wrinkled shirts, gathers bouquets of roses (for his favorite chicken, no less) during his time spent in the garden, and juggles his way into the hearts of the kibbutz kids. But in the end, he is allowed to return to the lul, because, well, they need the eggs. (If you don’t know what joke I’m referencing, go rent Annie Hall THIS INSTANT.)
Chicken Man exemplifies the kind of happiness I think we all want for our children. On the one hand, we hope that they will discover something, or many things, that they truly love. It’s not so hard to figure out how to guide them along this path. Schools, camps, lessons, friends, relatives, and lots of time as a family exploring the real world, help our kids learn about the many amazing things the world has to offer. Remembering to take some time as parents to do things we love isn’t such a bad idea either (and no, being a mommy or daddy doesn’t count.)
But the “love what you do” part – there’s the rub. How do we teach them to be like Chicken Man – to see every twist and turn in life as an opportunity to juggle spoons and sing folk songs (or at least not hurl spoons across the room and scream?) One answer, of course, is to set an example. I’m no Pollyana, but when I’m succeeding at the art of making lemonade, I try to point it out to them. (“Yep, there sure are lot of cars stopped on the highway. Let’s play Name that Tune!”) I also try to avoid doing things that I simply cannot seem to enjoy, such as, say, vacuuming. I used to just not do it, and wait for the dust bunnies to nip at my husband’s heels. When I went back to work full time this year, I hired someone to clean our house twice a month.
Last week, I came home from school with the girls while Amanda, the wonderful woman who cleans our house, was vacuuming. My four year old, Zoe, went up to her and tapped her on the back. “EXCUSE ME, AMANDA?”
Amanda turned off the vacuum and her mp3 player. “Yes, Zoe?” she replied.
“Do you like cleaning?” asked Zoe.
“Actually, I do,” she smiled.
“That’s good,” said Zoe, “because you do it a lot.”
Amanda thought Zoe was showing signs of being preternaturally empathic. Based on my experiences of Zoe at, say. 2 am, I think not. Rather, I think she was just trying to figure out if everyone else lives by the same principal that her grandfather advised so many years ago. “Do what you love, and love what you do.”
The PJ Library® program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age eight. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is funded nationally in partnership with The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local philanthropists/organizations.