This March I took my two boys to White Barn Farm Sheep & Wool in New Paltz to help out with their shearing day. It’s not difficult work (except for the shearer’s job) but it’s a long day, and the farmer, Paula Kucera, relies on volunteers to help out. On a chilly late-winter day, we kneel over the freshly shorn fleeces, pulling off the bits that can’t be sent to the mill. My 6.5-year-old son squats next to adults, doing the same work, asking when he needs some help. My 4-year-old watches the shearer and the sheep, and sneaks over to the snack table where there is a big pile of brownies. I love the fiber and the sheep and the brownies, and I love sharing the work with my kids.

Every June we visit Pennings Orchard to pick strawberries — usually we pick about 30 pounds over the course of the season. My kids like to see their containers get full and our trays fill to the top. Their work isn’t perfect, but it’s real and its benefit is enjoyed all winter through jam, smoothies and strawberry granola. My younger son still has to be reminded to watch where he is walking, but he is proud to do the same work that his parents are doing.

In July we will go to Halfway Acres, a tiny blueberry farm in Campbell Hall, and over the course of two trips we pick 25 pounds of blueberries. We dress for farm work, and even if we only last an hour, we celebrate our haul. My little guy eats most of what he picks, but my 6-year-old is starting to feel proud of his contribution, and maybe even a little competitive.

These are small ways that we share the work with our kids, and it feels like such a celebration to work together towards a goal we all want to reach. These moments don’t happen frequently, but when they do life feels so right. It doesn’t mean my kids will hang up their coats when we walk in the door, or do their own laundry, or weed the garden, but it does feel like a moment that I will remember and celebrate.

I find that so many modern day conveniences cut out simple tasks that my kids can do. And while we are not moving back into the 1850s, we choose a few of these “inconveniences” to fold back into our lives. So we heat our home with a wood-burning stove, we pick our own blueberries and bake our own bread (sometimes). My parents, and other onlookers, don’t always understand the point of making my life more difficult, when you can buy propane and blueberries and bread, but it feels important to me.

In her poem, “To Be Of Use,” Marge Piercy wrote:

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

Raheli Harper