Sharpening Pencils


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When Hannah was five her best friends were twin boys. The trio devised all sorts of amusing
activities. One sunny afternoon I noticed they were spending a significant
amount of time gathered round the child-sized picnic table that Hannah’s father
built. “How cute, they are conversing,” I thought to myself as I went for my
camera to capture the moment.

Wrong.

When I zoomed in I spied a couple Willie’s screwdrivers and
a little pile of screws in the grass. I zoomed in closer. Yep, the trio was seated
around what would soon be the once-upon-a time-child-sized picnic-table. They
had spent the better part of the afternoon disassembling not conversing. Still,
they were so focused, such dedicated little carpenters, that I didn’t have the
heart to stop them. Instead I rehearsed the speech I would deliver to my
husband, “…it was all very, well, Montessori …and after all we can easily
re-build, right?”

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Okay fast-forward about fifteen years. Last week my
mother-in-law assigned Liam the task of sharpening fifteen dozen pencils that
she would be taking to an orphanage in Uganda this summer. I appreciate how she organizes these
perfect child-sized humanitarian activities for my children.

Liam got to work immediately. At a minute per pencil, 180
pencils, the task would take about three hours without a break! The task took
Liam most of the morning. At one point he came in and asked me if he could use
the manual pencil sharpener.

“The electric one might be faster.”

“But it’s clogged.”

“Okay Liam.”

“Thanks mom.”
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A couple of hours later Liam came bounding into the kitchen
with a pencil stained grin holding in the sharpened pencils safely tucked back
into their original packaging.

“Wow Liam, all these pencils!”

“I hope the children in Uganda are happy when they write!”

I choked back the lump in my throat, “I hope so too Liam, a
job well done son.”

Later that evening I went into the studio to tidy up, there
it was, a brand new installation: The manual pencil sharpener had somehow been
removed from its perch in the pantry and re-attached with screws to our antique
Craftsman desk. I caught my
breath, mortified, then after a moment of letting the shock settle, enjoyed the
smile cracking. My son set up shop, got the job done and I must admit, I’m
proud.

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I pulled out the speech and began rehearsing, “…very
Montessori and after all…”