Sunday, May 7, 2017

Low but increasing utility

Pinkie Pie is good for something.

Of course young children can potentially be good for happiness or fulfilment but the data we have suggests that although parents routinely claim that their children make them happy that isn't actually what happens.  The outrageous baby giggles and artwork brought home from school are great moments to be sure but they get weighed down by poopy diapers, exhaustion, and screaming at your child to go to sleep at two in the morning.

But yesterday Pinkie Pie was measureably useful, not in a fuzzy happiness way, but in a concrete, verifiable way.  I was making dinner and realized I had forgotten to buy tomatoes for the meal.  I needed one can of crushed tomatoes, so I told her to go to the store and get them.  I wrote it down, and described the can I needed, and even gave her an amount - 16 oz.

This was a mistake.  I actually wanted a 28 oz can, but I misremembered the size of the can I wanted.  Pinkie Pie was clever though, and when she found the crushed tomatoes in the store she saw a can of the size she remembered me using before, and she correctly decided to buy based on her memory and judgement instead of my explicit instructions.

This pleased me inordinately.  Equal parts of my pleasure came from the physical usefulness of her fetching the thing and her judgement in getting the right thing.  In times gone past she would have been unable to complete this task or perhaps she would have returned home in tears because she couldn't fulfil my instructions to the letter.

An appropriate decision tied to a simple act of service - I am easy to impress, it would seem.

It struck me today how ridiculous this whole thing is.  In times gone past parents would get children to be useful.  Gather sticks for the fire, watch the chickens, sweep the floor.  Even very young children can do *something* useful.  But children these days are basically useless until they are teenagers, and are certainly a net resource drain until their early twenties on average.

Even today when we were building a side table from IKEA Pinkie Pie wasn't a help.  She helped, and was enthusiastic about it, and I think that is important so she can learn the skills involved.  But I would have done it faster if I had just done it myself.  It is a fine thing that she was part of the building but she still isn't bringing any net utility to the project.

I wonder how long it will be before I shift my mindset to consider her as a container of usefulness when a random thing has to be done.  We aren't there yet - emergency trips to the store aside, everything she does would be easier for me to just do myself rather than explaining, supervising, and checking afterwards.  Someday though I will surely think of her as a potential resource, someone I can rely on to make things work.

Not yet though.


  1. I'm impressed that she applied judgement and got the correct can too. Great stuff.

  2. Urban vs. rural living??
    I remember LOTS of useful things that you, and your cousins, did, as pre-teens. (Yes, there were many, many instances of negative utility, too!)
    Besides 'chores' there was also the important benefit of play - you kids were 'used' as an excuse to step aside from our adult busyness to join in play with you. A VERY important function, IMHO.

    1. Urban vs. rural for sure. If I could get Elli to do simple things like toss ten sticks of firewood into the basement I would... but there just aren't simple things like that for her to do. If I was living in the house where I grew up this would be an entirely different story, no question.

  3. so... if presented with an opportunity of choice to bestow upon your offspring of urban vs. rural, having experienced one as a youth, and one as a parent... - which and why?

    1. I'd be interested in these thoughts too

    2. I don't have a clear answer that way. There are some things about the city I really like - diversity, public transit, entertainment and education options.

      But I think there are benefits about country living. I would love to be able to get Elli to do simple chores and get physical practice and competence from them. I like the idea of having space to explore that isn't full of people.

      I don't know. I know I want to live in the city personally, but if I was only considering where to raise Elli the verdict is unclear to me.