Mud was an adventure that reminded me an awful lot of a modern day Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn story. It is set in DeWitt, Arkansas and involves the adventures of Ellis and his best friend, Neckbone. Southern nicknames are the best. Everyone needs a friend named Neckbone! Anyway, and I won't spoil the story, Ellis and Neckbone discover a boat high in the treetops on an island in the Mississippi River that they want to make into a camp. Upon climbing into the boat, they find that there is already someone who has laid claim to their boat - an outlaw on the run who is named "Mud," and is played by Matthew McConaughey. Mud needs some help and Ellis and Neckbone agree to help him and the tale develops from there.
The Dad is a tough man and demands a lot of Ellis, but he loves his boy and his boy loves him. That just made me do a lot of thinking. Thinking about Life and Work and Balance of the two.
Senior: You know I love you? Ellis: Yessir. I know. Senior: I work you hard 'cause life is work. You know that? Ellis: Yessir.
We live in a modern culture where entertainment and leisure is highly valued. Let me correct that, entertainment and leisure has always been valued, but the thing that has changed is work. In Early America prior to the Industrial Revolution when we were overwhelmingly an Agrarian nation, hard manual labor such as tilling the soil, milking the cows, harvesting the crops was required. Those things were essential for survival and the entire family was engaged in those roles. The family was a productive unit. The productivity was born out of necessity.
The family economy was multi-generational, with older generations and younger ones all working together to provide food for the table and spending money for necessities that could not be produced on the farm. Family was important and everyone pitched in to help. Even the youngest children contributed. Contrast that to many children today that are looked on as a burden to the family budget and as a result, people have children later - and fewer of them. But in those days children contributed directly to the family (by providing labor) and large families were common.
Although the family economy still exists in some parts of the country, it is largely gone. I realize that I'm waxing nostalgic about a bygone era - one that I didn't really live in, although I worked on our family farm growing up. I'm sitting in a climate-controlled room, typing on a computer and I fully appreciate the niceties and conveniences of modern life. However, I am convinced we are missing something.
We've always given our children chores to do - things that they were responsible for. They were always responsible for doing everyday chores like gathering eggs or feeding the animals. They were also given extra things to do that were seasonal in nature like harvesting the garden, picking pecans, gathering sticks after a storm or getting hay in the barn. Work like this is needed on a farm and was expected in normal agrarian family life.
But what about today? What about when no one else does this? When kids play travel tournament ball or play video games or sit in front of the TV? None of these things are inherently wrong or bad, but scooping poop out of the barn is not going to compete with playing on the X-box in the eyes of a child.
And therein lies the struggle for balance. How in an agrarian lifestyle do you balance the needs of labor with entertainment/leisure? Although we never deprived our kids of extracurricular activities, we never did as much as other parents did to entertain their kids with full schedules of activities. Will our kids resent us for that? Will they look back at me like a cruel taskmaster? Will they look back at their childhood with regret when compared to their peers? Will they want to have anything to do with farming or the agrarian lifestyle? Or us? I don't know.
Although I agree with Ellis' Daddy when he told him that "I work you hard 'cause life is work," there is balance between work and leisure. Offering our kids outlets for entertainment and leisure while at the same time helping them develop a strong work ethic and maintaining that balance is a critical and crucial endeavor for parents. Mud was a movie about love and love lost, about dealing with disappointment and hurt, about redemption and about growing up. Just as the boat high up in the tree seemed to be out of reach for Ellis and Neckbone, finding the delicate balance between fun and work sometimes proves to be the same for me.