Observations from the Woodpile” is a collection of essays bundled together and given as a birthday present for my wife, Nancy, in 1997. Twenty-seven years have passed since the collection was given. The two main subjects of the essays, my sons Justus and Jacob, have grown into men with families of their own.

The Full Measure of Wood

When our load of logs arrived one autumn day, one of the first questions in my mind was: “How much wood do we have here? How many cords?” That’s an important consideration. It determines the unit price, dollars per cord, of our main heating system. I needed to know how much wood we consumed each year so that we could build our budget. Dads are always interested in that kind of stuff.

I looked at the pyramid of logs and estimated perhaps six cords of split firewood. That made my unit cost less than one-third of the cost of buying the wood already cut and split. One cord is nominally 4-feet deep, by 4-feet high, by 8-feet wide. However much wood can be stacked in that space is a cord. If I stacked the wood in an area 4-feet high by 8-feet deep and 24-feet long, that would make an even six cords. I staked out a four-corner, six-cord area adjacent to the stack of logs for stacking the wood. 

Whenever we cut and split wood, we would stack the wood periodically as we went along to keep it out from underfoot. As the winter dragged on, the bigger the stack of wood grew.

By the time we were rolling the last logs around to be cut, it was evident we weren’t going to get the full six cords. Even seven-year-old Jacob could see we were going to fall short. He told me this after I noticed he was stacking the wood with a lot of “air.” That is, he was trying to stretch the wood in such a way as to completely fill the six-cord space. 

He said he was doing that so we would get the full six cords of wood. I told him I was glad he wanted to achieve our goal, but that wouldn’t give us any more wood. We would be cheating ourselves. What I wanted was a true measure.

To put his mind at ease, I reassured him that the six cords was just an estimate, a guess. The fault lay with me for turning the estimate into the goal. I tend to do that from time to time. Whenever we go on a trip, I’ll look at the map to estimate the distance and the time it will take to get there. Bulging bladders cannot dissuade me from getting there on schedule.

I hope I haven’t passed a flawed gene onto Jake ̶ the one that causes me to develop an expectation first and then cause everything to fit that expectation. This approach is alright for some things, but not for dealing with people and certainly not for raising kids.

Letting kids grow to their full measure is a tough thing for parents to do. A kid can be forced to grow into something they’re not, but they’ll resent it. Sometimes, a kid will grow into more than what is expected and needs an extra measure to fulfill their capacity. The best a parent can do is to facilitate and guide. Let the kid fill out the measure.

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