Portuguese Cabeça vazia é oficina do diabo (An empty head is the devil’s workshop)
French “L’oisiveté est la mère de tous les vices” ( Idleness is the mother of all vices )
الإيد البطّالة نجسة el-eed el-baTTaala negsa (roughly translated: the idle hand is impure)
Finnish Laiskuus on kaikkien paheiden äiti. (Laziness is the mother of all the vices)
Spanish “La pereza es la madre de todos los vicios” (“Laziness is the mother of all vices”)
Italian “L’ozio è il padre dei vizi” (Idleness is the father of the vices)
When I was growing up my mother used to say, “idleness is the devil’s workshop.” Apparently this is one powerful saying, because variations of the same adage can be found in Finland, China, France, Italy, Egypt, Portugal—actually in nearly every country. Hearing this must have affected my character development. If I have a few spare moments I can’t rest until I find something useful to do.
Well, that is, until a few years ago. My husband and I were meeting friends for dinner in about an hour. I figured I could finish the plantings for our back balcony if I hurried. I carried a nearly empty bag of potting soil from the shed. On second thought, I dragged a heavy new bag just in case I needed more. My youngest, Sam, who was 8 at the time, offered to help. Together we scooped soil into the pots and spoke companionably to the seeds and plants as we tucked them in, introducing them to their new homes and pot-mates.
We tamped the dirt down, watered each from our iron-rich rusty sprinkling can and stood back to admire our work. The pots offered plenty of space for the plants to fill in yet already they were abundantly textured with greenery and blooms. Our large back balcony would be graced with color. As soon as I got the pots up there.
“Are we going to carry all of these through the house?” Sam asked doubtfully.
“Good question,” I said.
The balcony has no stairs. Carrying the muddy pots through the house, past a jumping dog, and out on the balcony didn’t seem like the most reasonable idea. I thought of an easier method. Our house is built into a gentle slope, so the balcony is almost low enough for me to hoist the pots above my head and onto the balcony floor. Afterwards I could walk through the house unimpeded to arrange them as I pleased.
When I announced this plan to Sam he didn’t seem convinced. He was downright alarmed when I pulled a chair directly under the balcony’s edge.
“Mom, isn’t that the chair you got from the garbage?”
“Yes, someone it threw out, but it’s still perfectly good,” I told him. “Remember? We’re going to sand and paint it. It’ll look great outside.”
“But you’re not going to stand on it now are you?” he asked.
“It’s fine, see?” I stood on it to demonstrate the chair’s worthiness. It held as firm as a rickety discarded wooden dining room chair could.
“Now hand me the first pot, Honey,” I said confidently. “I’ll just scoot it up on the porch.”
“That’s not safe Mom.”
“Come on, it’ll be fine,” I told him. “You’ve gotta try new ideas sometimes.” Clearly I wasn’t passing along my mother’s time-honored adages. Ones like, “Pride goeth before a fall” or “Better safe than sorry.”
He handed me the first pot. I wasn’t quite as steady as I’d expected and the pot was a lot heavier than I thought it was, but I was determined to be a good example for my little boy. I hoisted the pot up and onto the balcony floor just slightly over my head. I didn’t even make too many “ooof” noises in the process.
“See,” I said, somewhat euphoric with success, “it’s not hard at all.”
Sam continued handing the newly planted pots up to me as I smiled encouragingly down at his trusting blue eyes. When the last of the plants were finally lined up above us, I smugly explained to Sam from my lofty perch on the chair that it’s important to trust ourselves. After all, I said, how would anything ever get done except the same old way?
Just about to hop down from the chair, I noticed the unopened bag of potting soil. That would be handy to have in the house. I could repot some houseplants in the laundry tub without making a mess.
He hauled the heavy bag from the ground and, with some effort, hoisted it up to me. I grabbed it. It was much heavier than the pots and worse yet wobbly as soil shifted inside the plastic. I reached up, extending my arms as far as I could reach. I still couldn’t get the bag quite high enough to slide onto the balcony floor. I stood on my tiptoes, the bag teetering above my head.
The unusual pressure on the potting soil bag took its toll.
The bag split wide open.
Keep in mind that some reactions are beyond our control. So when my eyebrows tensed and my mouth opened in an involuntary expression of surprise and dismay, it just so happened that this took place at the exact second that the bag’s contents sprung free. It emptied in a sudden rush, piles of dirt cascading in my hair, down my collar, and directly into my open mouth.
I jumped off the chair and did an improvised dance to shake potting soil from my hair and clothes, spitting dirt and laughing while I whirled around the backyard. Sam, bless his heart, never said, “I told you so.”
Later that evening as we enjoyed dinner with friends (my hair still wet from a hurried scrub) I realized the old adage about idleness and the devil didn’t really suit me. I’m giving up the tendency to fill each moment with a useful task. When I have a little time a-wasting I remind myself that all work and no play makes a woman spit dirt.
An old story from our farm site.