Generally speaking, I'm not a very opinionated guy. Political arguments rarely enthrall me.
But if anyone tries to do away with this country's child labor laws, I'm going to chain myself to the steps of the state Capitol (the ones inside, right next to the snack counter, just in case I get hungry) and launch a protest.I don't want to deny any 11-year-old's ability to blanket my roof with newspapers, or a teenager's right to turn his back to the counter and ignore me for 10 minutes. But if they drop the age much lower, I'll become a card-carrying anti-child labor activist.
I'm not concerned about the children. They'd do just fine. It's the adult supervisors I'm worried about. I want to spare the world the agony of trying to get a kid to do ANYTHING.
I know this frustration well. I currently employ a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old - illegally, of course. But somehow, I end up doing all the work.
Both belong to the local kids' room-cleaning union and the child kitchen-help labor organization. These associations are particularly strong and clearly benefit their young members.
For example, the Union of Directly Ordered and Instructed Toddlers (U-DO-IT) contractually obligates its members to do just about the opposite of what adult labor unions require. Instead of working for eight hours with two 15-minute breaks, a U-DO-IT member asked to clean her room is encouraged to sit around for eight hours and spend two 15-minute periods actually working.
A toddler following this guideline has a lot of free time on her hands to take out more toys, dump more puzzles, put more game pieces in the wrong box and draw more stick figures on the table, wall and her own clothing. The brief work spurts, preceded by four hours of highly vocal parental prodding, can be productive but aren't enough to match the continual assault on the toy closet.
Workers Helping You Make Eats (WHY ME) has no such policy, but does suggest members pick an "all-time favorite" TV show that begins five minutes before the dinner table must be set and conveniently remember a homework assignment one minute before the table needs clearing.
You don't have to be a perfectionist to realize that if you want something done right in a house full of little people, it's best to do it yourself. But it would be fine with me if my 3-year-old actually lifted a finger when the number of individual carpet strands in any room is outnumbered by clothes, crayons, Happy Meal toys or small plastic things with magnets that attract the bottom of Dad's feet and can put them on the disabled list for weeks.
At the mere mention of the "C" word, she flops on her back and babbles nonsense in a semi-comatose state of lethargy. I know this is an inherited trait because it's what I do when my editors approach me with an assignment.
My 7-year-old always has been good about putting things back when she's done, to a point. And since we know she CAN clean her room if the "Rugrats' " Nielsen ratings depend on it, we may rely on her too much. We now expect her to help clean her sister's messes, too.
That's a hard sell. I've found myself, against the better judgment of my wife, offering her a small payment to do her sibling's work. Whether it's a lack of understanding of our monetary system or a shrewd business sense developed through lunch-room bartering, I've found her tough to bargain with. A whole dollar for a two-minute coloring book-sorting job? Those are NBA wages!
On the positive side, avoiding work around the house has turned both of my kids into creative thinkers. Coming up with a good excuse takes great mental prowess and inventiveness. For example: "I didn't make this mess. The kitty did," and "My tummy says I don't have to," or "This isn't fair. You don't make a mess in your room," or "Mommy always helps me. You're mean, Daddy."
I will say one thing for my youngest: On garbage night, she loves to collect trash from the waste bins around the house. This willing participation warms my heart, but has me a bit concerned about her career path.
Maybe I don't need to start saving for college. What's the point? If this keeps up, my kids can skip formal education and go straight into something easy where they just sit around all day and make up stuff - just like their father.