Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Exploiting the workers

I spent the summer after my sophomore year at BYU working at my uncle Randy’s cookie factory in California. It may sound like a dream job (and yes, the cookies were amazingly good, and no, I never got sick of eating them for every meal—and I really mean for every meal not with every meal) but I worked mostly in the business office, sorting through invoices and dealing with boring accounting paperwork. A few weeks into the summer, my little brother Steve joined me and my uncle put him to work in the factory. Steve had just graduated from high school and has always been a smart kid, but for some reason his assignment turned out to be doing menial tasks: fixing broken things, cleaning stuff, climbing up inside the drop ceiling to dust off the tiles.

A few days before it was time for Steve to head back home, Uncle Randy and the other factory owners were having trouble with their computer system. Steve suggested that he could fix if for them and they finally discovered what a brilliant little brother I have. Even though he was young, Steve had been programming computers for years and had (still does have) a real gift. My uncle was amazed. He also totally regretted not taking advantage of Steve’s skills before. For weeks, Steve had been dealing with ceiling dust when all along he could have been a great help in the office.

I’ve been thinking about this story lately because I have made a similar discovery. My kids are far more capable than I have given them credit for. They’ve always had chores—simple things like cleaning their room and unloading the dishwasher (and they have always whined about how said chores are a huge pain). But honestly, looking back, I see they’ve had it pretty easy. They worked for a few minutes a day; I did all the rest. No wonder I always felt overwhelmed.

Lately, thanks to the amazing influence of Lara (the Lazy Organizer) and a great book by Debbie Bowen, I have turned over a new dustpan. The kids make most of the messes around here. They can certainly contribute more to household maintenance. They also need to learn how to do things (for their own good and for the good of their future roommates and spouses). I just had to start delegating and firming up the resolve to exploit my built-in underage working class.

Courbet, Stonebreakers (1849)

Step one was establishing a new after-dinner policy. No one leaves the kitchen until it’s clean. No exceptions. I offered an incentive (a special excursion when we had 50 stars on the calendar, one for each night of a clean kitchen) and enlisted the help of my husband who is always willing to wash the dishes. Did you know that a 12-year old boy is fully capable of sweeping the floor, even if it’s a really nasty tile floor with deep grout joints? That a 9-year old can clear the table and wipe off all the counters and only has to be called back a few times to catch the spots he missed before he’ll learn to do it right the first time? That a 6-year old will insist that unloading the silverware is “way too hard” but is more than willing to scrub off the stovetop and clean all the knives because he got to pick these jobs himself? That as long as the kitchen is full of happy workers, a 2-year old will stay in her high chair forever? Maybe the rest of the parenting world has already figured this out years ago, but I was totally underestimating the beauty of child labor.

Step two has been to increase the daily assignments and realign Saturday chores. With the start of summer and a sudden surge in free time, this has been relatively easy. We may have to reevaluate things when school starts again, but for now, I think the workload is totally fair. The kids are cleaning the bathroom, dealing with the garbages, vacuuming, mopping the kitchen floor, and straightening the living room. On Monday of this week—and I swear this is the truth—McKay told me he wanted to be in charge of all the laundry from now on. After picking my jaw off the floor and smothering him with kisses, I said “Okay, if you twist my arm.” I supervised him a bit and gave him some instructions but he got the hang of things pretty quickly. He did 6 full batches on Monday alone. If this continues, I’m going to be out of a job soon. What on earth will I do with myself?

The next step is to follow Lara’s tutelage and get my kids cooking dinner. I may have to set out some guidelines or it will be Ramen noodles every night.

Maybe I should give my Uncle Randy a call and get a few of his cookie recipes.


allysha said...

good for you! and good for your kids. what a relief to know you aren't the only one who knows how to pick up a broom, eh?

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

You go, girl! I've been slacking off lately in my expectations; thanks for the shot in the arm.

An Ordinary Mom said...

OK, now I really need to get my hands on a copy of this book.

You are one brilliant mother ... and if you get those cookie recipes, make sure you pass them along :) !!

Kelly @ Love Well said...

My kiddos are young still (6, 4 and 5 months). That's been my excuse.

But your post has given me fresh resolve to get the older two more involved -- especially now that summer is here. Plus, I think they are at the age where they would enjoy it. I should jump all over that.

kyouell said...

My kiddos really are too young to help much (3 and 1), but I still try to get them involved. True, folding clean laundry takes longer when your helpers are unfolding what you've folded and dumping things on the floor, but they are involved. When they get old enough I'm hoping that this being involved will make moving on to helping and then doing easier transitions.

You are a great inspiration. I hope you'll post how it worked out at the end of the summer (or sooner). :-)

Shalee said...

This is exactly what we've been doing lately. I just informed The Boy that he will be unloading the dishwasher from here on out. He complained in the beginning, but now it's second hand to him.

And The Boy has been responsible for his bathroom because I was sick of cleaning up the toilet after he was through.

The Girl? She told me last Friday that she wanted to learn how to do the laundry. She knows now and I haven't had to do a load at all. She totally rocks and she's having fun knowing that she's doing it all on her own.

Both the kids have cooked with us for a while, but that's because we're the couple that loves to be in the kitchen.

I LOVE your kitchen idea. I'm stealing it. But not the book. That one I'll find and bring home properly.

The Lazy Organizer said...

Ah, I'm so proud of you!!! Isn't amazing how they submit to their fate when they know you mean business? I think child labor is highly underutilized in this country.

Jennifer B. said...

This was exactly what I needed. Thanks and GOOD LUCK!

My Ice Cream Diary said...

Laura has been inspiring me in the same way. The amazing part is that, even though they whine like the dickens the first day, they end up so proud of the work they do.

Jenna Consolo said...

LOVE this! I wholeheartedly agree! People scoff when I tell them my kids start folding their own laundry at age 3, but I'll tell you, it's incredible liberation! And capable, independent children are happy children too! Their future spouses owe me BIG TIME.

Anonymous said...

Good for you! I'm totally hanging out until mine is old enough to help out around the house. I was reading a study last year of successful people and the common factor was the requirement to do chores as a child. Something to do with learning to pull your weight and be part of a team.