Friday, 25 July 2008

But Do You Get Paid?

I know this one has been done to death, but I still can't resist it.

This afternoon, our eldest came home from her part-time job as a chambermaid and flopped into a chair. "I'm beat!" she moaned, recounting all her morning's labors. Poor kid: I know she works hard for her money. She has worked part-time for ages now because we don't have the wherewithal to give her a generous allowance, but speaking as an unpaid full-time slavey, it is sometimes hard to be sympathetic.

My husband struggles to find compassion too when he hears her talk about her work-related woes. He comes home from a long hard day at work and has to cook dinner occasionally. When he gets stuck with the dishes as well, how is he supposed to commiserate with a kid who has just made a small killing changing sheets and cleaning toilets, but argues she is too exhausted to do her chores?

Today she passed a weary hand over her forehead and began to sigh about how hard her morning of (paid) employment had been. I had just hung out two loads of laundry and a washed a sinkful of dishes. I'd swept out the patio, watered the plants, fed the cat, made my bed, put away someone else's clothes, taken in the trash, and rewritten a chapter -- all for free, of course! -- and that was just for starters. My kid had cleaned five rooms. I don't deny that this is tough work. I know it is, because I used to do it myself. For a mercifully brief time, I was once responsible for cleaning up to eight rooms and a guest cottage on a daily basis -- in addition to cooking for up to 18, both breakfast and dinner, and doing enough laundry to outfit a small army. I cleaned out so many toilets every day that I used to get dizzy; I'm no stranger to hard work.

"My back's killing me!" whined my girl. "I had to clean out the bathroom of a 95-year-old." She pouted. "Who had a bad aim, if you know what I mean."

"I do," I said. "And so does Dina."

Our friend Dina is a carer. She has cleaned up messes that would make your head swim. Do you ever wonder who cleans up after terrible accidents? Who gets to wipe up after someone's jumped off a building and hit cement? Well, Dina knows people who do this for a living. And she's done it herself.

My daughter pouted. "It's different if you know the people, though!"

I gave her a look. "Dina does it for total strangers. And I've done it for people I didn't know. Remember how I used to work in the hospital? All those bedpans and filthy sheets!"

She frowned. "Did you work there? I didn't realize."

This irked me. I've bent her ear half a dozen times with tales of my fascinating stint as a teenage hospital volunteer. I've been keen to promote volunteer work to the kids. My feeling is that this will earn them valuable life skills and make them look good too. "Of course I did!" I snorted. "I emptied bedpans and cleaned them out afterwards. I changed diapers and braided hair and fed people and wiped their faces and stripped sheets with all sorts of junk on them and--"

She gave me a long-suffering look. "But you didn't work there."

My mouth dropped open. You can probably see where this is going, but I swear I could not.

"Oh yes, I damn well did!"

She furrowed her brow and waved one hand. "But you didn't you paid for it, did you?"

Yes folks, that is what she said: You didn't get paid for it. Which I didn't. And I don't.

And I wonder why I get no respect.


Christy said...

Oh my. Ohmyohmyohmy. Clearly, you did all that hard work for recreation. Since, you know, you weren't paid.

If it makes you feel any better, my son told me a few months ago that he didn't feel like doing a chore. I asked him what would happen if the chore didn't get done. He answered, "Why don't you do it? You're the mom. You're supposed to do all the stuff that no one else wants to." And then my husband wondered why I was in a snit for the rest of the day.

Charles Gramlich said...

Some of the hardest work I've ever done was done for no pay. Work is work. But she'll come to realize this eventually.

Gorilla Bananas said...

Hah! I suppose she thinks it's easier to walk out on an unpaid job. Perhaps you should walk out on your current unpaid job for a week to teach her a lesson.

Catherine J Gardner said...

One day she'll have children - guess who'll be laughing then. :)

Wild Flora said...

Hi Mary,
Thanks for stopping by my blog. I enjoyed visiting yours and reading some of your stories. How fortunate that you have a sense of humor!
Wild Flora

Alice said...

LOL - I gave GirlChild an earful the other day when she complained that I never helped her clean.

I can't remember if I had told you this story or someone else, but I have my kids help me fold the mountains of laundry. We spent one afternoon getting it all done. A few days later, BoyChild walks past and sees a new mountain. "Hey Mom..didn't we just fold all that?"

You betcha kid. Maybe he gets it now.

Mary Witzl said...

Christy -- Yes, there is nothing that gives me more pleasure than having a go at a &*$£-encrusted bedpan! Sometimes, even on balmy summer days when I'm out in the garden with my feet up, I yearn for the heady pleasures of bedpan cleansing.

And what your son told you? I hear it all the time! "You're the Mom; you're SUPPOSED to do it all." Followed by assurances that when they're the Mom, they'll eagerly take on 100% of the household chores. Yeah, right.

Charles -- You and me both! To this day, the jobs I have really sweated blood over have been ones I have been poorly paid for -- if at all. And oddly, the ones I've been paid well for were blissfully easy. Odd, isn't it? And I thought it was just me! Yes, my daughter will learn. But I despair of it being within my lifetime.

GB -- I did this once. A friend invited me to go on holiday with her when her boyfriend cancelled. She and I went to the Highlands and had a great time. When I got home, everyone swore that not having me around was no problem -- hey, they'd coped just fine! And they had -- my husband is not domestically challenged, especially in a pinch. Except many of the plants were dried up and no one's socks matched -- and there was unsorted laundry right up to the sky.

Catherine -- Honestly, just picturing this is pretty much what sustains me through my trials. I just wish my mother had lived to see me struggle...

Flora -- Hello, and thanks for stopping by! You really helped me out when I was desperately looking for a good description of milkweed. I had intended to skim quickly, get what I wanted and leave, but instead I read and read and was awed by how much you know and how beautifully you expressed it all.

Alice -- What cracks me up about my eldest, who is normally a very smart young woman, is that she'll do some pittance for me, then claim that she's put in equal time. Once, she ended up washing a few pairs of my pants. I believe she's reminded me of that, oh, two dozen times now. Whereas even if we're only talking about the past couple of months, I lose track of what I've done for her.

I love that Housewife's Alphabet song by Peggy Seeger -- there's a line in the chorus that goes "If you ever finish, remember that when / you wake up tomorrow it all starts again." And doesn't it just?

Trooper Thorn said...

Their own rotten, ungrateful children will make the respect you, just the way mine are making me respect my parents.

Maybe give her a bill for her care under your roof.

AnneB said...

"Laundry is like the hydra. You fold one basket and another one just appears." -- Older son in high school, after either a unit on the Greeks or (more likely) studying for a Quiz Bowl competition.

Kim Ayres said...

And yet when they were cute little bundles, staring up at us with those huge eyes, then taking their first steps and saying their first words, we KNEW our kids would be different. We KNEW they would grow up to be compassionate, caring and helpful, unlike all the other obnxious teenagers everyone else has to cope with.

Carolie said...

Oh dear. Congratulations on your self control (unless you are blogging from jail, after being arrested for murder!)

Isn't it funny how so many of us really do think that what WE do is hard work, and what OTHERS do is simple and easy? I sometimes have to catch myself when I get grumpy with Fearless Husband...he's gotten off work early every day for the past two weeks, has spent the past two weekends "playing", and hasn't lifted a finger around the house. Yet I still cook and clean and shop and wash and dry and fold seven days a week.

I have to consciously remind myself that he is in port very rarely, and when he's at sea (eight months out of the yea at least), he works 12 hour days for weeks in a row, shares a bedroom and bath with many other people, has no privacy, and often works in terrible heat or stomach-churning storms. While he's gone, I can sleep as late as I like, work when I feel like it, cook (or not) as I please. Now *I* feel like a clueless teenager!

(Have missed commenting, Mary, but have been reading! Sorry for the silence, but with FH at home, I am happily preoccupied!)

Angela said...

One day she'll understand where you're coming from. Hang in there!

Barbara Martin said...

Perhaps your daughter ought to volunteer and do something for nothing, to get the gist of it.
One day she will come to understand that work is work whether it's paid work or not: likely when she becomes a mother herself.

Mary Witzl said...

TT -- Thanks for commenting!

You can bet that when my kids have kids, I will sit back and watch with a raised eyebrow and a wicked smile on my face... if I live that long.

Anne -- Good, your son is figuring it out! I am all in favor of kids learning to do household chores, and extra points to your son if he can make these classical connections.

Kim -- Absolutely. And by the time we figure out we have essentially the same thing everyone else does, we love our kids too much to care all that much.

Carolie -- I'm so glad you're okay -- I get worried when I haven't heard from you in a while!

Whenever I'm working hard and the people around me are taking it easy, it is hard to bear it even when I know they've already put in their time. I notice they are the same; it's tough to be altruistic when your back is killing you and all you want to do is sit down and have a break. But your husband's job sounds awfully tough. I'd really mind working in extreme heat, the lack of privacy and the long hours -- and when I'd finished, I'd probably feel like doing nothing for a long stretch myself.

Angela -- Hanging in there is all I can do. We all figure this stuff out eventually, but it would be nice if we were born knowing it.

Barbara -- A few years ago, our eldest volunteered to walk the dog of an elderly lady in the neighborhood. She accepted no payment for this and actually did pretty well. But she did not see it as a job, as such. I think she ought to get a volunteer job less amusing than walking a dog.

ms.shoe said...

I almost didn't laugh because it's so true it hurts.

The Anti-Wife said...

Perhaps you need to start charging her for all the things you do for her around the house. Make a list, assign each a monetary value and present her with a bill.

Kappa no He said...

Aren't kids wonderful? So creative with their arguments!

Middle Ditch said...

Oh those lovely youngsters. They think life is hard! So, with other words, work is only work when you get paid for it. Ha-ha-ha-ha ...

She'll learn and one day her child will mock her.

ChrisEldin said...

Oh, what Christy said!

Hers is the voice of youth. Well-taken care of youth. Youth who has a very nice mommy taking care of her, her needs, making sure she's happy and growing.

I'm smiling here. My children would say something similar. I wonder if the "allowance" concept will backfire? I do it to teach them about money. But maybe it teaches something else as well--if you don't get paid, it's not work? I'm rambling along because I'm thinking out loud.

Haven't been here in a long time. Miss you!!!!!

Mary Witzl said...

Ms Shoe -- I almost didn't write it because it hurt me so much that it was true!

Anti-wife -- Believe me, I've been tempted. But she doesn't have the wherewithal to pay it. And if I made it retroactive, there isn't enough money in Fort Knox to cover it all.

Kappa -- I seem to remember that I treated my mother this way, too. I'm sure this is divine karma at work. I also don't remember treated my mother quite as badly as my kid treats me -- sometimes -- but maybe that's just my rusty old memory.

Middle Ditch -- It sure feels like work even if I don't collect a monthly paycheck. She doesn't see it that way, of course. My labors on her behalf are pretty much like the air she breathes. She'd only notice them if they weren't there.

Chris -- My mother refused to link our allowances with chores. She claimed that no one paid HER to do things around the house; that the work was everyone's responsibility, and that she simply gave us an allowance because we needed it and she wanted us to learn how to manage money. We don't pay our kids to do chores, and I have, in the past, called up my kid's employer and cancelled her job when she had not done whatever household chores she had promised to do. (It helps that I'm friends with the people who employ her.)

I miss you too! But your BOOK ROAST is such a great thing and such an excellent service, that I'm not going to whine about not seeing so much of you here.

marshymallow said...

What really bites is paying thousands of dollars for the privilege of working (i.e. tuition). Actually, most of my jobs have been unpaid (volunteering at libraries, cooking and babysitting for people whose spouses were gone, assisting teachers...) as we move too often for anyone to want to take the time to train me.

Tabitha said...

Oh boy oh boy... My boys are 3 and 5, too young to get into things like this. And I don't look forward to the day, but I know it's inevitable.

I intend to have the same philosophy as your mom - no money for chores. My mom did the same thing, except I didn't get an allowance either (extremely limited funds).

But if one of them ever says that volunteering isn't working, I'm signing them up for the absolute worst volunteer job ever and then see what they say afterward. :) Gads...I sound like an evil mom. *blushing* :)

Merry Monteleone said...

Growing pains... see, you thought that meant the pains a person gets from growing up, but it's really the pain they give their mother...

My daughter's latest comic book (she's taken to writing comics now...) had an opening page with pictures of the characters and their descriptions.

The mother character was at the sink - her description was, "Does all the work and no one listens to anything she says"

It's enough to make you want to cry... and not even because it's likely what she thinks, but because it might be the life she's modeling herself for... let me know if you've got a good way to nip that one in the bud.

A Paperback Writer said...

Ah, maybe it's time for daughter to get involved in community/church volunteering. Is there a neighborhood clean up to do? A local need for babysitting? An elderly person needing yardwork? A local church or rec centre in need of scrubbing?
I did a good deal of this kind of thing as a kid. I don't recall not understanding the definition of work, either.
However, it does sound like she's getting some good learning in anyway.

laura said...

Teenagers! I will say no more.

A Paperback Writer said...

Oh, I'm in Edinburgh now, so I have internet access again!
C'mon over and read my Orkney posts!

Mary Witzl said...

MM -- Well, at least you've DONE volunteer work. My daughter did it too, but all she had to do was walk a dog -- and she got rewarded for it rather generously. And yes, you're right: paying for the privilege of slogging away at the books seems pretty unfair.

Tabitha -- It will happen, I fear! Or maybe your boys are exceptions -- generous and altruistic human beings. I figured my kids would be such examples of humanity, but I figured wrong.

As for being an evil mom, honestly, I'd just like to see my eldest wash a couple of soiled cloth diapers like I had to do. We were required to dip them into the toilet, shake them about to dislodge the, ah, matter, then wring them out and put them into a bin to be sterilized. Once you can do that, you can do just about anything.

Merry -- Reading your post I had a weird feeling of deja vu: I've just returned from visiting a friend whose daughter did a wonderful animation featuring a mother standing at a sink, washing dishes.

It is sad to think that our girls are destined for domestic drudgery, but I think I'd be just as vexed if they managed to bypass it completely. Everyone ought to know a little drudgery at some point in her life. I'm intrigued to know that your daughter recognizes this, though. I don't think my kids really see how much I do for them.

APW -- She did walk the dog of an elderly woman in our neighborhood. But the lady gave her a lot of credit for this, lavished her with little gifts, etc. It was a cushy deal, and nothing near as hard as mine. And it couldn't really be called work.

We were in Edinburgh today! I kept looking for a long-haired woman with an American accent, but sadly failed to find you. (I'm kidding, of course: the town was PACKED.) We're looking forward to meeting you soon!

Laura -- Yeah, teenagers. I'll probably say a LOT more on the subject, though. Sigh.

debra said...

I've been thinking about a response to your post for a bit. It certainly hits home for a lot of us, doesn't it. Is it about mothers and daughters? Is it the same for mothers and sons? fathers and daughters?

When #1 daughter was about 14 or 15, we were talking about a mother who was considering some options in her life. The woman decided to pursue a career. My daughter said,"At least SHE'S doing something with her life." Direct hit!!! I haven't talked to her about that again; I do wonder what her response would be at 20.

Mary Witzl said...

Oh man, Debra, if that had been my daughter! And yet, my girl has said plenty of things like that to me before, and I humbly thank you for sharing this with me. I sometimes think I'm the only one who has these experiences and it is so reassuring to know that I am not.

I do think that this is a thing that is more common between mothers and daughters. My daughters treat my husband and me very differently. Sometimes he wins out, and sometimes I do (they can be very scathingly anti-male at times). Honestly, I think our daughters will have to be mothers themselves for this one to hit home! But when it does, we'll cash in bigtime.

Susan Sandmore said...

Oh dear. I was a hospital volunteer myself one summer. And that was enough.

I wonder why getting paid makes a difference to her as to how much respect you should get? I guess because if you're not getting paid, she thinks you don't have to "really try"?

As a young twenty-something, I once got a work license and went overseas and found a job and lived off of it in that other culture. It taught me so much. I hope your daughter can have such an experience!