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  • Writer's pictureDana Webster

(Way) Back In My Day

Back in my day, neighbourhood kids were keen to make a buck so we hired ourselves out to:

  • walk your dog

  • feed your cats

  • pull your garden weeds

  • shovel your driveway

  • mow your lawn

  • deliver your newspaper

  • run to the corner store and buy your smokes

  • babysit your kids

  • paint your fence

We were happy to do any of it for, say, a dollar or the leftover change from a fiver if we were picking up your Export A's. This kind of dough allowed us to save up for a new toy or blow it on some candy.

Some of us got an allowance (mine was 10c a week. To put this in perspective, a chocolate bar cost 10c) but that was in exchange for chores - setting the dinner table, clearing the dinner table, doing the dinner dishes, feeding the dog, bundling the newspapers for recycling, etc. ad nauseam. Parents had no trouble finding things for us to do to earn that dime. Suffice to say, money did not come without its price.

Fast forward 50 years to now. Boy, how things have changed. Other than the running to the corner store to buy your smokes category, all those other childhood chores are now professions ... that grown-ups do. And to which grown-up prices are applied. If I want my grass cut or my driveway shovelled, I have to pay a professional to do it. Pet sitting, dog walking - it all costs big money now.

Paul and I have a lovely young woman who will come feed our cats twice a day when we are away. For this, we pay $20/visit. In today's economy, that feels reasonable. Compare it to a "professional" cat feeder we once encountered who charged $20 per visit plus an additional $10 per cat = $60 per visit.

Hmmm, did she go to an institution of higher learning where she majored in Cat Feeding and for which she incurred a mountain of student loan debt? Has she met cats? How much work does she think is involved? I don't know what happens in other people's homes but this is the extent of activity our cats get up to over the course of a day.

The Girls

Okay, granted, scooping cat mounds out of the litter box is ... unpleasant but I like to think the purrs, and cuddles, and leg rubs of gratitude far outweigh it. Plus, no wrangling with leashes, no slimy slobber, no pooping and scooping a honkin' pile of hot, steamy, often wet poo out of the grass. No toe nails the size of monarch butterfly caterpillars tearing up the upholstery of your car and no doggie park infighting to negotiate.

$60 per visit. Who is she kidding?

So, what do kids do these days to earn a buck? Only so many teeth can fall out for the Tooth Fairy to pay for. Do kids even do chores for compensation anymore? I remember when Meacham and Pilar were small the de rigeur advice was to never attach monetary value to helping around the house. Something about teaching youngsters the importance of being a contributing member of the household, on its own merit, was to suffice. Huh? A lovely sentiment in theory but had those "experts" ever tried to motivate a 10 year old to want to do the dishes?

In grade school I had a paper route. I lasted one week, not long enough to even collect payment on the Sunday. The kid who took over my route got paid for my week. It was hard, dirty and lonely work. You had to bundle all the sections together, pile the papers into your wagon and haul them from house to house, right to the front door. It took hours and I hated every minute of it. I wanted to emulate my big brother who had his own early morning route and made out like a bandit with the weekly coinage.

Jobs that allowed us kids to earn a few bucks came with side benefits that we neither knew nor cared about. We were provided an opportunity to learn self-reliance and independence. We learned what we could be good at and what we could push through (or not) to obtain an intended goal ($$). We learned that we were useful and valuable and contributing to something bigger than ourselves. It was a win-win.

So, what am trying to say? I don't really know. There's probably some deep undercurrent of head shaking going on. It's a habit of old people, like me, to look back on our childhood years and imagine that it was so much better than today. But, in this case, I do wonder what opportunities kids are getting to build character and autonomy.

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