Monday, March 28, 2011

If we had to depend on child labor to put a roof over our heads, it would be made out of Legos.

My mother in law sends weird books for my kids. One was a copy of Brer Rabbit that uses the phrase "tar baby" over and over again. We hid that one under the bed. Another popular gift around here was a copy of "Kids At Work" which is about child labor in the early 1900s, featuring photos by Lewis Hine.

I leave that one on the coffee table - which adults find intriguing, and children find vaguely threatening.

Which is how I like it. Don't want anyone getting TOO COMFORTABLE around here.

But it's happened anyway. Today Max came home from school, chucked his backpack on the floor, flopped down on the couch, and watched Johnny Depp playing Willy Wonka. While Oompa Loompas swam in rivers of liquid chocolate, he methodically worked his way through a bag of pretzels, then lay on the floor buried in pillows and Legos, completely exhausted by the 6 hours he spent at school, sitting around learning stuff and climbing trees between well-balanced meals lovingly packed by me this morning.

When the credits began to roll, he wandered out, and I asked him to grab his spelling list so we could study together for his test. He rolled his eyes, as though I had asked him to look up each word in the dictionary and then write out a definition for that word complete with the proper phonetic pronounciation and inflection marks. You know, like WE USED TO DO WITH OUR SPELLING WORDS.


All I wanted was to read the list of words together, before he returned to his relentless pursuit of the most aerodynamic paper airplane design, or the biggest booger, or coolest Lego armored vehicle, or whatever the hell he had scheduled for the evening. It wasn't too much to ask.

Or so I thought.

Amidst much gasping and moaning and shuffling of feet and eye rolling, he rooted around in his backpack.

And then he froze. Because he didn't have his spelling list.


I am going to admit this right now: I cracked.
I won't go into a long-winded rant about "Kids These Days".

But seriously. KIDS THESE DAYS.

We can coddle them, and go through their bags each day to make sure they have indeed put everything they need in their backpacks. We can leave them responsible for the consequences if they don't, and then seethe while they sit in their room staring at the wall because they forgot to bring home their math book AGAIN and can't do any homework AGAIN. But I don't like either one of those options. I want option C. I want to raise kids who can fend for themselves when I release them into this world.

I read this book, and this article, and I just shake my head in absolute bewilderment. I have a nice kid, who cannot even be bothered to put his dirty clothes in the laundry basket without being reminded. And he does absolutely the bare minimum of homework, fighting every step of the way.

The kids in these books were working 12 hours a day, sometimes without food, usually without the proper clothes and shoes, and many times they were the sole source of support for their family. They lived terrible, awful lives. And it is still happening, around the world today. Kids are working on production lines, meanwhile my kid won't produce a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Kids are at work risking life and limb, my kid isn't allowed to slice a bagel without supervision.

And you know what - I don't think I am doing my kid any favors.
I am not suggesting that he go out and get a job. But I think I can expect more of him.
Tomorrow, he is totally slicing his own damn bagel.

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