As a parent, I often attempt to reproduce some of the best (legal) moments from my childhood and adolescence for my own kids. Such "experiences" often include frisbee, cookouts, beach runs, and hanging out with family friends. One of the things that I also like to do with my kids is encourage them to labor, for fun and (sometimes) for profit.
Working "with kids" -- particularly girls -- is a great thing to do for a lot of reasons. In the first place, it demystifies the material world. I hope that my 12-year old daughter, who has been toiling by my side this week (more on that later), will one day be able to fix basic little things that go wrong around her apartment or house. But way more important, working together gives us a chance to chat for hours on end, far away from cell phones and the Internet.
I'm not sure why kids don't work with their parents any more. Surely, the American fear industry has done its part. A generation of hyper-responsive and worried parents is probably concerned that kids might hurt themselves with tools. It may also have to do with the fact that parents themselves no longer have the the ability or the time to fix things. Finally, I also get the feeling that some parents probably believe that such labor is "beneath" their children. Vive l'aristocratie!
But this tiny snippet of Eye-witness news is not about criticizing anybody, it is about singing the praises of dumb labor. This week I coerced my daughter into helping me with a couple of jobs. Yesterday, we ripped up a friend's wall-to-wall carpet; after an important safetly lesson, she was weilding a utility knife and pulling up carpet like a pro. Today she learned how to scrape, sand, prep, prime, and paint a screen door.
Don't get me wrong: I am not at all advocating a return to an era of sustained child labor where 5-year olds work in mines or sell matches out in the cold. What I am supporting is far more gentle and fun: making too many trips to the Hardware store, hanging out, and drinking iced coffees like contractors.