Friday, June 09, 2006

When You're Only Eight

Yesterday, my eldest was in tears. But there were no scrapes, cuts, or bruises. No mean words from any friends or siblings. He wasn't even watching the redemption scene in Message in a Bottle. (Not that, you know, that scene made me cry or anything. Eh-hem.)

No, he was in tears because the play room was messier than usual. Oh, that doesn't sound like a huge deal, I know. But you must understand...it is his turn to clean the play room this week, and he just didn't think it was fair it was so messy.

In our household, we have certain chores that are expected of our children. There is no allowance nor reward attach. It is just a part of the priviledge of living in our family. A way of earning your keep. But, we also have chores that earn money. One of those is the daily cleaning up of the play room and bed room.

The two rooms are split between our two kids. They clean the room, and ask us for an inspection. If it passes inspection, they earn a checkmark for the day. At the end of the week, depending on how many checkmarks they have, we pay them. It's a sliding scale. And every week, they swap rooms, to keep things fair.

This has worked pretty well, although they were quite upset the first time they didn't get paid the full amount because they didn't clean the room a few of the days.

But yesterday, my eldest son felt the room was particularly messy. Worse than usual. And so he started to cry. He said he didn't want to do it anymore. It wasn't fair!

Now, the platitude "life ain't fair, kid" wasn't enough to comfort him. (Too bad, too...because I really enjoy saying that.) My wife sat down with him and they had a little heart-to-heart. She reminded him that the job of cleaning up the playroom is not required work. He can choose not to do it. It is a paid job. If he would rather not clean, that's fine. It just means he won't get paid. Now son number two leaped for joy at this, because it meant that he could take over and get paid twice as much that week! We squelched that plan swiftly, however. We knew our eldest would change his mind. He had a life lesson to learn first.

My wife went on to explain that there are days Daddy (that would be me) goes to work and has a bad day. A lot more work than usual, or things going wrong, that kind of thing. But Daddy doesn't come home and say, "That's it, I'm not working there any more." I have to suck it in and show up the next day, regardless.

It took a while. About an hour, and the next thing we know, he was back in the playroom, cleaning. He earned his checkmark, and he was ultimately proud of himself. He stuck it out. It was hard for him. As the oldest, he feels more is expected of him than from the others. He's right. He will always have a year more experience and a year more wisdom under his belt than any of his siblings. He sees his closest brother as his peer. But the fact is, there are fourteen months between them. We have to remind him of that. We have to remind him that fourteen months ago, he, too, wasn't doing as much. If anything, we expect more from son number two at the same age.

Hard to see that when you're only eight, and still doing work that your siblings are not.

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