'We' have work to do on concept of the job

September 13, 1997|By ROB KASPER

"WE" HAVE been a little groggy recently because "we" have been rising before dawn to perform our new job caring for a couple of soft-surface tennis courts at the neighborhood swim and tennis club.

The pronoun usage here is the "employable we." It applies to kids 8 to 16 years old and their quickly-aging parents.

Any parent whose kid has taken on a neighborhood job -- from baby-sitting to cutting grass -- is familiar with the usage and nuances of the employable we. "We" agree to perform chores, usually tasks that don't last more than a couple of hours. While technically the employers (neighbors) are hiring the kid, the kid's parents usually end up being part of the package, hence the plural.

In most cases the kid could do the job without assistance. But some parents, myself among them, feel the need to supervise our offspring during their forays into the working world. When the kids get to be teen-agers and land "real" jobs, they don't want their parents near them. But when kids are in their pree-teen years, they sometime find their parents' presence useful.

Many parents have mixed emotions about becoming involved in their kid's business. On the one hand, you are proud that your neighbors consider your offspring dependable enough to work for them. Yet on the other hand, you feel the need to "help" with these jobs and thereby confirm the neighbor's view that you have reared your children correctly.

As the household's whip cracker, you feel the responsibility of keeping your outfit on schedule. The amount of time needed to complete the job, for instance, is the reason why I have ended up assisting my 12-year-old son in his tennis court duties.

If the kid does the job alone, it takes an hour and makes him late for morning car pool, and for school. If I help him, the job is completed in 20 to 30 minutes, and the kid gets to school on time.

And so "we" now find ourselves sharing the early-morning streets with the joggers, the dog walkers and the purposeful striders as we head for the tennis courts. This will be the first of our two daily visits that "we" know are needed to keep the courts in shape.

As I stumble through the early-morning darkness, I compare myself to Benito Mussolini, the Italian leader in World War II known for his extreme behavior and the fact that he made the country's trains run on time. I think it is easy for me, and other parents, to fall into the "Mussolini syndrome," of pushing to extremes to keep the family on schedule.

Thankfully, the busy season for the "employable we" -- the summer, has come to an end. Usually the summer employment pattern for the household goes something like this. Early in the season "we" are eager for work. We agree to walk dogs, water lawns, fetch mail and feed cats. Then the summer wears on, and the younger member of the "employable we" goes off to camp or heads over to the ocean for a few weeks. At the end of August one of us is in Nantucket fishing for bluefish with a school buddy, while the other of us comes home from a day at the office and begins watering the neighbor's back yard, a job "we" agreed to in June.

Like many parents, I encourage my kids to take small jobs because I subscribe to the notion that the work experience teaches the kids valuable lessons about real life. This turns out to be partially true. It usually doesn't take kids very long, for instance, to figure out that no matter how interesting a job may initially appear, it soon can become boring. Moreover, kids are quick to learn that a step to success in the business world is to get somebody else to do the hard work. That somebody else is usually a parent.

When kids work they also learn about forming partnerships. For instance, my tennis-court cleaning kid is sharing these duties with his buddy, Hugh. Hugh's parents, who like my wife and me found themselves suddenly burdened by homework and after-school work, embraced the concept of sharing this job. Duties rotate weekly.

My son and I don't talk much early in the morning. We get up, get dressed and manipulate the surface of the tennis courts. But the other morning the kid told me he and his buddy had analyzed this employment experience.

The guys have decided that they do not want to make their careers in tennis-court maintenance. Their appraisal was something like: this job is "not fulfilling." Or perhaps they used a word that 12-year-old boys seem to favor these days. The word rhymes with "ducks" and cannot appear in this newspaper. The kid told me that he and his buddy will be delighted in a few weeks, when the cold weather hits and the job ends.

Basically, the kid said, the only attraction of this job was the money. I should have told him, "Welcome to the world of work, son." But I was too sleepy to think quickly. Besides, "we" had work to do.

Pub Date: 9/13/97

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