I’ll give you something to think about

In Ontario, in order to graduate high school, you have to have logged a minimum of 40 hours of volunteer time. So, one of my projects when we moved to Ottawa was to find some interesting places for my daughter to do some volunteer work.

One thing I found was a community centre near our place that offers an after-school-program for elementary school kids who were looking for volunteers. “Go volunteer,” I tell the kid at the beginning of last year. “Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?” she whines. “I’m only in grade 9 and I don’t need the hours for 4 more years.”

Oh, short-sighted one, I tell her, get the mandatory hours out of the way now because in the next 3 years you’re going to want a part-time job and won’t have that much time to volunteer. Plus you’ll be able to rack up a whole pile of hours here and then have lots of time over the next 3 years to get extra hours. (Also, there’s some sort of scholarship in Grade 12, I understand for kids who have put in a lot of volunteer time and we need all the help we can get to pay for university since Ordinary Joe isn’t pitching in anytime soon). Plus plus it’s good for you.

Plus plus plus,  if you play your cards right, they might hire you next year. It would be a great job. Close by, no weekends or holidays and the possibility of summer work when they run their summer camps.

So, off she trudges to volunteer 3 afternoons a week. Before the year is even over they offer her a part-time job after school. So now she already has tons of volunteer hours, and she’s working there 4 afternoons a week for nine bucks an hour.

This summer I signed her up for a leadership course run by the city. One month, every weekday – the idea is to train up some teenagers to qualify them for summer day camp positions run by the city. They get their CPR certification and some other kid supervision certificate thing. It cost over 500 bucks for 4 weeks, but they got a swell t-shirt, too.

 “Whyyyyyyyy do I have to spend half my summer there?” the kid whines. “Here’s your bus pass. Shut up and go,” I say.

She ended up loving it, making lots of new friends, wishing she could go for another month and everyone cried and hugged and exhanged Facebook names when the camp was over.

So now the people who run the leadership camp are developing some other camps for younger kids and they’ve asked some of the teens from the summer if they’d be interested in working there next summer. They’ve both emailed and sent a letter to my kid.

I’m excited for her. “Did you tell them yes?” I ask. “I told them I’d think about it,” she says blithely, waving me off.


“Well, I’ll probably just stay working where I am now. It’s closer.”

PROBABLY? Has she had a firm offer from them for the summer? No. Does she have any idea how freakin’ lucky she is at barely sixteen to have not one, but TWO very good possibilities for summer employment for jobs that not only pay pretty well but are fun and relatively easy where she doesn’t have to work nights, weekends or holidays?

“What?” She says.

I spent my teenage summers like something out of Grapes of Wrath, with my head up fruit trees. Sticky, hot, humid days outdoors from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, covered in sour cherry juice, peach fuzz, bugs, twigs and pesticides; climbing up and down ladders, strapped into an itchy harness attached to heaving baskets of fruit.  And I’d get paid by the basket, not by the hour.

Wednesdays and Saturdays I’d get up at 3:00 am to help load a truck and drive two hours to market where I’d stand all day out in the sun hawking fruit. And a few nights a week,  I’d go babysitting for fun. And, I’d come out of the whole summer with enough money to maybe buy a new pair of Earth Shoes for back-to-school.



27 responses to “I’ll give you something to think about

  1. What! you had fruit to pick! Why when I was young we had to go and pick gravel; and we had to make it ourselves by pounding big rocks with our heads. I’d have given anything to have fruit to pick. But we liked it anyway cause we were tough.
    Actually the only thing I have against this is the concept that you must volunteer. Somehow that doesn’t seem like real volunteering and it does seem like a way to get a huge pile of free labour out of the kids.
    As for sending the little freeloaders out to learn to work and start budgeting as early as possible. Well done. Otherwise what will the little darlings have to complain to their kids about when they are old farts.

  2. Let me tell you sonny… let me tell you straight
    You kids today ain’t never had it tough
    Always had everything handed to you on a silver plate
    You lazy brats think nothing’s good enough

    Well, nobody ever drove me to school when it was ninety degrees below
    We had to walk buck naked through forty miles of snow
    Worked in the coal mines twenty two hours a day for just half a cent
    Had to sell me internal organs just to pay the rent

    When I was your age. When I was your age
    When I was your age. When I was your age

    Let me tell you something, you whiny little snot
    There’s something wrong with all you kids today
    You just don’t appreciate all the things you’ve got
    We were hungry, broken and miserable and we liked it fine that way

    There were seventy three of us living in a cardboard box
    All I got for Christmas was a lousy bag of rocks
    Every night for dinner, we had a big ‘ol chunk of dirt
    If we were really good, we didn’t get dessert

    When I was your age. When I was your age
    When I was your age. When I was your age

    Didn’t have no telephone, didn’t have no FAX machine
    All we had was a couple cans and a crummy piece of string
    Didn’t have no swimming pool when I was just a lad
    Our neighbor’s mseptic tank was the closest thing we had
    Didn’t have no dental floss, had to use old rusty nails
    Didn’t have Nintendo, we just poured salt on snails
    Didn’t have no water bed, had to sleep on broken glass
    Didn’t have no lawnmower, we used our teeth to cut the grass

    What’s the matter now, sonny, you say you don’t believe this junk?
    You think my story’s wearin’ kinda thin?
    I tell you one thing, I never was such a disrespectful punk
    Back in my time, we had a thing called discipline

    Dad would whoop us every night till a quarter after twelve
    Then he’d get too tired and he’d make us whoop ourselves
    Then he’d chop me into pieces and play frisbee with my brain
    And let me tell ya, Junior, you never heard me complain

    When I was your age. When I was your age
    When I was your age. When I was your age

  3. My husband found a pair of earthshoes in the middle of the road the other week — he wears them as slippers.

    Which has *nothing* to do with the price of tea in China, I know.

  4. Skylark – They still make them. Shall I ask Santa to give you a pair?

    Violetsky – She doesn’t mind working — she’s very excited to have lots of her own money to spend; she just has no concept of how difficult it is to find a job and how lucky she is to have such a great part-time job now and how easily she’s had the way paved for her to have a summer job. Our next lesson is going to be “saving some of your money”.

    Jobthingy – Did your mum organize your life for you, too? I would have thought I’d died and gone to heaven if someone had offered me a summer job like that at 15.

    Bandobras – Oh she likes working okay and loves the extra money. The volunteering thing isn’t so bad. It does give some of them some work experience they can parlay into real jobs. 98% wait until the last couple of months of grade 12 to do anything about it, though. I don’t understand how their parents don’t have the foresight to take advantage of the possiblities of this.

    Al – thanks for dropping by with your lovely poetry and what is this obession you have for slavic pseudonyms>

    Ellie – Wow. You should blog about that. Abandoned earth shoes and a man who wears shoes he finds on the street.

  5. Kids. “But mom… why isn’t cleaning up the mess I made count as helping out.”

    Gah! She sounds like a great kid though… good advice to get it done now.

  6. That’s what happen when you want to give the best to your kids because you had it hard. They don’t want to learn about life until they’ve made all the mistakes they’re supposed to make, like racking up a HUGE debt going to University and 1/3 of that debt is made up of clothes, music, computer et al…

    Point I’m making is that our generation has made the kids lazy. We gave them the best and they haven’t learned a thing. I’m not sure what is most frustrating, realizing you’re going through the same things your parents did or wondering if that child is really that delusional 🙂

  7. I see so many kids today (one of my stepsons included) who just don’t want to work for anything. We’ve given them so much because we can, and they expect it to be that way the rest of their lives. We’re not doing them any favors. Life is hard and nothing is handed to you. It’s a good lesson for kids to learn early. I started working when I was 14, and although I wasn’t climbing fruit trees, I worked my butt off. Plus, I had to do 80 hours of community service to graduate from high school, and although I bitched about it until it was done, I was secretly glad I did it. It was good experience.

    I know you’ve had to nudge her a little bit, but your daughter sounds like she’s got her head on straight. You’ve done a good job!

  8. What a brilliant idea. People in this country are forever banging on about teenage gangs and young offenders. “Bring back National Service” they shout. Rubbish- bring in Civil Service and give teenagers some kind of identity. Volunteer time is a fab idea dna if you don’t mind I’m going to stick it in my pub revolution manifesto.

  9. I’d just like to clarify. I have no problem with volunteer work for kids or anyone else. I have no problem with schools demanding a certain amount of community service to graduate.
    It really boils my butt though when someone in authority decrees that you MUST volunteer.
    If you must, it aint volunteering. schools should spend some time teaching the meaning of oxymoronic behavior.

  10. Nat – She IS pretty good. I organize stuff for her and she goes. And she always ends up enjoying it and doing a good job. I DO consult her along the way — it’s not like I just spring this stuff on her.

    UA – She’s happy to have the jobs, I just don’t think she realizes how LUCKY she is to have such good jobs or how difficult it normally is for a 15-year-old to get any part-time job, let alone something this sweet. She just takes it for granted that jobs are dropping into kids’ laps on a daily basis. I keep trying to explain the connections of me pushing her to do that volunteer stint, enrolling her in the leadership course, etc… Oh well, she’ll get it eventually

    Mo – I don’t think life always has to be hard. I learned nothing from spending my summers in trees; it didn’t contribute to my future – I would have been much better off if my parents had used some connections to get me a job with some learning/work experience potential. Fruit picking doesn’t go on a resume. I’m happy to do what I can to smooth the path for my daughter — yes she takes it for granted right now and doesn’t see the long-range benefit of some of these things, but I think she will. Same thing with her piano lessons that I won’t let her quit. I think it’s something that may come in handy one day — it’s a skill she’ll always have to fall back on. Of course she isn’t given everything on a silver platter. There are limits to what I’ll do for her and what I think she has to learn to do for herself. Hence the jobs, the summer camps, etc.. Because you’re right, there ARE a lot of her friends who don’t have jobs and yet have way more spending money than she does; they spend their summers sitting around playing video games or going on vacations. I wouldn’t want to end up working somewhere with them in the future.

    Misssy M – Please do. It’s very gratifying that my blog may one day transform the face of the UK youth scene.

    Bandobras – Ya, I get that mandatory volunteerism is kind of an oxymoron, but they might as well learn now that they’re going to be forced to volunteer for a lot of things in their lives that they don’t want to do.

  11. Wow…you got *paid* to work all summer? I had to work and my pay was my room and board. (I grew up on a farm.) I remember the year I was old enough to take a babysitting job in town. I still had to do things before and after, but most of the day, I was able to escape. Oh, the freedom! The money wasn’t much, and I had to pay for gas, oil changes, and part of the car insurance. But, it was worth it!

    Your daughter sounds like a pretty smart cookie…I’m sure she’ll make the right decision. It’s awesome that she has such great opportunities!!

  12. “When we were thirsty, we used to have to suck on a damp cloth.”
    – from the movie, “The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball”
    If you haven’t seen it, RENT IT.
    It contains probably the best “when I was your age” skit ever performed by anyone anywhere at any time.
    As well as the Monty Python cast, there’s Rowan Atkinson, Peter Cook (do you know how many miles of intestines you have in your stomach?), and many more – including some wonderful musical performances; Sting, Pete Townsend, and others. But the ‘young people today’ skit puts it all in perspective.
    I believe mistakes are how we learn. They are to be celebrated, and not used to make our children feel bad. Mistakes are certainly how I learned.
    Even failure, which is something our current school system is trying so hard to ‘protect’ our children from, has real benefits. Got an author on my show this Saturday morning talking about her latest book on that very subject – ‘The Secret of Successful Failing’ (author is Gina Mollicone-Long)
    I’m not suggesting for a moment that your daughter is a failure by not taking the job you think she should take – or by not being as excited about the opportunity as you think she should be.
    Quite the opposite. With you as her Mom, she’s obviously very bright. She’ll do wonderfully, no matter what she decides.
    …but maybe that’s what drives you crazy about it.

    …and strangely enough, I also have often thought of you covered with peach fuzz and hanging from an itchy harness.

  13. CP – getting paid was a hard won battle, believe me. I went off to work on neighouring farms so I could make money to make my point. The parent reckoned it was my duty to pick fruit for free. I was willing to help with the sweltering hot job of canning fruit for free and cleaning the cabins once the help had left and taking care of the animals and all sort of other incidentals, but I put my foot down on picking the damn fruit for free when I’d be working alongside people who were making money for it.

    JB – I’m a little worried about you now, JB. (peach fuzz, harnesses). And I’m sure Gina has a million and one wonderful insights, but I’m just trying to give my child a good start in life. The fact that she takes her opportunities for granted, I don’t think is really a big deal. Reality will smack her in the face soon enough at one point or another. I reckon one of my major jobs as a parent is to ensure that her life will be better than mine. I think that’s every parent’s job — to push their children to a place above their own. And if she grows up thinking the world is her oyster, is that a bad thing? I don’t want my child to have to live through all the same mistakes I lived through. I want her to learn by my mistakes. She’s still insisting on making her own, and she will, but I want to save her as much trouble along the way as I can.

  14. I would have never imagined you as a fruit picker and hawker. My first job (not counting babysitting or filing Dad’s cards) was selling records and tapes and Sears. 8-track tapes. And I had Earth Shoes and LOVED them!

    Although her high school had no voluteer requirements, as soon as my daughter got her driver’s license, I made her drive me for MOW anytime that she had a Wednesday off from school. She still does it with me from time to time and is like an old pro packing up the food. It sounds like your daughter is doing just fine and you should remember that at her age, very few people are capable of seeing “The big picture.” Keep up the good work and stay clear of pesticides.

  15. I am watching this French program about kids who sue their parents for support during University (yes, it does happen). One of the woman said the new generation has a sense of entitlement, which is not a bad thing (i.e. expecting an education) but she said they’re missing the sense of accountability. So they’re expecting something but they don’t want to do anything about it. As a parent, I would find it extremely frustrating. I guess it’s part of life.

    That’s why I prefer to have a cat 😉

  16. Aren’t Earth shoes really bad for your back? Wasn’t the two-bit and/or generic name for them “negative-heel shoes”?

    XUP, you sound like a mother. Do you need detect your parents in your diatribe about XUP Jr.’s attitude to the jobs, etc. And did we go to the same school together, walking 12 miles uphill both ways in a blizzard with holes in our boots, if we were lucky enough to have boots, wolves nipping at our heels…

    Volunteering is great for kids. It gives them a look at the big bad world, and a sense of contributing to the community. Plus, as in XUP Jr.’s case, it often leads to part-time employment. Like co-op programs, it also provides them with some input into deciding on a career.

    I do volunteer work every Wednesday morning at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. We had a kid there this summer who was putting in his 40 hours AFTER Grade 12, because his diploma was being withheld until he accumulated those hours. Thus, two more lessons, about responsibility and procrastination.

    Pretty good, eh? I got through all that without relating a story about how Little Brother Dano got through high school and learned all those lessons!

  17. can you come parent my kids? you sound all reasonable and shit.

    seriously these are some great ideas. i hope i remember them in 9 years when jobs become relevent for them….

  18. Geewits – Earth shoes rock the world! I should get a new pair. I think they’ve made a come-back recently. And ya, I know the kid is doing really well for her age even if she sometimes gobsmacks me with her somewhat skewed world-view.

    UA – There ARE a lot of frustrations in being a parent, but also a lot of nice surprises. I think most parents raised their children to expect big things for and from themselves while at the same time protecting them from hurt, danger and other bad stuff — so it takes them a while to realize that things aren’t always going to be this easy and that there can be some serious consequences to their actions.

    Bob – That’s nice, Bob, that they tell you you’re “volunteering” at the Mental Health Centre when you go every week. It does take away a lot of the stigma.

    Meanie – No. You’ll have to do that yourself and of course you’ll help channel them into activities that will help them with their future — just like you do now

  19. Xup, I’m new here and this is the first post I read. To be honest, I was looking for some Ottawa blogs and your post title called my attention.

    I have to thank you. As an immigrant and father of an 11 years old boy I’ve just learned a few valuable lessons on what to expect in the coming years and how to guide him properly…

    Thanks from a new subscriber to your blog.

  20. Guillermo – Welcome to Canada and to the blog and to Ottawa! There are some great Ottawa blogs listed in the blogroll on the right-hand side of this page; many of which will have all the information you’re looking for and more. I don’t write too much specifically about Ottawa, but it does get mentioned once in a while. Thank you very much for your comment and please come back often!

  21. Your title reminded me of something my mother would occasionally say, when I was crying for no good reason: “I’ll give you something to cry about!” What a threat! I don’t think she realized it at the time – it was just a saying. Which is also surprising given that she was such a thoughtful disciplinarian and meted out punishment logically and totally without malice or even anger. Honestly. The last time she ever smacked me, I remember her looking at me and sizing up the situation and then instantly deciding that a smack was the best thing for it. I was 14, which is why I remember it well. And she hardly ever did it, which is why it was so calculated. And I deserved it. 🙂

  22. Julia – Ya, I remember that “I’ll give you something to cry about” — that was kind of the nuance behind the title. There’s a whole debate about whether it’s better to smack kids “cold-bloodedly” or “in the heat of passion”. Personally, I’d never have the heart to do it once I’ve cooled down. On the other hand, striking out in anger isn’t good either. Maybe neither is the best choice. Does a 14-year-old really “deserve” to get physically disciplined?

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