If you were blessed with healthy children, congratulations. That is a powerful bit of good fortune. If said children are still little, you should ready yourself for something that’s coming no matter what: There’ll be one crack in that sheetrock of parent-child relations you’ll have to slap some spackle on, and you won’t know the best way to do it. That imperfection is called laziness. I hated chores when I was a kid and so did you. And so do/did/will your kids. Childhood laziness isn’t limited to dumping the trash or pulling weeds, either. Sometimes chores come in the form of studying, in the form of homework and putting in the effort to get good grades. It’s all work and every kid hopes if they ignore it it’ll go away. I still do. Sometimes it’s easier to do things yourself and let the little leeches keep watching television or playing games, but you know you’ll create a serial loser if you make a habit of that. So what do you do?
Sorry, no magic answer here. But I can tell you how I dealt with it. One of the ways at least. When my kids had not gotten to an assigned duty by the time they should’ve, or when they came home with a lousy grade simply because they blew off the studying and I knew it, I made them stand before me and repeat a particular sentence: Would you like fries with that?
Sometimes I made them repeat it like a mantra. This attitude toward work and school they’d adopted being what it was, getting this phrase down early would prepare them for the futures that certainly awaited. Look on the bright side, I’d say. You’ll get lots of fries, maybe a burger every once in a while, for free. And depending on which store they stick you in, you’ll probably get to see lots of your friends from inside the drive-through window.
At fourteen my daughter landed her first job: McDonald’s. I hadn’t even known kids under sixteen were legal to put on the payroll. In our state fourteen was the minimum legal age for employment, but strict rules regarding school and working-hours were enforced. I remember taking her to work that first day. She was so nervous and unsure of herself that I was helpless to put the kibosh on the lame-ass platitudes. Watching her slump alone into McDonald’s swamped me with that same wave of daddy gut-wrench that twisted me all up when I watched her hesitate halfway into a school bus her first time. There goes my baby. Don’t nobody do her wrong.
I remember thinking that I couldn’t do it—I couldn’t collect money, engage a hundred personalities, or prepare food and bag it day after day. And particularly not with all that mercurial movement and timing. My poor little girl. And to make things worse, it hit me how I had in essence laid waste the dignity of her new job throughout all the years of being her dad. Would you like fries with that? I had been so clever, so effing funny. I hoped she’d forgot all that. About me. But really, what reason did I have to worry? This job thing wouldn’t last a week. Maybe not a whole day. She was too lazy around the house. I hadn’t done my job well enough for something like this.
When I picked her up at the end of her shift, she was wearing her new uniform—along with the very last thing I expected to see on her: a smile. Instead of announcing she’d had enough, she was proud of herself and ready to earn a paycheck. She was worn out, but the good kind of worn out, she said. Her bosses were helpful and everybody was really nice. Even a school friend of hers worked there, and they were put on the same shift for the coming week. So I took her to work the next day, and the difference from yesterday was the difference between plummet and soar. Now she wasn’t panicked. I took her to work many more times. I met the store supervisor, who told me how proud I should be of my daughter. I heard that I had raised a one-of-a-kind little girl there. She was hard-working and efficient and friendly and all kinds of good stuff that I sensed (really really hoped) was no schmooze. And I must’ve been right about that because they promoted my shiftless and sofa-bound offspring to assistant manager surprisingly fast, and to store manager soon as she turned sixteen.
I felt the jerk for my fries with that punishment-humor. Always will. The internet is puke-full of McDonald’s horror stories. I get it. I’m rubbing kitty-fur backwards here. Doesn’t change what was. McDonald’s did my job, really. They took a timid and couch-friendly fourteen-year-old and gave her a work ethic. She was proud of that first paycheck and she had every reason to be. She was even pissed off about the taxes, I remember, just like a grown-up. Wah…Dad? She stayed at her first real-world job, not for a week, but for over two years before she accepted another offer. All the good stuff she picked up at McDonald’s though—the stay-with-it, the set-an-example, the find-the-funny—remained with her from then on. And maybe, too, I didn’t do all that bad for my own part. Helps to think so.
Today she passed the week-long battery of finals on her way to nurse-angel. Yeah, proud.