"Hey Mom!", Matthew said, "I think there is something wrong here..."
I looked over at him and away from the road a minute, as we were driving home from the airport, where I picked him up after working in the morning with Dominick.
He had opened his paycheck, the first one of the season, and had a quizzical look on his face.
"This is $73.00. It's too much money, I only worked 10 hours during the last two weeks."
I grinned, knowing it was a little surprise. "No, it's right. Your Dad and I talked about it, and felt that since
all of you are now replacing adult workers he would have normally hired for the weekend shifts, it was only fair that you earned a real wage. Take a look, you are now earning $8.00 per hour, just a little over minimum wage."
A moment of silence followed. "Are you sure? That's a lot of money! You guys don't have to do that! We aren't even 16 yet.", he said.
"Yes, we are sure. You all are doing the work of adults, you are responsible like adults, it is only fair that you get paid like an adult. Age shouldn't be a factor, as long as you perform the work well."
As it slowly dawned on Matthew that he just received a $3 per hour raise over last year...that they ALL had received a raise, the excitement was evident. He asked about what all the taxes were, what the abbreviations meant, and if he would owe taxes at the end of the year.
All five kids have matured into excellent employees who take direction well, work with purpose, and can be counted on to get the job done. Our long time manager at the cafe told us last year, "I wish your kids were old enough to work full-time, they are better and more reliable than anyone else we hire." Coming from her, it was an enormous compliment because she has high standards, and has never been one to "kiss up" and say what she thinks we might want to hear. She and Dominick are a great team because they both understand each others directness.
We talked about it at the beginning of ski season, which is when Dominick stops auto detailing and works indoors at the restaurant, which is really more like a soup and sandwich place that is utterly dead during the 8 months off season, but can see as many as 2000 people boarding flights a day on the weekends during ski season. We discussed how many hours the kids might be able to work, what scheduling would make sense, etc. Kenny needs more supervision and wanted to try and learn new things, and Josh wanted to work one shift a weekend, while the girls and Matthew all wanted as many hours as they could get but still wanted some time off here and there on some weekends. They all created a rotating schedule together, with the very early morning shift being covered by Joshie on Saturdays and Kenny on Sundays.
After much deliberation, Dominick and I both agreed that until all are at least in their junior year of high school, academics must come first and there is to be no regular job that gets in the way of school being the #1 priority, regardless of age. Many might look at our eventual older teens and wonder why they are not working a regular 20 hour a week part-time job at 16 or 17, but Angela, Kenny and Olesya will still only be in 8th or 9th grade. Because they are far behind their peers, their entrance into the world of work will be delayed, but doing side jobs here and there and working for Dominick when they can helps them earn some spending money and develop financial knowledge that is backed by real work.
All the kids have worked since they were little or came into the family, and all of them actually quite enjoy it. Angela and Olesya, in particular, couldn't wait for ski season to start, and they are spending about 5 hours each shift on their feet...but this year they have new responsibilities which is exciting to them. Both girls are learning how to work at the sandwich table, churning out orders, making food look good as it goes out. They are each so proud of being allowed to handle "the table" as they see it as a very responsible role in the functioning of a highly busy restaurant during the peak times.
We've gradually added more duties each year as the kids have grown up. From the time Matt and Josh were literally able to walk, they have "helped" at work. We'd slap an apron on them, and they'd stock the condiments, empty boxes, clean shelves, help set up souvenirs or put price tags on things. Then they all graduated to calling out orders and interacting more with customers by cleaning off tables and serving them non-alcoholic drinks. They have all put in 4-5 hour shifts the past couple of years doing dishes and all the other tasks, but this year was the Big Leap to the majority of the "real work", and they are taking great pride in this step into adulthood, a mini rite of passage.
It makes a difference, and it has helped them better understand how hard their Dad has to work. They've all put in stints helping detail cars in the hot sun (as has mom in years past!), feeding the masses, etc. They know that grocery money doesn't come easily, that Dad is exhausted after 10 or 12 hours on his feet. They've done it in part, and it has sunk in. They also see the rewards as their bank accounts blossom, and they are far less likely to blow their money on frivolous things.
They are also turning into mature young people, right before our eyes. This morning, I went to pick up Josh and drop off Angela and Matthew. At barely 11 years old, Joshua arose all on his own at 3:45 AM after having gone to bed earlier than everyone else to get enough sleep. He got himself ready, and was waiting on the couch for his Dad to come pick him up and take him to work (Dominick had to leave earlier than that), where he worked for five hours straight prepping for the day. He stocked coolers, got baking items prepared, prepped items for the sandwich table, and much more is on his morning "To Do" list. No complaints, eager to work, at 11 years old he is definitely earning $8.00 per hour, and then some. I had questioned Dominick initially about Josh earning as much as the older kids, and he just laughed at me, then said, "Age doesn't matter, he works as hard as any of the adults we've ever had there...and does a great job. It wouldn't be fair NOT to pay him the same!"
Many would complain about running their kids here and there for shift work, many have thought we are "not
letting them have a childhood" because they work once in a while...and work hard. I've had comments about them being "just kids", and I know some don't understand having an 11 year old get up that early to go to a job. Me? I rejoice! What we have in the opportunity to help them begin the steps to adulthood is unusual, it is a blessing that Dominick is self-employed and can spend time with his kids at work, teaching them, mentoring them, being with them...teasing them. I teach at home, but he teaches something equally important at work. He models hard work for them, he models diligence right before them, he models organizational skills, juggling lots of balls in the air, handling employee situations, preparing yourself for the day ahead and thinking far in advance.
How many Dads get to spend that kind of true, quality time with their children? It is NOT a burden on either parent or child, it is a gift, something many don't have due to the very nature of their employment or the attitudes of their kids. Joshua is a morning kid, totally like his Dad, and the early shift is perfect for him.
Kenny is not a morning guy at all, but he loves working alone with Dominick, without the craziness of the busy part of the day, and he can work carefully through his prepared list of items, practicing staying on task and not being distracted while it is practical to do so. He is learning how he can better prepare himself for a work world that will be incredibly challenging for him, at even the lowest levels of employment, and he is succeeding. Kenny will need oodles of work experience, of training and repetition, in order to make it some day. That we have the opportunity to offer him a safe environment for that training to happen is the best situation possible for him.
Matthew is forced to deal with people, not his strong suit, and to be placed in situations where he can not be as deliberate as is natural for him, but has to operate at top speed and think quickly. He is honing his ability to be more comfortable in social settings that our little introvert finds unsettling at moments.
And the girls get to tease their Dad mercilessly, they get to laugh at him, joke with him, and never yearn for a caring male whom they try to replace in other, more destructive ways. They get compliments from him on how they handle situations, they get chastised when they get too goofy, and they both adore their Daddy, each saying multiple times that they want to marry a man just like him. Can there be a greater compliment a man could ever receive?
The rewards are many, the downsides...none. It may not make sense to others, many never really "get" us and our parenting style anyway, so I am beyond caring about that these days. I remind myself often that our job is to protect their childhood innocence, not prolong childhood itself. We are preparing young people for a future that is uncertain, but certain that it will be far more difficult for them to get ahead than it was for us or our own parents. They need to take on challenges, see what they can accomplish, know that they are capable of more than they thought, feel confident in their basic skills. They are gradually doing just that on these long winter days, and hot summer afternoons. As I happily escort them to the bank on Monday to deposit those first whopper paychecks that are much larger than the year before, it will be such a kick to see them visit with the bank tellers who already know them so well, and I am sure there will be a little conversation about their hard earned raises :-)
They are becoming...well...just "becoming"...and it is an honor and privilege to witness it.