As we wait at the end of our driveway for the school bus to arrive, my daughter paces around, scuffing her feet just enough to kick up loose gravel.
Hands in her pockets, shoulders inching upwards, her posture braces against the crisp air, giving herself protection from the wind the way a jacket with a tipped-up collar might have ...
If she'd worn one ...
I won't pick that battle, nor the one that should present itself an hour later when I stand out here with her brother, who will undoubtedly be wearing shorts.
The truth is I like being out here. I like that she still lets me stand beside her, cracking jokes and making a silly spectacle of myself when the mood strikes.
I know these days are numbered.
These days most of her friends require a buffer zone between their too-cool selves and their hot-mess parents.
Not her. Not yet, anyway.
She fixes her eyes on the ground and kicks up another pebble. It glances off the grass and disturbs a clump of wild violets.
Even though there was no harm, she recoils as if the rock had hit her.
"I didn't mean to do that," she says, apologizing to the weed.
She's fond of its purple flowers, she tells me, noting the pretty petals are closed up now because of the morning chill, but will open fully to greet her when she steps off the afternoon bus.
She's taken an interest in them because the lawn has recently become her "chore."
A chore for which she is paid handsomely.
For twelve years she has led an existence unencumbered by responsibilities other than the most basic and pressing:
"Feed the cat before she eats the walls."
"Clean your room if you want your friend to come over."
"Feed the cat!"
"Pick up your stuff."
But mostly her job has been this one, solitary constant –
"Feed." "The." "Cat!" – and a series of prodded peripherals. “Could you please, for the love of sanity, put your dishes in the sink?!”
Thusly, her economic situation has been financed by saving up Christmas cash and birthday money instead of an allowance, and cute-faced begging.
But that's getting old. She has needs that I don't see as such and therefore refuse to finance.
See we had always planned to give our children jobs, but we couldn't decide whether we should pay them for household tasks.
"I don't want to pay her to do her own laundry or the dishes, or setting the table," my husband interjects. "She shouldn't get paid for ... "
"... doing the things I will eventually do for free when I get sick of waiting," I finish his sentence.
And there's the rub: without the incentive of recompense, and in the absence of near-constant nagging, three out of four humans in the household have been miraculously oblivious to the mess.
Now, since she's short on cash and big on shopping, she's been noticing things that need doing:
Loading and unloading the dishwasher.
Washing and folding laundry.
Vacuuming carpets. …
But it's her father who has the big jobs.
Welding ... stuff.
"Two-fifty an hour for housework," we agree after some negotiation. But her little brother, acting as her agent, wasn’t satisfied. "Five bucks an hour for general carpentry and landscaping. That's my final offer."
His intervention was worth the extra portion she’d shaved off her dessert that evening. We would have paid more; she would have settled for less.
And I have to admit, not being the only one who cleans the cat box would be a bargain at twice the price.
But twice the price IS calling her toward my husband’s directives.
“Mom. … Can you pick up some grass seed next time you’re out? There’s a patch of lawn I want to fix.”
I think I may have to rethink my minimum wage if I want to keep her.