Growing up in the Trudelle family, chores were a nonnegotiable part of the experience…
But the day my brother Peter discovered his natural salesmanship skills, he became determined to hack the system. Already speaking like an entrepreneur before middleschool, his vocabulary started including words like ‘outsource,’ ‘delegate,’ and ‘market value,’ by age 12. I’m pretty sure he only used the term market value, to trade for more gourmet lunch options on the playground. But pot-stickers aside, like any good young businessman, he always had a lineup of strategies, especially when it came to chores. First, he pitched the idea of using his allowance money to employ other siblings to do the housework that he considered to be highly unskilled labor. My parents denied the request however, believing that a child’s motivation to complete chores should arise out of the goodness of their heart to contribute to the family, not from bribery. They let him know that willing collaboration was fine, but just no cash payment plans. They said this part about collaboration, with the assumption that no child in their right mind would take on extra chores just for fun. But true to form, Peter started scheming.
Approximately a week after the denied parental proposal, Peter approached Marie and I, ages 5 and 8 respectively, holding two postcards in his hands.
“ I got the mail on my way home from school today, and look what I found,” he said trying to sound casual.
This immediately caught our attention. At that age, the infrequent delivery of snail mail consisted mostly of birthday invitations or letters from relatives. Eagerly grasping the postcards from his hands, I started reading to Marie.
“Welcome to trash club?” I started, bewildered.
“It’s official,” he enthused. “It’s a club where you take out the trash, and the headquarters are in Boulder, Colorado. They are offering you guys free membership with benefits!”
As I’m sure he predicted, Marie and I felt honored to be included in such a limited and exclusive club.
“Wait, are you a member too, Pete?” Marie asked.
“Yup, I’m actually the Portola Valley branch manager and the club functions remotely, so you guys will be working for me.”
Gullible and enthusiastic, we jumped at the opportunity to sign up. Laura had basketball practice, and Johnny was too young to join, but Steve merely shook his head in jealousy and disbelief at his younger brother’s clever ability to ‘hack the system’ and outsource his chores. Except by the time Steve voiced the complaint to our parents, it was too late.
Within two weeks the trash club sky rocketed with success like a Silicon Valley start up company. Every Monday night, we met for a brief meeting and then scattered throughout the house to collect trash and recycling from each bedroom. Gathering again outside, Peter hoisted the large trash bins onto an old wheel barrow, and the three of us treked the seemingly long driveway wheeling the garbage behind us in tow. After the drop off on the street, we cashed in on our first company benefit which was, the secret wheelie ride. Technically the wheel barrow was intended for transportation purposes only, but deciding it was better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission, we had other ideas. Marie and I double stacked ourselves inside, and Peter pushed us back down the driveway yelling, “Who’s driving this flyin’ umbrella?!” To commence the weekly meeting, he gave us one gumball each from the mini machine in his room, and a high five for good measure.
As the weeks continued, the positive enthusiasm for the group kept climbing. Marie and I received weekly post cards of encouragement from “Boulder,” and Peter even started a ‘tailgate party’ before each meeting. Strutting throughout the house with a portable stereo blasting the Jurassic park theme song and jock jam tracks, he became an inspirational coach.
“Let’s get this party started! Who’s excited its Monday? Trash club, best day of the week!”
Enchanted by the club’s exclusivity, the wheelie ride, and gumball treat at the end, Marie and I were highly loyal and satisfied club members. Except one week the wheel barrow crashed. Laughing with the wind in our faces, and addicted to the adrenaline rush, we shouted for him to run faster. Stepping up to the challenge, he kicked his push sprint into another gear. But the wheelbarrow, unable to handle the speed on the turn, tipped sideways with the two of us toppling out onto the pavement. Marie and I tried to hold back tears, and Peter’s pale face showed he felt terrible. Taking a walk of shame back inside, we attempted to sneak into our parents bathroom for a quick clean up of the scrapes. Except when we ran into our Dad, he obviously wanted to know why we needed bandages, which in turn prompted a family discussion about the trash duties.
“Pete, is it really that hard for you to take the trash out by yourself?” Dad asked, “I mean Chrissa already has other chores, and Marie has barely been introduced into the rotation”
“Nah, it’s not that hard, but I don’t really like taking the trash out by myself,” Peter responded.
“Are the bins too heavy?” Asked Mom
“No, they’re fine.”
“Well what is it then?” Dad pressed, trying to discover to the center of the problem.
“It’s just…I’m kind of…” Pete began hesitantly and trailed off.
“I’m afraid of the dark.”