The second edition story about the time my older brother, Peter, hacked the family chore system by sucessfully recruiting his siblings to do the chores for him.
Growing up in the Trudelle family, household chores served as necessary, and nonnegotiable, part of the experience. For most of us, that is; my older brother Peter was a born negotiator. The day Peter discovered his natural salesmanship skills, he determinedly sought to crack the chore system. Speaking like a true aspiring entrepreneur even before middle school, his vocabulary already included words like ‘outsource,’ ‘delegate,’ and ‘market value.’ Now, I’m pretty sure he only used the term market value while trading his basic lunch bag for another kid’s country club deli sandwich—in order to better fuel his recess four square game, of course. But sandwiches aside, Peter always managed to have a lineup of strategies: especially when it came to housework which he regarded as highly unskilled labor.
When he first pitched the idea of employing us younger siblings to do the chores for him, my parents denied his request. They believed a child’s chore motivation should arise not from bribery, but out of a supposedly natural desire to contribute to one’s family. Vetoing cash payment plans, they stated that any chore assistance given would only come through the form of willing collaboration. Of course, they said this assuming no child in their right mind would take on extra chores, just for fun. Unfazed, Peter kept scheming.
Approximately a week after the denied parental proposal, Peter approached Marie and I, ages 5 and 8 respectively, to hand us each a postcard. “Look what came in the mail today,” he said, trying to sound casual. Immediately, Marie and I stopped everything to focus. In elementary school, personalized snail mail usually meant birthday invitations, or delayed Christmas cash from relatives.
“Welcome to trash club?” I paused, already bewildered by the first line.
“It’s official,” Peter enthused. “Check it out! It’s a club, where you take out the trash. The headquarters are in Boulder, Colorado and they are offering you guys free membership, with benefits.”
“Wait, Pete. Are you a member too?” Marie asked.
“Yup, I’m actually the Portola Valley branch manager, and the club functions remotely, so you guys will be working for me.”
Just as I’m sure he planned, Marie and I felt honored to be included in such a limited and exclusive club. Gullible and enthusiastic, we jumped at the opportunity to sign up.
Peter had also tried recruiting the other siblings, but with them, he had no such luck. Laura guarded her homework time with utmost seriousness, and Johnny was barely old enough to give verbal consent, let alone speak. This left Steve, the eldest of our clan, shaking his head in jealousy and disbelief at his younger brother’s unfair success at escaping his chores. However, by the time Steve voiced a complaint to our parents, it was too late.
Within two weeks the trash club skyrocketed with success like a Silicon Valley start-up company. Every Monday night the three of us met for a brief meeting before scattering throughout the house to collect the trash and recycling from each bedroom. Reconvening once more outside, Peter would hoist the large trash bins onto an old wheelbarrow, and then we trekked the long driveway pushing the garbage in front of us. Following the street side drop off, Marie and I could cash in on our premium membership benefits. Our favorite was the secret wheelie ride back to the house.
Technically, the wheelbarrow was intended for transportation purposes only. However, we decided it better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission, and let the technicalities slide. With Marie and I double stacked in the wheelbarrow, Peter pushed us back home as fast as he could while quoting Robin hood, and shouting, “who’s driving this flyin’ umbrella?!” To close the weekly meeting, Peter gave us one gumball each, and a high-five for good measure.
As the weeks continued, the group’s positive enthusiasm kept climbing. Marie and I received encouraging postcards from the “headquarters,” and Peter started leading tailgate parties before each meeting. Strutting throughout the house like an inspirational coach, he blasted Jock Jams—and, also songs from Jurassic park—from his portable stereo. “Who’s excited it’s Monday?” He would ask, in a booming radio announcer voice. “Best day of the week! Welcome to trash club. Let’s get this party started!”
Enchanted by the club’s exclusivity, the wheelbarrow ride, and the special gumball treat at the end, Marie and I were loyal and satisfied club members. We thoroughly enjoyed the club while it lasted, however, the trash club start up company—like most bubble cultures—eventually, burst.
One week during the wheelbarrow ride, as Marie and I laughed with adrenaline in our veins, and the wind in our faces, we dared Peter to go faster. Stepping up to the challenge, he kicked his sled-push sprint into another gear. The wheelbarrow, however, was unable to handle the speed on the turn and tipped sideways leaving all three of us to topple onto the pavement. Marie and I slowly stood up trying to hold back tears and Peter’s face grew paler by the moment.
Taking a walk of shame back inside, we attempted to sneak into our parent’s bathroom for a quick mending of our scrapes. We should have known this already, but our house was always far too small to keep secrets, and we bumped into our Dad in the hallway. As expected, he wanted to know why we were holding Band-Aids and Neosporin in our hands. This, 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,” Peter said. “I just don’t really like doing it alone.”
“Maybe the bins too heavy, for him.” Mom suggested, in genuine concern.
“Eh, they’re fine,” Peter said. “I lift the bins by myself, anyway.”
“Well, what is it then?” Dad pressed on.
“It’s just…I’m kind of…” Peter began speaking and then trailed off.
“I’m afraid of the dark.”