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Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out. –Mary Schmich



For the past couple of years my son has begged during the Christmas hols to work at my café so that he can earn a little extra pocket money.

Only problem is he was nine when he first started asking…and well… although my capitalist heart beats to the sound of cheap labour even I knew that would be breaking some terribly important child protection laws…

But he was devo when I said no, so one day I allowed him to tag along with me and armed with a green-cloth set him about cleaning vacated tables and flat-packing cardboard boxes for recycling… all under my eagle eye.

Last year he even asked for a work uniform. He’s a tall lad, in fact at ten he was taller than some of the fully grown staff I’ve hired and he looked so terribly eager that I thought…well what was the harm?

The manager bossed him around good and proper, told him he wasn’t allowed anywhere near the kitchen and sent him off to empty bins and clear tables. Surprisingly he was actually quite good at having a chat to the customers as he cleared away their little messes, and as his parent I was right pleased at how well he conducted himself for someone so young.

An elderly lady took the time to tell him he was doing a very good job, then her husband asked,

“How old are you sonny?”

“I’m ten” he answered.

“And do you work here?” the old man said.

I suddenly had a nooooooooooooooo-in-slow-motion-moment as I heard him answer proudly…

“Yes, yes I do.”

I could have swore that the old man dropped a wrinkly little F-bomb as they turned and walked away mumbling something along the lines of ‘damn cheek the owner has’… and I remained on high-alert for a letter from child services for the next three months.


Luckily none arrived.


At home that afternoon my son was busy telling a relative about his “new job”, and this relative, being the stirrer that he is, got my son all fired up…

“So how much do you get paid?” the stirrer said.

“Mum gives me five dollars an hour.” my boy proudly answered.

“What? Only five dollars?” the stirrer said with a mock-astonished tone to his voice, “Mate, you’re getting ripped off!”

“I am?” my son answered, puzzled “What do you think I should be getting?”

“Geez well your mum owns that café, let’s see, she should at least pay you ten bucks an hour.”


I sat waiting for a call from the Shop-assistants union… and sure enough it came a little later that night…


“Mum,” my son said with an exceptionally brave look on his face, “can we talk?”

“Of course.” I said…knowing exactly what was coming.

“Well I’ve been thinking about work [...you know I'm trying very hard to stifle a giggle and keep a straight face at this point...] and I think I probably should get at least ten dollars an hour.”

“Hmm,” I answered casually, “you know, you’re probably right. Sounds only fair.”

My son looked jubilant.

“But,” I continued “if I give you a pay rise then we need to consider the cost of the things you eat and drink when you’re supposed to be working… so let’s see, you had an iced chocolate and cinnamon scroll at the start of your ‘shift’ today… then you had a sausage roll… oh and a bottle of water… and when you left you took a banana muffin…so let’s see that adds up to…hmmm… oh imagine that…you actually owe me six dollars and forty-five cents.”

I hold out my hand.

“Oh,” my son said “on second thoughts I think I’m pretty happy with the five dollars an hour… ”

Thought so! I think to myself as I watch him sheepishly backing out of the room…

One Response to “lessons in cold hard cash”

  1. Quadelle says:

    I started working in my dad’s restaurant at age 10, too. It was a good experience for me. Sounds like it is for your son, too.

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