"I've made all the beds," announces Anne, "Hilary's was extremely difficult because she'd got her sheet all tangled up with the blankets again. I've even," she adds, pointedly, "made yours."
"And I've washed all he dishes and Little Nan has dried them all and put them all away - except for the saucepans, because neither of us could reach the cupboards. Even Steven cleared the table,"
"What would you like us to do for you now?" they chorus in unison.
If, at this point, anyone is feeling shocked and horrified to hear of such heartless exploitation of small children's willingness to help and desire to please; if anyone is imagining me, lolling in an armchair, polishing my nails while issuing long
lists of instructions to my own slave labour force - I feel I should explain that the only person being exploited around here is me. What is more, as it is all for a good cause, I cannot think of anything I can do about it.
It started when they brought home their Lent boxes from Sunday School. "We're collecting for the children of Bangladesh this year," said Anne, "but this year we've had a really good idea. We've been talking about it on the way home.
We're not going to ask you to give us any money to put in our boxes..."
"You're not?" - cautiously.
"No - we're going to work for it. Every
time we do a job for you, you pay us a certain amount for it. We're going to give up our spare time for Lent," she pronounced, piously.
"Not ALL of our spare time," amended Hilary, the realist.
"But most of it," corrected Anne, the determined.
As one who has always maintained that I would rather my children possessed caring natures than brains
or beauty, I could only give my support to this highly laudable project.
But, oh, what problems it has raised in our household. What delicate pay negotiations are now transacted each and every morning
at the breakfast table (laid with all the knives, forks and spoons pointing in the wrong direction by Steven, who is determined to do his bit for the children of "Bungled Dish.")
The wrangles which
I have to resolve each day would take a Trade Union Congress all of a week to settle in an uneasy and short-lived compromise. For instance, do the difficulties involved in making bunk beds warrant additional payment on that for making up an ordinary divan?
And is a double bed counted as one bed, for the purposes of payment, or two? Or should they, perhaps, charge per blanket?
Is it fair to ask the same price for washing up after dinner for six,
as after tea and toast for four? If drying the dishes, should this include putting everything away in the cupboards or can this be charged separately? If cleaning shoes is worth 10p, how much more for cleaning knee-high boots? And if those same knee-high boots
have become mud encrusted through taking the short cut home from school across the playing field, does this merit extra payment for the work involved or does it serve you right for trying to save five minutes, when you have been told to come the long way round
during the winter?
When undertaking the shopping, should they charge per trip, or per shop, or per bag to be carried home? Or a percentage of the money spent? Does Saturday shopping - coping with queues
at the check-out stretching halfway round the shop - deserve a higher rate of pay? Any moment now and they will institute a bonus system and then I will be lost.
We have had a week of this so far and
I have absolutely no change left in my purse - though the Bungled Dish boxes are chinking nicely. It might be cheaper, in the long run, to engage an au pair.
There are advantages: the beds are made
earlier than ever before, the draining board has never been clearer of crockery; their shoes have never been cleaner, nor their bedrooms tidier.
But whatever happened to labours of love? "Run and fetch
my slippers, love," said their weary, homecoming father. The response was automatic and unthinking: "What's it worth?" asked Anne.
Slough Evening Mail: March 11 1976