In one of the dark days of a winter break that seemed to last a particularly long time, I took the children (including the cousins who were visiting) to the Lego Store to buy each a set to keep them busy for a few hours. Once home, my youngest daughter needed my help with her building (so much for my “me” time). Just when I thought that we were done (though it didn’t look anything like the picture), she pulled out a second bag. At that point, I informed her that we could continue tomorrow, and won’t that be fun to look forward to. Anyway, a little while later she came to me to ask for a dollar. Normally this would set off red flags, but it had been a long vacation, so I just gave her the dollar.
Soon after, she returned to me with her full set built. This was impressive but highly suspicious since it took the two of us much longer to build the first bag. It turns out she subcontracted it to her cousin. For only $1.00, she told me, she got the whole set done.
This filled me with angst. All of a sudden, in my five-year-old’s innocent eyes, I saw a future college student paying someone for a paper (“Mom, I got a deal on this term paper for only $20.00”). I explained to her that the whole point of the set was to build it herself. She patiently reminded me that she couldn’t finish it independently. I replied that the point is to learn, to practice, to engage with the toy. What good is the Lego set now, I asked? She said matter-of-factly that it was now complete, and she can finally play with it.
Have I taught my daughter that you can just outsource the difficult? Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading Arlie Hochschild’s The Outsourced Self a bit too closely, but I’m worried about a next generation that can easily find others to do things for them. To make the point, I never buy those ready-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Of course, I have been known to hire a babysitter now and then just to avoid the miserable night-time routine and not come home until the babysitter has texted the “all-clear.” Wouldn’t some people say that my buying the Legos in the first place was outsourcing the entertaining of the children to a global company’s product?
My husband says that I’m seeing this all from the perspective of a college professor drained from a semester of grading. Instead, he thinks our daughter is displaying strong business acumen. It was not worth her time to try to piece the set together with assistance, so she paid to have it completed. To her, the final product was worth more than the process.
I’ve decided to see this as an opportunity for my daughter to explore the nature of the work (play)-life balance in her life. One may think that a five-year old’s life is all play, but times clearly have changed. Maybe, by the time she is 40, she will have sorted all this out.
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