Child Labor Dos and Don’ts

There’s no replacing work experience when it comes to developing a can-do attitude and emotional fortitude. Need ideas? Here’s an annotated list of the positions I held before I turned 22. Don’t let your kid miss out. Get that little scamp a job!

Age Position Location What I Learned
10 Picking strawberries $2.00/ flat (a flat is eight quarts) St. Helens, Oregon Wear long pants. Kneeling on dirt clods all day is hard. 
11 Picking blueberries $0.15/pound Silverton, Oregon Pick clean, because you’re going to have to sort out the stems and leaves before you weigh in and get paid.
12 Babysitting – $2.00/hour (Less than you’d get for a flat of strawberries, but you can stand up the whole time!) Silverton, Oregon Adults can be mean. When you get a finger stuck so far in the top of a baby wipe dispenser lid that blood is running down your hand, and you manage to cut the lid off with scissors without hurting yourself, the baby, or the three-year-old, all you get is yelled at for ruining the lid.
13 Babysitting5.25/hour on a contract with the state of Oregon in a diversion program for parents convicted of child abuse, for two years, several nights per week, year-round. Woodburn, Oregon and Salem, Oregon When you work on a contract, it’s fine if you’re only 13, because you’re working for yourself, and the state doesn’t think to check if you’re legally old enough to employ yourself. When you work with abused kids, they give you an outline of a body on a piece of paper so you can accurately mark down the locations of any bruises for social workers to investigate. 
15 Take-and-Bake Italian Pizza Kitchen$5.25/hour Silverton, Oregon How to measure sixteen ounces of shredded mozzarella without even having to look at the scale. How to adjust your 16-year-old co-worker’s pants button with a hair elastic, because she’s pregnant, and $5.25 an hour doesn’t buy a lot of maternity pants. 
17 Iris Farm$5.25/hour, usually 7am-5pm, and sometimes even longer, because they don’t have to pay overtime for agricultural work. 
Unearned bonus: If you are white and speak English, they will actually pay you for all of your hours.
Silverton, Oregon How to plant, harvest, sort, trim, pack, and ship tall bearded iris rhizomes. How to drive a Mitsubishi Fuso truck. How to avoid being molested by the owners’ son, whose daughter is your age, and is your co-worker. How to avoid getting run over by the guy with alcoholism who drives the pesticide sprayer, and where that guy hides some pesticides behind a false wall for when OSHA comes around. How to step in and scribe for migrant co-workers who speak Spanish and never got a chance to go to school, without making anyone feel embarrassed, because if you’d never gone to school, you wouldn’t be able to read or write, either.
17 University Food Services$7.50/hour Providence, Rhode Island How to smile and nod without making eye contact with lacrosse players. How to sling a steam table pan without getting burned. How to clean throughout the shift so you can finish up with fifteen extra minutes for homework.
18 Iris Farm, again$5.25/hour Silverton, Oregon When spraying iris rhizomes destined for export to Japan with extra-strong antifungals, there is no way to prevent your hand from turning into a frozen claw—the sprayer nozzle is so cold, and it’s made for people with bigger hands, and when you hold it for eight or nine hours with two ten-minute breaks and one thirty-minute lunch, your hand unavoidably seizes up.
18 University Café$11/hour Providence, Rhode Island How to feed yourself without paying for a meal plan: Show up early to the campus dining outlet where you work and eat before the shift, and maybe hide some rolls under your apron for later.
18 University Catering$11.50/hour Providence, Rhode Island How to deal with getting gum stuck in the pocket of your white catering dress shirt: Just cut it out—the black apron covers it, and nobody can tell. How to work a full-five hour shift with a broken bone in your foot after a cart of cases of beer tips over and crushes you. How to get a drunk academic back into his tuxedo without anyone getting angry.
19 University Catering: Graduation Edition$11.50/hour Providence, Rhode Island If you sign up to work for 33 hours straight at a graduation weekend, starting one morning at 6am, by the time you’ve been standing for 26 hours, your legs will shake and the soles of your feet may look bruised. By the 30-hour mark, you’ll be almost catatonic and will finally grasp that it’s possible to work too much.
19 Arts & Crafts Counselor,$700/summer Casco, Maine When you put the kiln back together after it arrives from being serviced before the campers come, notice that the company forgot to return the stand it sits on. Otherwise, when you do a glaze firing, the kiln will get hot enough to burn a hexagonal hole through the arts cabin wood floor, and all of the camp staff who actually attended the camp and feel highly attached to it will shoot you dirty looks for the rest of the summer.
19 University Café Shift Manager$12.50/hour Providence, Rhode Island When professors see you working in a café, they may believe you can cook, even though the café soups come from 5-gallon plastic bags, and the cookies are baked from pre-made, frozen pucks; they may offer you a job being their cook on an archaeological dig in Sicily.
20 Figure-Drawing Model$10/hr Providence, Rhode Island Not all men are creeps. This art professor will treat you really nicely and play steel guitar over Lucinda Williams records during breaks, even though his crumbling basement studio resembles the lair of a serial predator.
20 LEDS Operator, Department of Services to Children and Families$15/hr Salem, Oregon The Law Enforcement Data System allows trained operators such as yourself to use Social Security numbers to review the criminal records of would-be foster parents, which print out on connected sheets of dot-matrix paper. Approximately one in every forty-five applicants has a criminal record that’s longer than you are tall (5’7”). 
20 Program Assistant$14/hr Providence, Rhode Island When university presidents take on volunteer positions like chairing a search for a new superintendent of public schools, they don’t actually do all of the work themselves. They name a “Special Assistant to the President,” and that person hires their own assistant. It is possible to work 40-50 hours per week and still take four college classes, so long as you do almost nothing else.
21 Archaeological Dig Cook $1500/summer, plus airfare Ustica, Sicily, Italy In remote Italian towns, the only ingredients available are for Italian food, and when a person puts a thick sauce like pesto on a filled pasta like tortellini, Italians will scoff and say, “Non è giusto,” which means something like “That’s morally unacceptable,” and even after they have tasted it and allowed that it’s perfectly fine—delicious, even—they will shake their heads at you sorrowfully.
21 Program Manager, Tech Marketing, $28,000 per year Portland, Oregon When a colleague quits, you can offer to do their job and yours, but the company won’t pay you both salaries, which is what you’d imagined when you offered. However, it is possible to do up to 2.5 jobs at the same time with no particular trouble, and they do pay you just a bit more.

Katharine Hill lives in Brooklyn with her family and tiny dog, Old Salty the Bellhop. 

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