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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom There was a time it snowed while I was at home and my husband was at work. I did all the shoveling myself and did not ask the kids for help. It was not a dream, though it certainly doesn’t sound like me. I must have really needed to get out of the house. Much like how my children are THE ONLY kids in town who don’t have iPhones, they say they are THE ONLY children with expected snow-shoveling duties. I wish these were merely exaggerations from a teen’s perspective, but observation has shown both counts to be somewhat valid. I must confess that I never shoveled snow as a teen. I make that confession in the safety of knowing that my kids will never read this. The only thing they are less interested in than reading-in-general is reading anything I write specifically (I could tape a chore list to each of their foreheads and none of them would notice), so I am confident they will never find out my secret: By the time I was old enough to properly wield a shovel, we had moved to an apartment where we were not responsible for snow removal. Most of my kids’ friends do not have chores at home. They don’t do their own laundry, their parents still clean their rooms, and they certainly don’t have to help dig out the cars or clear the walk. My kids groan and whine about the unfairness of having to shovel, but they suit up and head out to our driveway. They know no matter how badly they perform the job, they’re not getting out of it. At the risk of being reported to DYFS, I should make my other confession: We expect our kids to help shovel and we don’t pay them for it. Shoveling the driveway so that we can continue functioning as a family is a necessary part of running a household. Like laundry, like dishes, like walking the dogs, like grocery shopping. We all do all of these things. I don’t think it’s wrong to pay a kid for helping out; the main reason we don’t pay for these necessary chores is the sheer size of our household and the fact that we’d go broke doing it. However, this doesn’t mean other people won’t pay them to help. My kids have not yet connected their desire for cash and the gold mine that lies before them in a shed full of shovels, mountains of snow and a town populated by busy parents with kids who don’t know a handle from a blade. Why should they? The oldest girls discovered they can make money babysitting without nearly as much physical exertion. The youngest girl resents having to expend the effort to move her own body off the couch in order to direct it to bed. The boy has decided that he doesn’t need to make money that badly, yet somehow he has managed to save up $54 and still gets our babysitters to buy him doughnuts. Last week’s barrage of storms gave us our own Seinfeld episode. For the hundredth time (it seemed to them) the kids were out shoveling. Our neighbor is a retired lady who lives alone. Everyone in the neighborhood pitches in to help clear her drive. The kids had done it the day before when she wasn’t home, and we talked about how it's important to help your neighbors even if they never know it was you. When they went over to help this second day in a row, one stayed behind. Whether to more thoroughly scrape our own driveway or to avoid the heavy lifting across the street is known only to her. What is known is that the lady was home that day, and came out and expressed her deep gratitude by handing every kid a 10-dollar bill. Every kid in her driveway, that is.   JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at