Why I run a paper route for less than $4/hr.

Today when I finish my day job, I will help my son, Jeremy, load a cart full of local news papers.  We will then set off around our neighborhood and deliver papers to 138 homes.  When we work together it takes almost an hour from loading the cart to cleaning up and putting everything away. And as a reward for our efforts, Jeremy will get about $8.00.  When divided by the two people working for this, it works out to $4/hr. In my estimation, that’s a crappy way to earn money.

So why do it?

news-deliveryJeremy is on the autistic spectrum, deals with anxiety and severe ADHD, and he is 14. Teaching him anything on a good day is difficult. Teaching him to do something that he doesn’t want to do is impossible (and I’m being literal there – impossible like pigs flying or Republicans liking Obama). But Jeremy is motivated by money… or the thought of money… well, when the mood strikes he could possibly be motivated by money.

A while ago Jeremy heard that there are rare earth metals used in the manufacture of computer motherboards, like iridium and gold. So he started a collecting old electronics so that he can smash them and then use a soldering iron to remove electronic bits from the motherboard. When presented with the reality that there are about $0.03 worth of value in there he doesn’t give up on the venture (autistic people don’t change gears)… he just figures that he needs 1,000s more computers to pull apart. You would not believe the amount of plastic and little bits of wire and little bits of transistors and capacitors and such piled up in his room and hallway outside his room and in our garage.

For some reason he got interested in having a paper route. He helped a friend in our neighborhood for a month and at the end of the month he got $50. That’s like enough money to buy 100 garbage computers. He got excited, and then he heard that the friend got wise to how crappy the pay was for the effort and was quitting. A few days later I got a call from The Langley Times and they asked if I was ok with Jeremy running a paper route and they needed to confirm something about his address because he was getting a paper route starting the next week.

Jeremy somehow figured out which newspaper was in question, found the phone number for the paper, called and asked to talk to the person responsible for hiring paper boys, talked to them and got his name on the waiting list for the paper route… all on his very own. This is a remarkable feat for him. How was I going to say “no” to that kind of initiative?

So the first day I ran the route with him, partly to help him, and partly to make sure that he actually knew what was required of him. There are two things that I got out of that first day that have convinced me that there is no better use of my time than running a paper route with my son.

First off, I saw some of his brilliance.  Not only did he know the job, but it turns out that he may have an eidetic memory. He remembered all of the homes that have special instructions (deliver two here, put this one under the mat, don’t deliver to this house, etc), and there are a few.  I’ve been doing the route with him for almost two months now and I still can’t remember half of the instructions, but I can ask him and he always knows and never looks at the instruction sheet. In all the effort of raising him, I don’t often get to enjoy his gifts, and too often am focused on redirecting and correcting, which leads to constant tension between us.  I get to just enjoy what makes him great when we run the route together.

Secondly, I get to teach him something valuable in a way that means something to him. The first day that we had the route, I put on actual running shoes, grabbed a stack of papers and ran… with haste. Jeremy kind of ran to keep up with me as we each delivered papers to opposite sides of a street.  When we finally met again to get more papers from the cart he asked between pants and heaving breathing why I was running.  I told him, “I only know one way to work, and that’s to work hard.”, and with that I turned around and kept running. He kind of ran / walked the rest of that day.

I realized during that first day that I was going to teach my son something valuable. My dad didn’t teach me everything I needed to know about life. But there are a few things that my dad did teach me that I only know because of him. One of those things is to work hard. Not just to work hard, but to work harder and smarter than anyone else around. Not in the context of a competition, but that I am capable of hard work and hard work pays off.

I remember my dad working along side other people, building a church in Mississippi when I was a little boy.  He was part of a work bee, hanging dry wall and painting and there were guys there that were bigger and stronger and more experienced, but he kept up with them. Then he would go back the next night when no one else was there and do more. He would come early and stay late and didn’t take breaks till the job was done. Not only is that church building still standing 30 years later, but it withstood the eye of hurricane Katrina and was used as part of the staging ground for disaster recovery. Seems like a well-built church to me.

That kind of working hard has opened a lot of doors for me in my life. I don’t care if Jeremy delivers papers or not. It really isn’t a great way to make money. I do care that he learns what I learned about working hard. So I run beside him (or slightly in front of him) and show him what I think working hard is all about. After almost two months it takes a considerable effort to stay ahead of him, because when he’s about to deliver papers, he puts on his running shoes.

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