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An Age-Based Guide to Children's Chores

Marissa Lingen is the author of a great many short stories, poems, and essays, most of which speculate in some direction. She lives in the Minneapolis suburbs with her family. She has very particular tastes in tisanes, Moomins, and foliage-themed jewelry.

After the exhausting panic of the newborn years--and the still more exhausting panic of toddlerhood--parents face a unique difficulty of childhood: how to assign appropriate chores to their offspring. This handy guide should give you a rough outline, based on age, of what is appropriate for your children's duties, both to assist the family and to learn needed skills themselves. All chores should, of course, be adjusted to the child's size, strength, skill level, and stubbornness in avoiding the whole process. Good luck. Really: absolute best of luck.
The Stone Age. Staying alive is a chore, kid.
The Iron Age. Children are largely assumed to be able to handle any chore they can physically accomplish. Can your child hold an axe? Thumbs up to sending them out to chop wood--or at least as many thumbs as they have left. Can your child walk? They can walk behind the ox that plows your grain. Ideally not under its hooves. It's fine, it's all fine. And by "it's fine," we mean: you have no choice.
The Steam Age. Chores become more specialized at this exciting age. Popular chores for young children involve mill work, mine work, and hand labor in the home, creating everything from lace to matchsticks. Children of this era are a very useful asset to family life, though unfortunately often considered an expendable one until the family discovers firsthand that not all factory parts, i.e. offspring, are as fungible as hoped.
The Atomic Age. In the early part of the Atomic Age, children's chores are often focused on small-scale machinery, including the maintenance of prairie monocultures in the immediate vicinity of the home. Later in the Atomic Age, chores may expand to include reactor maintenance and proper neutralization of radioactive waste. The smallest of children sometimes struggle with these chores, but they are crucial to the functioning of nuclear-focused society. The term nuclear family is not meant to indicate the size of explosions involved in interfamily conflict about whose turn it is to do the dishes or laundry. This correlation is entirely incidental.
The Solar Age. The children of the Solar Age return to walking behind the oxen. Like their ancestors, they knit and forage. They scramble up the barn pole, this time to clean debris off the panels. They compare crop yield with children across the planet and share schematics for fanciful dwellings their parents will never allow them to build, unless they sneak off to the forest to make their own fungus-crusted hideaways on the ruins of their parents' attempts, on the ruins of their ancestors' corporate offices. Solar Age children have shoveled too much compost to be utopians and planted too many trees to be dystopians. Of any age of child, this is the age whose arguments about turn-taking take on a labyrinthine complication. By the time you have resolved in your own mind whether it is in fact their turn to feed the chickens, they are deep in the blackberry patch and cannot hear you. Or will confidently assert that they cannot.
The Gene Age. In the Gene Age, the oxen will walk side by side with the children and teach them calculus. The lion may or may not lie down with the lamb, depending on which lion, what it has been engineered to produce in its mane, and whether someone's eight-year-old remembered to let it out after lunch. Older teens may do their own share of gene design, though this is a frequent source of parent-child conflict, as parental choices for modifications to the family dog or fern are probably boring, old-fashioned, and lacking in the essential panache in which any three-blooded panhuman child takes pride.
A Wind Age, A Wolf Age. You may hope that this will be a metaphor rather than literal Ragnarok. It may be best to school your children in such useful skills as talking to birds and riddle contests with frost giants. Do they know how to weave the threads of fate? Perhaps teach them to do that, and to alliterate like a mead-drunk Valkyrie. Just in case.
The Space Age. Not to be mistaken for the portion of the Atomic Age in which humans wandered near-earth orbit in extensive machinery. In the Space Age, humans wander near-earth orbit without extensive machinery. The first time any parent sends a child out to clear debris from near orbit is always nerve-wracking, but their reflexes are so much faster than adult reflexes for swiping passing flotsam out of space, and the vast majority of the vacuum-hardening gene mods really have been taking for two whole ages now. Go tidy the comets, there's a love.
The Age of Time Travel. Any and all previous chores are welcome, but the most crucial chores of a child of the Age of Time Travel are and will be holding the timeline intact in their head. Surely you remember Cousin Mercy, sweetheart? A Time Age child must unhesitatingly know, or all the timeline is lost. Haven't we read this book before a million times? Answer truthfully: it must not be a million and one. Do not falter. Do not fail. All the ages of humanity are in your tiny hands, Time Child. We will try not to be too much of a chore.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2022

Author Comments

This piece started in my head as kind of a joke, but the more I worked on it, the more I felt like I had things to say that were not particularly silly, about how we've thought of children and how I hope we will think of them, what kind of work we ask them to do and what kind of world we're passing on to them.

- Marissa Lingen
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