A few weeks before his ninth birthday, my son informed me that he was ready for a job. A real job, for real pay, out in the real world. I explained that B.C.’s Ministry of Labour frowns on almost-nine-year-olds getting real jobs, but he and his 10-year-old sister would not be deterred. They were ready to earn some money.

The two began brainstorming, and ran their ideas past me once they had a list. A lemonade stand? Not enough foot traffic on our semi-rural road. Raising hens and selling eggs? More work than their mother was willing to oversee at this point in time. A garage sale? There wouldn’t be much to sell, since we’d just given away the surplus from a major pare-down.

“What about a paper route?” my daughter asked.

I called the circulation manager of our small local paper, and got the details. Yes, nine- and 10-year-olds could have paper routes with the permission and/or assistance of a parent. The pay was modest, but there were no collections, early morning delivery wasn’t required, and it was only a once-weekly commitment.

Like many families we tend to overfill our calendar, so I’m increasingly careful about what we take on. But a paper route had immediate appeal. Instead of being out of pocket for yet another extracurricular activity, my kids would be paid for their time. They would be exercising, while at the same time learning about responsibility and the importance of doing a job well. They could work on their organizational skills, contribute to the community in a tangible way, and hopefully gain a sense of accomplishment. And since they would be sharing a single route, it would give them an opportunity to practice their interpersonal skills as siblings.

Their first day on the job started auspiciously. It was a bright summer morning, and the bundled newspapers were waiting by our front door when they woke. They ate a hearty breakfast, and plunged into their first task: folding each thick paper and securing it with a rubber band. After watching things proceed at a snail’s pace, I couldn’t stop myself from jumping in.

“Just this once,” I assured them, as I organized an efficient assembly line.

Our departure wasn’t quite as smooth as I’d hoped, but eventually we made it out the door. Sunblock? Check. Hats and hi-vis vests? Check. Water bottles and snacks? Check. Everyone been to the bathroom? Good. Sturdy footwear? No, you can’t wear flip-flops to deliver 65 heavy, flyer-stuffed papers!

The kids loaded their bags into the back of our van, and we set off for the neighbourhood across the highway. I’d agreed in advance to provide transportation, and to serve as a human pack-mule for part of the route. The kids would be responsible for the actual delivery of each newspaper.

The route—an elongated “u”—looked straightforward enough on paper. My plan was to park the van at the top of the “u” for the first half of the route, then move down to the bottom so the kids could deliver the second half of their papers. The reality wasn’t quite so simple, however. About half the houses on the long first block actually faced the alley behind the street, but this wasn’t clear to us until we’d nearly reached the end of the block. In the meantime, my son and daughter had expended a significant amount of time ascending each steep driveway in the hot summer sun, searching for a front door or other logical place to leave a paper.

From preparation to delivery, it took us three sweaty hours to complete the route that first day. Stomachs were grumbling and tempers were fraying by the time we returned home. But we’d added some helpful notes to our route map, and I assured my discouraged kids that they could be much more efficient the following week.

But efficiency isn’t really in the vocabulary of nine and 10-year-olds. By making adjustments to how they tackled the route, they managed to shave off some time in the weeks that followed. But I found myself struggling with impatience as I waited at every step of the process, waited for my kids to band their papers, waited for them to load the van, waited as they ambled slowly up and down each driveway.

My impatience finally spilled over one day as I waited for my son to get his shoes on so we could leave—a task that was taking an inordinate amount of time. “Son, you are the pokiest creature I know!” I said with exasperation. His face fell, and I immediately wished I could retract my words.

The paper route had turned out to be a significant amount of work—more than either of my kids had anticipated. And yet as grumpy as they might get when things didn’t go smoothly, they’d never talked about quitting. They were both proud of the job they’d taken on, the responsibility it entailed, and the money they were earning. My son had been feeling like a grown-up as he prepared for his route, and in an instant my words had deflated him.

I apologized, and then told both children how proud of them I was, and why. I asked if we could push the re-start button (which gets frequent use in our house), and we set off.

As it turns out, the paper route has been as much a learning experience for me as it has been for my kids. My son and daughter move at their own pace, no matter how I try to speed them along. But they get the job done, and that’s what matters. I’ve had to revise the time I mentally allow for the route, having consciously decided that this extra time is worth it. I’d like to say that I’ve developed the patience of a Zen master as the weeks have passed, but I’m still working on it—one flyer-stuffed paper at a time.

Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at islandparent.ca.