Why work? That’s what Coraline asks me. To be fair, she also asks, Why pee? Why hot? Why cook? Why this? Why…why…why? Yep, we’ve entered into the age of Why, which is great. I ask why questions too: Why do kids ask why? I think I have an answer for that. Everyone attributes it to curiosity, which I don’t disagree with, but I think it starts out as something slightly different. At first, kids ask why simply because it elicits a response. It feels, to them, like a conversation even when they don’t have enough words to actually maintain a conversation. This can be really frustrating because Coraline usually doesn’t even listen to the response, so half the time we just say, “Monkeys” and she moves right along.
But when exactly will it switch from a seemingly meaningless call and response to full blown, legitimate curiosity? When will she really start listening to the answers and understanding them? I don’t want to miss that transition and kill her curiosity and eagerness for exploration by telling her “Monkeys.” So I’m trying to answer her questions honestly and thoughtfully. Sometimes that means trying to explain complex things using only words a two year old knows. Sometimes it means using complex words and ideas, knowing she won’t understand but that she’ll begin to understand the more she hears it. And I know she’ll ask again, and again, and again.
I don’t want to tell Coraline that I work to make money, although it seems like an easy enough answer. Sunny and I are putting together a plan for how to teach Coraline and Mazlo about money, but right now I want her to see the world without the money filter. That filter will come soon enough, and we hope to teach her to recognize life’s beauty even after she’s forced to view it through the filter. When Coraline asks, “Why work?” I start asking myself Why questions as well. Why do we have money? Why do we have jobs? Both are social constructs invented by humans to create order. We’ve invented this whole structure, this economy, if you will, and I wonder what work would look like if it weren’t based on money and punching a clock. The work would still need to get done. We would still do it even if we weren’t getting paid. So why work, then? Maybe that’s…what’s the opposite of cynical? Childish?
I work at Trader Joe’s, in case you’re new to this blog and didn’t already know that, so what I tell Coraline is that I put food on the shelves so that people can come get the food and take it home. I feed people. Sometimes I talk about the food we donate to people in need. Sometimes I go into detail about the trucks that deliver the food and the pallets I break down. And sometimes I just say “Eat.” Because when I turn it around and ask her why I go to work, that’s what she says. I’m not sure if she’s taking all the details into consideration and boiling it down to people getting food so they can take it home and eat it or if she’s simply thinking about getting a sample from the demo station, but I think her curiosity is developing. But that’s why I work: to feed people.
I’ve always been a fairly inquisitive person. I’ve asked why when everyone else has just gone with the flow. Not that I’ve always been bright enough to ask why at the right times. There are people asking why to things I’ve never thought to question. Now I ask why every single time I make a purchase. Why buy a new car? Why go out to eat? Why buy that candy bar they placed in front of you at the checkout line? And sometimes the answer is what Coraline normally says: Fun. Because it’s important to still have fun. But sometimes the answer is that spending that extra dollar now means working longer later when I could be home with my family. Or better yet, going on adventures with my family.