Q. Although I'm divorced I get no child support. My son and I are having a rough time on my salary. He really wants to help out, but where we live the people do their own yardwork and there doesn't seem to be much else available. Jack is only 12 and rather small for his age, but he is smart and can do a lot around the house.
I'm sure he knows that we can rock along without his help, but he keeps saying he wants to do "his share." Do you think I've made him feel too responsible?
A. Your son is lucky to know that he is needed. Can you imagine spending the first 16 years of your life as a taker, as if no one thought you could do anything right?
It is precisely because you have relied on Jack that he feels self-confident enough -- and obliged enough -- to do his share. This is no time to stop.
It won't matter so much if he can't get Saturday work as long as you take his offer seriously. He needs to get the same respect from you that you would give to any other friend.
To give it, help your son look not for what jobs are available, but for what he likes to do best and for what the neighborhood needs, whether anyone knows it or not.
Sit down together and consider: Are there many little children on the block? Any household with two preschoolers that needs someone to take the baby out for an hour or so in the afternoon?
The way your child identifies the neighborhood will decide the kind of service he can invent. If there are a lot of older people, they probably need a go-fer -- someone to run to the post office, to deposit their checks, to carry their groceries home or even do the marketing -- someone they can count on regularly.
The Twelve who can learn a special skill will be more in demand than anyone else, and will have an extra measure of self-esteem.
For a simple, offbeat skill, we suggest furniture revival. It is the first resort of the cabinetmaker; it can be done in an afternoon, and is much preferred by a dealer because it preserves the original finish.
Rather than let Jack use a spray wax, which can result in a terminal case of furniture acne known as fish eye, he can use soap and water to clean the wood, oil to feed it and paste wax to bring back the glow. The results are the same as a first-class refinishing job, but with much less effort. It does, however, require a patch test first.
A worn finish is too fragile for a Twelve to treat, and so is veneered or painted wood, and forget about that black southern varnish. It needs a strip job.
To revive furniture, Jack will need some rough terry toweling, a laundry detergent, 0000 steelwool and some cheap, unadvertised magic stuff called paraffin oil, which is about the weight of salad oil and is sold in old-fashioned paint stores like C. I. Smith, at 1406 P St. NW, or at their suburban outlets.
Mix 1/4 cup detergent with 1 quart of hot water. Have Jack scrub the darkest spot hard with a towel dipped in this solution, and rub until a fresh piece of cloth is nearly clean. Then rinse and let the piece dry for about an hour.
To complete the patch test, Jack should pour some paraffin oil in a bowl, dip a steel-wool pad into it and rub the scrubbed wood to complete the cleaning. As with any polish or wax, he should be taught to rub in small circles, going with the grain.
He should let the wood absorb the oil for about an hour, then wipe off the excess. If the grain is clear and the color much lighter and more vibrant, the revival has worked. The rest of the piece can be done in the same way.
After the furniture is oiled and rubbed dry, it should be smeared with a light film of bowling-alley paste wax, allowed to dry for 20 minutes and then buffed again and again until a thumbprint doesn't show when pressed on the wood.
If Jack should be asked to remove those rotten white rings from glasses, he can do it with lemon juice mixed with cigarette ashes; silver polish; toothpaste or fine automobile polishing compound -- all of which have enough grit to do the job -- followed by two new coats of paste wax.
The polishes may make the circle gleam so well, however, that the whole surface may have to be rubbed to match. And as we know from experience, it takes a lot of Crest to polish a bureau.