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If I start doing weird things like expecting someone else to cook dinner or singing, "I am woman! Hear me roar" -- at the top of my lungs, you will have to excuse me. See, I've just been liberated. Well, actually it began this past spring when I got a job -- not a freelance assignment, mind you. And not a temporary office gig of the sort I'd been doing the past several years to be available for my three young kids. I mean a real job, a place where I have my very own desk; my name appears in the company directory; and -- brace yourself -- I wear real clothes. Nothing formal, mind you. At least a decade ago I made a solemn vow to never wear pantyhose again. I think they call my new style office casual. At any rate, every day now I put on stain-free (practically), wrinkle-free (relatively) apparel, the kind with buttons and zippers, not just drawstrings. But I digress. Let me get to the good part. Years ago, when I commuted to my last full-time job -- leaving my young babes at home with a sitter -- I came home each evening and scrambled to get the house in order. Sure the sitter picked up a bit. But I had things like laundry, dishes and various other jobs to do. I had no other choice at the time -- or so I thought. But it's a new day! Some might call it child labor, but I like to call it Family Participation. Now that my kids are older, I have turned them into a small army of helpers. And unlike the '90s, when in my naiveté I thought clean had to smell like a mix of chlorine bleach and pine, I now have cabinets brimming with natural cleaning products. So I don't worry when I get the kids involved in cleaning the kitchen or the bathroom. I am loving my new job! Aside from getting cleaned up daily and getting a check twice a month, the routine works with my life. I go in at around 7:30 a.m. -- which is ungodly for most. But after you've been waking up with a baby for a couple of years, it feels like mid-day. And I get off at about 3:30 p.m. For my older ones, that means in the morning, under the (quasi) watchful eye of dad, they get themselves dressed and ready for the bus. In the afternoons, they come home to an empty house -- but only for about 45 minutes or so. And at ages 12 and 10, that window gives them a modicum of independence. What's even better though is that it allows me to give them a measure of responsibility. I won't wax all nostalgic about old school values and all the chores my siblings and I had back in the day. But the fact is, taking ownership of household maintenance is a good thing for a kid. Without my nagging, they have to negotiate on their own the amount of time and attention it takes to do the things they've got to do before they move on to the things they want to do. I like to think I am making a Renaissance Man out of the pre-schooler. It's not just that he actually cleans; it's the enthusiasm he brings to the job. With Super Hero zeal, he launches into a full-scale, take-no-prisoners search for dirt -- unlike his dad who can walk over sticky floor surfaces without missing a beat. When the little one finds the filth -- BAM! -- he's quick to point out the mucky offender. The other day, I was bragging about little Mr. Clean to a dear friend I've known since grade school. She loves to diss what she calls my New Age Parenting. She let me go on for at least 10 minutes. And, then, just when I expected her to express astonishment -- in a patronizing, "Wow! You don't say!" kind of fashion, she sat silent. "I'm sorry," she said after a long pause. "But honestly, I think your little wipe-up dude is just trying to get his hands on something with a trigger in that weird gun-free household of yours." She could be right. photo: Mark Evans