The Summer Job

A Teenager's Guide to Seasonal Gainful Employment

When it came to summer jobs, unfortunately for our kids, the handwriting was on the wall. Or more specifically, the quote was on the refrigerator. "There is no substitute for hard work”, by Thomas Edison.

That particular quote was intended to serve as a not-so-subtle reminder that every year when school was out, the teenagers in our house were expected to find gainful employment – as in a real job. A job with set hours, one measly week of vacation, and a boss who could fire you on the spot for answering "Yo” instead of "Yes, Sir”.

Of course there was usually some pushback on the idea, you know like, "Summer's supposed to be fun”, and "Nobody else's parents are making them work”. But we didn't budge. We just stuck another quote on the bathroom mirror, "He who cuts his own wood warms himself twice”. (That one really makes a nice point, doesn't it?)

We also spent nauseating amounts of time at the dinner table, telling them about our own high school and college summer jobs, as well as those of close friends and family. I'm not sure if this helped our case or hurt it. For instance, one night my husband described in great detail his very first job at the City Garage in Midland, Texas, where he had one primary assignment. When the hydraulic seal on a garbage truck began to leak, he was the guy they sent down into the hopper to sit amongst the spoiled food and maggots to replace the gasket.

Upon hearing that tale, almost simultaneously our daughter shrieked, "Ewww gross!” and our son said, "Cool!”

Next we shared grand stories with them about our friend, Mike, who plucked turkeys at a poultry farm, and about my brother-in-law who unpacked leisure suits at a local department store. We also told them about Teresa who worked in "sales” at the funeral home, and about Donna's husband, who hosed down an enormous parking lot every night, and about John who did some hot-tar roofing. Talk about fun! Well, no actually I don't believe anyone said a word about fun – which is precisely why I taped this Abraham Lincoln quote to the microwave door, "My father taught me to work; he did not teach me to love it”.

Eventually, our kids agreed to seek employment (as if they had a choice) which ushered in the next challenge – landing a job. To get the ball rolling, I suggested that each of them make a list of their personal skills and abilities, as well as any particular hobbies.
Not surprisingly, in both cases, the list of skills and abilities was pretty skimpy, while the hobby list spilled over onto the back page and beyond. Clearly my offspring had some pretty lofty goals when it came to employment.

Here's the ad my daughter would love to have stumbled across in the Sunday jobs section of the paper: WANTED: Young woman with shopping experience to serve as personal consultant for wealthy widow. Fashion and make-up expertise a plus. Must be willing to drive to mall daily (sports car provided). Great salary. Generous clothing allowance. Afternoons only. Nights and weekends free.

And my son was holding out for a position like this one: WANTED: Young man to be a merchandise tester for highly diversified company. Products include: off-road vehicles; electric guitars; elaborate stereo equipment; sports gear such as snow boards, golf clubs, roller-blades, and jet-skis; extensive hair and grooming products; and pizza. Flexible hours, great salary. Call Misty or Tiffany.

In reality, the jobs they landed were far less glamorous. But as their mother, I found it rich and satisfying that a girl who constantly turned up her nose at menial kitchen chores like clearing the dishes and wiping off the table, ended up doing exactly that in a nearby restaurant. And even better, a fellow whose room looked like the aftermath of an explosion, ultimately found himself spending eight hours a day refolding T-shirts and vacuuming the floor at a clothing store in the mall. Still, the paychecks were nice, and the jobs kept them from being bored.

The only problem was, once they were gainfully employed, they tended to become just a wee bit arrogant about it. One Saturday, for example, some wise guy taped this quote by Rosetti to the bedpost of my unmade bed, "Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished? Yes; work never begun”.

Personally I've always felt that if somebody has a point to make, he should come right out and make it. Otherwise he should keep his opinions to himself.

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