Life with Liz: That first job
When I was A’s age, I started my first job.
Granted, it was only one day a week, working at a stand at the local farmers market, but still it was a job, working for an employer that wasn’t my parents.
While I continued to work that job through my high school summers, it was also enough to teach me that food service and I were not cut out for a long-lasting relationship.
While I would get my first “full-time” summer job three years later, that first job was an important one. At the end of every shift, I would collect my pay and hurry home to add it to my small stash, which I would use at the end of the summer to indulge in a few back-to-school purchases.
It was my first real taste of financial independence and also my first taste of working for $3-$4 an hour (minimum wage in those days) and being able to spend $100 in a matter of minutes.
Luckily, I got into lifeguarding at age 15. Lifeguarding is not quite the glamorous job that “Baywatch” has made it out to be.
I spent a lot more time scrubbing bath houses and fishing “unmentionables” out of the pool than I did sprinting across the sand like David Hasselhoff, but it did help me pay for school and helped keep me in pocket money as I picked up part-time lifeguard jobs all the way through college.
Over the years, I learned a lot of life skills from these jobs, whether it was making change while selling cheese steaks, or dealing with unruly patrons at the YMCA, or making the transition between carefree college student and strict swim instructor.
I learned to take pride in doing a job well, and the importance of getting the call to come back next year or next season, depending on how my schedule was going. Since I was 12, I’ve always had some sort of gainful employment.
So, with A turning 12 this year, I started trying to get him on the path to some sort of summer employment. We talked about some different things that might appeal to him, some things he was already good at and some things that he’d like to learn and get better at and came up with a few ideas. However, we hit a roadblock when we tried to figure out his availability.
First of all, school ran a week late this year. Then, he had two weeks of availability, but then would be away for a week at camp. Then, he’d be back for a bit, but our family vacation would then take him away again. Then, he’d be back for another week or two, but then he was already committed to two weeks straight of band camp. Following that, fall activities for school are poised to resume, and in no time, he will be back in school, well before Labor Day.
From an employer’s point of view, telling them how much you won’t be there is never a good way to start an interview. I also didn’t want A getting the idea that showing up for work was optional or secondary to other priorities, which based on his previous commitments, was going to happen.
Unfortunately, I think A’s situation is not unique among kids these days. All his other pursuits are certainly worthwhile. I am proud of his commitment to the Scouts and I know that that week spent at camp, unwashed, unfettered, and with some of his lifelong friends, is one of the best weeks of his year. I know he’s learning just as many valuable skills at camp as he would at a job.
Beyond the commitment to his musical training, I know that belonging to the high school band is going to be a very important part of his identity.
While the Wonderful Husband and I were never “bandies,” so many of our friends were and the experiences and friendships that they made are something to be admired. A is already looking forward to Friday nights under the lights and the inevitable trip to Disney that will happen at least once in his high school career.
He’s learning about time management, responsibility and commitment, and although he doesn’t have the satisfaction of a paycheck, the long-term benefits will more than pay for themselves. We’ve struck a deal that if he holds up his end and follows through on his commitments to these activities, we will spot him a few extra dollars for incidentals for now. He’s also picked up a few dollars here and there doing chores for his grandparents, but I’ll be darned if I pay him for household chores that he’s expected to fulfill as part of our family.
He also managed to pick up a few hours here and there volunteering at the local library. While this will ultimately cover a number of bases for him, including earning community service hours that he can use for Scouts or other service organizations, a future merit badge or two, and giving him plenty of access to all the books his bookworm heart could desire, it will also give him the most basic introduction to a “job.” While I still need a method to teach him about how fast a hard earned paycheck can disappear between the electric bill and the ice cream treat I just had to have, this is a small step in the right direction.
In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy watching him grow through his other commitments.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.