Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer Job

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about summer jobs not only because … well, it’s summer … but also because the teens in our home are in the thick of theirs. I’m reminded of the myriad horrific summer jobs I had back when I was a teen growing up in New Jersey, and I wonder why I remain such an ardent believer in the Value of a Summer Job.

Here’s the summer job I always dreamed of having: waitressing on Long Beach Island on the Jersey Shore. Now, I realize the skanky television show Jersey Shore has completely co-opted all that is grand and glorious about that stretch of beach in the Garden State (yes, Jersey is the Garden State) and yes, hospital waste did on occasion wash up back in those days, but the waves were warm and perfect for body surfing and the place swarmed with other teens. I dreamed of earning thousands in tips while hefting trays at night, then swimming and tanning during the day. Sleep was not part of the plan …

Instead, I remained home in the suburbs with my parents during the summer, scavenging for work. I cleaned houses. I filed bills and answered phones in a doctor’s office. I stuffed diet pills into little pink boxes that rolled mercilessly toward me on a factory conveyor belt (sort of like Lucy and Ethel in the bon bon factory, only these were capsules filled with legal doses of speed).

These jobs were dull, lonely, and occasionally gross (one of the houses I cleaned was absolutely filthy) and paid minimum wage. They made me yearn for the unthinkable … summer’s end … and certainly strengthened my resolve to get a decent education so I wouldn’t get stuck doing those jobs forever. They also made me appreciate the plight of someone living day after day in a job she hated. They also made me think about the lives of those who would have been grateful to have even those jobs. It was, in retrospect, a good lesson for an entitled, college-bound kid from Bergen County.

Fast forward some thirty years to my kids’ current jobs, and I’d say they’re pretty lucky. My son is a counselor at a boys’ camp on an island in Maine. He sleeps in a platform tent with four little boys every night, listening to the water lap and loons call each night just beyond the tent’s opening. His days are spent teaching them how to play tennis, making sure they don’t drown while swimming, and helping lead them on hiking and canoeing treks throughout the state. Tough, huh?

But there’s more to it: last year, when he was a counselor-in-training, he dug ditches, hauled trash, and “raked” and sanitized the composting toilets. This summer, after a senior year spent thinking almost exclusively about himself (my college applications, my prom, my graduation) he’s spending seven weeks thinking almost exclusively about the happiness and welfare of others. Are the boys safe? Are they homesick? Are they treating each other well? Are they keeping the tent clean? I must confess I take a special delight in hearing my 18-year old complain about how he hates to nag kids to clean up, hurry up … heh heh.

Our daughter is getting a first-hand look at the world of local agriculture as she works Saturday mornings at the farmer’s market for Bob the Turkey Guy. 70-year old Bob drives all the way to Brunswick from New Sharon, Maine, where he raises and slaughters and packages organic, free-range turkeys. At the farmer’s market, he sets up his tent, unloads heavy coolers packed with ice and “product,” and entertains summer people and locals alike who stop by to purchase his sausages, cutlets and ground meat. Our daughter comes home filled with stories about Bob and all the other vendors. She’s been amazed at how hard a 70-year old man can work. She’s gotten a peak into what it takes to run your own small business and to earn a living one cutlet at a time.

That’s the value I see in a Summer Job. Sure, you earn some cash, and that’s good for a teen. But it takes you out of yourself, out of the usual rut of school and homework and all the wonderful and terrible things you deal with as a teenager, and plops you down into some other reality. You might end up seeing the world a little differently, and that’s always good.

1 comment:

  1. My husband was delighted to see your daughter at the farmer's market and came home with 2 meals worth of tasty turkey. Bob is a character. She is lucky to have an interesting summer job.