By Lisa Sugarman
I can still remember the moment like it was this morning, the day I transformed from little girl to young adult. The day I left my little-girl self behind and took one big step closer to becoming a woman.
It was a huge moment for me, one that left an indelible mark in the back of my brain that’s still there today.
You remember those profound moments. The ones that pull you out of one stage of your life and drop you into another almost seamlessly. Well that’s what this moment was for me. And it’s always stuck with me.
I’ll never forget that sense of pride I felt when the camp director gave me my clipboard and my whistle and my attendance list and pointed to my very first group of campers. They were all mine and I had never been prouder or more excited. I was finally The Counselor. I had arrived.
Now be honest, did you think my coming-of-age-moment was going to involve sex or getting my period for the first time or maybe shot gunning my first beer? You did, didn’t you?
Nah. To me, getting a job and being responsible for something, or, in this case, someone, is what marked that moment for me. And now that I’m watching my youngest daughter, almost fifteen, about to get her own first clipboard and whistle, it’s bringing all those memories back to me.
See, from the earliest I can recall, all I ever wanted to do was work. I know, it sounds sort of ridiculous, but it’s true. When I used to watch that paperboy pedal up my driveway with that neon orange Boston Globe newspaper bag over his shoulder, I couldn’t help but fanaticize that I was the one being weighed down by all those Sunday supplements and that it was my shoulder straining under the weight of that clumsy bag.
Because to me, having a job has always seemed so glamorous, so alluring. There was just this special quality about those waitress aprons and order pads or those chintzy newspaper sacks or those flimsy particleboard clipboards. I’m practically drooling just sitting here reminiscing about them. And I guess that’s because I always equated those things, and being old enough to use them, with independence and with being able to make a valuable contribution to something and get something in return to show for my hard work.
I know, this isn’t necessarily your typical fourteen-year-old mindset, but I was never exactly your typical fourteen year old. I was always a bit of an over-thinker. What can I say, I have very thinly coated emotional wiring, so I really feel the impact of this kind of stuff.
In all honesty, though, working was never really about the money for me or the power that came with that cheap plastic whistle. They were symbols of adulthood for me—of being trustworthy enough to be given a job in the first place. So I always took it very seriously. Still do. It’s probably because both of my parents were such hard workers, always committed to doing the best job they could at whatever job they had. They both had about the best work ethics I’d ever seen. And it rubbed off.
For them, it was about taking pride in yourself and your work more than anything. Whatever their name was attached to, they knew was a reflection of who they were as people. Of their commitment to whomever it was that trusted them enough to hire them.
So that’s exactly what it became for me. And now, that’s what it’s become for my own kids. And that’s a beautiful thing to watch from the other side. They both want to be contributors to something in the very same way I did when I was that age. They actually want responsibility and that special sense of independence that comes from working hard at something.
For my oldest, who’s held a steady job since she was fourteen, she grew up with the same little fire in her belly to work that I had; that’s why the minute she was old enough to get herself out there and find someone to take a chance on her, she hit the pavement. Now, three years later, she still relishes in the chance to step behind that counter every Saturday and Sunday and sort through all the overnight video rental returns. She’s grown into herself and her job in more ways than I ever expected. She tasted the fruits of hard work and loved them. And now her sister is about to do the same and she’s been looking forward to it in very same way.
I guess I’m just feeling a little nostalgic now that both of my daughters are finally legitimate bread winners. Because we all know that once you’ve got a W-2 with your name on it, you’re an official card-carrying member of the American Workforce. Only now, I’m just not sure which feeling is sweeter, the pride of landing my own first job and seeing my name on that first paycheck, or the feeling of finally, after all these years, not having to write that big camp tuition check for my kids. Yeah, that one wins. No contest.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.