THE JOBS OF SUMMER By Ellen Donker
They’ll have value past August
This summer, my kids gave me a gift: All three of them found employment. I exhaled a big sigh of relief as, one by one, they each accepted a job. After last year’s summer of uncertainty, I was ready for them to be utilized, not because I thought they’d find their calling but because pre-career jobs teach valuable lessons.
Coincidentally, both of our boys took jobs as starters at golf courses. They love the sport, which was directional when they thought about places they’d like to work. Tim is in his third year at a local country club and initially connected with the management by emailing them about employment. He’s enjoyed meeting many professional athletes who play in the club’s outings, which makes the work of cleaning carts and hauling golf bags worth the chance to have a chat with them.
Christian stayed in his college town of Washington, D.C. and acted on a lead from a friend for a job at a public course. By the end of the summer, I expect he’ll have enough material to write a book on the personalities who get hired and fired on a weekly basis.
Madeline, who has spent summers babysitting, was looking for something different. I encouraged her to ask at our local shops if they were hiring, but that didn’t jibe with her shy nature. I pointed out that it’s perfectly normal to ask this question as it’s been done for as long as people needed work and business owners needed help. How did she think I landed my coveted position at Burger King?
These days, of course, you can apply for a job without having a conversation, and that’s the route Madeline was counting on to produce a job. Sure enough, H&M contacted her for an interview, resulting in a summer spent working the cash register, folding clothes, and greeting customers. It took a week or two for her to acclimate to shift work but she soon saw that a variable schedule does have its advantages, especially if you’re a college student.
Back in my day, I chose to waitress, thinking the tips would make it more lucrative than a minimum wage job. I’m not sure that ended up being the case, but I sure came home with lots of stories that I tell to this day. It turns out that the work of serving diners prepared me well for waiting on my family at mealtime. When needed, I can even showcase my enviable ability to stack plates of hot food up my left arm or serve drinks from a tray without spilling them. And I’m really good at wrapping sandwiches, thanks to hours spent on the burger board at Burger King. Like riding a bike, these latent skills are always there, ready to be called into service.
My husband was a cart boy at Kings supermarket in Morristown during his high school years. Besides developing the fortitude to find lost carts and push them around a parking lot while his fingers turned blue during the frigid winter months, he also learned that a paycheck blunts the discomfort – at least enough for him to go back the next day while dreaming of someday having a job he liked.
Of course, part-time work also teaches us softer lessons we hardly notice learning. Waitressing gave me confidence to speak to people I didn’t know and try to make their dining out a pleasant experience. Since I had to depend on other employees to do my job – from cooks to bartenders to busboys – I learned how to get along with them, even the tough ones. And given that wait staff usually get whatever blame is to be had, I became skilled in smoothing things over.
My kids are about to enter their senior year of college and soon enough will be starting careers that probably have nothing to do with their summer work. Still, I believe their job performance will be all the stronger for it. At the very least, they’ll have their own secret skills to call up at just the right time as well as plenty of stories to tell their own kids.