Sunday, July 17, 2016

Upstairs, Downstairs

There are many rites of passage in the life of a child--learning to walk alone, learning to ride a bike, walking around the block (or whatever) the first time without mom or dad. Of course, there's the really big rite of passage--learning to drive.

But perhaps one of the bigger rites of passage is joining the working world. Understandably, it is a critical step in a child's journey from childhood to adulthood. Of course, we don't encourage child labor, as such. No returning to the heartbreaking images of the 19th century where children worked in factory jobs--a practice that sadly continues too many places in the world today. But it is important for a child growing into adulthood to begin to learn responsibility through that first job.

I have worked at something a good portion of my life, since I was a teen until I was an older (ahem) person. I firmly believe that a child growing into an adult misses out on a valuable experience if she or he doesn't have a job, usually during the summer months. Frankly, I look askance at young people in our neighborhood who do not "work" during the summer, assuming of course they are old enough. We have one such young man who lives nearby. He is an only child--his parents having thought they were unable to have children. Perhaps that circumstance alone has made them not insist on his developing some maturity. He is on the brink of turning 16, and has not as yet mowed the lawn.

Ah, lawn mowing and baby sitting. Two of the first jobs available to many teens in the United States. I certainly did some baby sitting in my teen years.  Oh, I can recall the children for whom I baby-sat.  What I am trying to recall is the first long-term summer job.

I think it was the summer I spent in Canada, along Lake Erie, working for wealthy Americans with summer homes along the lake shore on the Canadian side.  I wrote more extensively about this job here, but a few details can be replayed.

The matriarch of the family I worked for assigned each of us girls--yes, there were three of us, to our own jobs. One girl baby-sat the grandchildren of the family, one girl was the cook, and then there was the girl who cleaned all the rooms, made the beds, did the laundry--that would be me.

You can read the outcome of that first job in my earlier post, linked above. Suffice it to say that, having been part of house staff (think downstairs a la Downtown Abbey) I vowed that should I ever be able to afford to have someone clean for me, I would not treat them as dismissively as my first employer treated me.

The final irony for me was this--years later, with the availability of information on the internet, I "googled" the name of that employer family. I learned that the grand dame had since died--not surprisingly given that decades had passed. I read in her obituary some of the details of her early life. She and her husband had, as very young people, eloped. So, no doubt she was recalling her own poorer childhood and now a grand dames she decided she didn't want a young, somewhat pretty teenaged girl who her son and some of his friends found attractive working for her.

I can't really say I was fired, but I was not invited to return the next summer.

There are many lessons learned in a first job. Of course, there is learning the value of work, of responsibility. There is learning the joy of being paid for doing something. And there is also the value of learning that just because you are "fired" doesn't mean that you have failed.


altar ego said...

Jobs like the ones you describe are eye-opening, sobering, and humbling. I had one, too, and though I wasn't treated dismissively, I was definitely "the help." Curious to discover, years later, through genealogy research, that I was related to him, and through his son-in-law, to his grandchildren. Difficult as these jobs are at the time, I think they do open our hearts to justice-related themes that we apply later in life. Thanks for sharing this history, and opening a door of memories for me, too.

Anvilcloud said...

My mind must have been elsewhere. I missed this meme and didn't even know that it was one until reading the second post on the same subject. Shame on me. I remember reading of that experience of yours. It was quite the summer job.

Jayne said...

I've never worked for anyone in that capacity, and imagine it must have been a difficult thing to be treated very differently than other people working in a home. Being able to learn such valuable lessons was most certainly an unexpected fringe benefit in the education of life it brought to you.

Ruth said...

I did a lot of babysitting in the neighbourhood during those prime baby boomer years. I never had a true summer job though because I accelerated through university taking summer semesters.