Monday, January 07, 2008

Are You My Mother?

Some weeks back I posted about my first job experience and what I learned there. I promised a series of these (I know, you are all really hacked to not have seen the sequel before now); so here is the long awaited Part II.

During my junior year I blew all my savings (as well as a chunk of cash my Dad had saved for me) on a trip to London. It was marvelous and, I'm not exaggerating, life-altering in many ways. That might be another post some time, but back to the point. My parents had struck a deal with me as I cried my eyes out over $10 in change on the table my last night of work: that if I would work very hard during the school year, maintaining my GPA, then I would only be required to work summers and I would be given a generous allowance during the school year that would cover most of my basic expenses and my lunch. If something bigger came up--like a dance--then my parents would pay for that also.

It seemed more than fair to me; I was perfectly happy to spend all my afternoons at 16 going on 17 hanging out in the drama room after school, never missing a football game or stomp. I even went on a few dates and to a couple of dances. I took stats for the wrestling team and fell in love . . . . yes, my junior year was very nearly perfect (except for the one-sided love, but I digress again). I kept my end of the bargain and maintained an A average all year long, passed my AP test and began looking at colleges. Oh, and don't forget the London trip.

Then, in April, Daddy dropped the bomb I had forgotten about. Summer was coming and it was time to consider gainful employment once again. I hit the pavement, putting in applications everywhere within reasonable distance of our quiet suburb. The mall first. A grocery store. Then the fast-food places. NOBODY called me back. Of course, if they had, the interview would have quickly come to naught when they called my first boss.

The end of May rapidly approached and I began to panic. It wasn't just the money thing, or even the obligation I felt under to my parents, but there was something seriously boring about sitting around all summer, just waiting for my life to restart. Then Mom stepped in with a plan that was just about the best thing that ever happened to my life.

She was wanting to work more hours at the hospital where she was a nurse just one or two shifts each week, but she didn't know how she would manage to get everything done. She proposed paying me to play mom on the days she was gone. I would do laundry, grocery shop, run the kids around (the still-at-homes were 10 and 13), cook, clean and basically keep the house running. A maid-nanny-errand girl.

I was paid, though it was really a pittance. I think it was like $20 a day for the days I worked, and I basically worked all day. I agreed, not really caring whether or not I earned a lot of money, and grateful for the way out while still feeling I was keeping my committment to my dad. I also believed I was helping my mom out. And maybe I was.

So while the pay was lousy, the lessons were invaluable. I learned to make several different, simple meals. I learned how to grocery shop, and still know a trick my mom taught me: I'm able to estimate, usually within a dollar, exactly how much my final bill will be, just by calculating the groceries in my head as I place them on the conveyer belt. My husband thinks I'm magic, just like I used to think my mother was magic. I learned about the laundry and the stupidity of washing clothes that were not actually dirty. I learned that running a household is challenging, often complicated, an exercise in frugality and can be very frustrating.

After that summer, I was very diligent about making my bed, keeping a clean room, eating all my supper, washing my own laundry, and mostly


Sometime before all of this, I told her one day that if I ever got married I only wanted one, maybe two kids. It was much easier in those days to see myself as a career woman than a wife and a mother. I don't know why; I didn't really know anybody like that, but mothering, especially small children, was very unappealing to me. My mother's reply was, "What will you do with the kids while you are working?"

Shrug, "I don't know, day care?"

"So, you want to have kids, but you want somebody else to raise them?"

I had to think about that. That summer was the first time in my whole life that my mother hadn't worked nights. I knew she loved her job and she was very good at it, but her career was NEVER more important overall than what was going on with her children. I could see that she had given up half her life so that we would be good, stable, happy individuals. That summer, I also learned that mothering, while not without its difficulties, was a really good thing.

As my attitude changed, so did my career plans. I began looking into various nursing programs and decided that was the path my life would take. Despite a series of personal setbacks that had happened in the late spring and early fall of 1992, I applied to be the General Sterling Scholar at my high school. My application was more of a whim than anything else and, as rejection had been such a constant companion at that time in my life, I had little expectation of a favorable outcome.
Then, to my surprise, less than 24 hours after my interview I was selected. My counselor told me that while my application wasn't quite as stellar as the other two (Honor Society President and the only Asian student in my class), my interview blew the judges away; the other two had hardly been able to look them in the eye. The district interview went just as well and in the winter of my senior year, I was on my way to Salt Lake for the state competition. (Bear with me, this will get relevant very quickly.)

During the interview, a really bitter, bearded professor from SLCC said, "This is a prestigious scholarship; you have written down here that you are interested in nursing. Why nursing? Why don't you want to be a doctor?" (I am sure my mother would have set him straight about how much MORE important doctors are than nurses.)

Almost without thinking, I said very simply, "I would like to have a family also. I am not sure that, for me, becoming a doctor would be compatible with my personal goals ."

He narrowed his eyes at me and said nothing more. Nor did he say anything through the remaing ten minutes of the panel interview.

That night, we sat in a great reception hall at the Capitol Building waiting for the big announcement. I was sweating buckets in my bright red, shoulder padded jacket and turtleneck. I was nervous to be on television in front of all those people. I was, after all, going to win, right?

Just before the announcement came, a tiny voice whispered to my heart, "Sorry, not this time." I brushed away that annonying voice until it came a second time. And then I KNEW. I knew that I wasn't ambitious enough to satisfy the panel. Especially bearded guy. I knew that my simple declaration and committment to family had been the nail in the coffin. Almost without thinking and certainly without realizing what I had done, I had chosen family over career.

I was just seventeen, and though kids would almost be another decade away, I didn't look back. So, the part-time job that paid the very worst probably gave me the most important lessons. Hm . . . . except for the part-time bit, it sounds like real mothering.

4 comments: said...

Love it... weird the direction life takes us don't you think. All I ever wanted in life was to be a stay at home mom - now look at me, working and pursuing a degree.

Yankee Girl said...

I love that you went to London as a Junior--wish I had. I waited until I was in my late 20s.

Kim said...

Hey Nan! I am glad you have a blog. It is a great way to keep in touch. You will have to check out my blog.

Caitlin said...

Your mother was a genius to "hire" you. I love this story. Especially the shoulder pads.