That’s how old I was when I got my first real job. And I’m not talking about babysitting the neighbour’s Chihuahua either. Every weekend, my sister and I cleaned the office where my mom worked. While it wasn’t exactly back-breaking labour, there was a urinal in the washroom that required a strong stomach to shine. Sometimes this job annoyed us. If we left it too late we’d spend Sunday evenings wearing rubber gloves, and dusting dark green countertops that seemed to illuminate every spec of dust. If we jumped on it, leisurely Saturday mornings were spent grumbling about lost sleep and fewer music video-watching sessions. I also babysat kids for neighbourhood parents needing a night out, but this cleaning job was legit. It wasn’t cash handed over at the end of an evening, but came in the form of a cheque with our names on it.
That’s how old I was when I got my first real, real job – a job where I had to arrive on-time and couldn’t leave at the end of the night until all my duties were done. It was at a family-run grocery store in the small town where I grew up. I worked in the bakery and the uniforms the most ridiculous ensemble you’ve ever seen – a green flatcap, a white polyester dress, a green apron with a white ruffle, and white runners. Policy said we also had to wear a slip and panty hose.
The head of the store was a man I’ll call Bob. Bob was a hard-ass. He expected punctuality, hardwork, exemplary customer service and gratitude for your employment. I loved it. I loved that he was there, breathing down our necks and expecting the best from us. I also loved that I always had my own money. From the minute I got this job, my parents expected me to buy my own clothes, pay for my own movie nights and save money for university. This money afforded me an independence from them that I relished. Still do.
That’s number of times I’ve been fired. It was traumatic. I quit working for Bob after two years in the bakery, and I found a job at a restaurant in Calgary. I wanted to be a big girl and earn tips. I hated it as much I was terrible at it. I actually begged to quit, but the manager swayed me into staying. A few weeks later, he fired me. I cried in my car, and then I spent two months burning through my savings by buying drinks at the local dive, and taking up space in my parents’ basement. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. My aunt and my cousin forced me to move to Saskatoon and muscled me into late enrolment at the University of Saskatchewan. I took an English class during the spring session, and when the prof handed back my first essay he said: “Have you ever thought about being a writer?”
That’s the age I was before which all of these events occurred. What I gained from each experience informs my work-life today. For one, I am a workaholic. I love to work. Not only for the money, but for the usefulness I feel. Lucky for me, our culture values workaholism or I might just see myself in a different light. These experiences also taught me about the need to make and have my own money. As an adult, I’ve enjoyed a degree of success I never would’ve thought possible when I was a teenager. And I can source it back, in part, to every time I scrubbed the office urinal to a spit-shine gleam.
That’s how old my own kid is right now. Unless I’m prepared to be a crazy stage mom (which I’m not), she’s clearly not ready to work yet. But you can bet, the minute she is…she’s getting her own job and making her own money.