Monday, June 30, 2008

It's a Hard Knock Life

My sisters and I would periodically go to work with my mom or dad. If we went with Mom, it was only for a short period of time, an hour or so at most, and involved no actual work. Going with Dad meant you were there all day for hard labor.

My mom worked in a doctor's office until I was about 13. We usually just went with her to the office on the rare occasion that she had to stop in to get something or take care of an extra task on her day off.

First we'd occupy ourselves by typing on the typewriter and rummaging through the several desks in the office for highlighters and white-out which we then used on our newly written stories. Once we'd bored ourselves with that, we'd head into the waiting room and through the kid-sized door into the small playroom. The toys weren't that great, mainly for toddler aged kids, but they were enough to keep us busy for a good five minutes. How long can you really move the colored wood beads on the abacus-like toy along the metal tracks?

Most of the time we were there after hours so we had full run of the place. We'd get one of the doctor's rolling stools and take off running down the hall, jump onto the stool stomach first, and glide across the floor Superman style. After tiring from all the physical activity we would make a trip to the breakroom to get a drink from the water cooler. Back then they had the cone-shaped paper cups for the water and I thought they were cool. I actually really liked the papery taste they gave the water. Now the cups on water coolers have a waxy coating so you don't get the extra flavor. I kind of miss it.

My mom was also responsible for making the daily money drop at the bank. Most the time it was after hours, so she'd just put it in the night drop. But, on the days when the bank was open, we'd go through the drive-through where we always got Tootsie Rolls or Dum Dum suckers. We loved going to the bank.

It was usually only once a year during the summer that my sisters and I would go to work with my dad. At the time he was the manager of a heating/air conditioning wholesale store down in Orem. We must have gone there on days when they were closed because there usually wasn't anybody else there. Our purpose was to make some money and helping Dad at work paid pretty well.

We would get to the store early in the morning and start right away on weeding the strip of Fitzer bushes in the front of the building before it got too hot outside. I hated this job. The strip seemed like it was a mile long and it was full of trash and spiders and covered with morning glories. Morning glories were hard enough to pull out anyway, let alone when they were in rock solid clay soil. After a couple of hours Corinne and I would be too hot to carry on and Annie would be throwing a hissy fit... that's when we'd move on to cleaning the inside of the building.

Our main jobs were to dust, sweep and mop the floors, and clean the restrooms. Sweeping and mopping weren't too bad and neither was cleaning the women's restroom. I think there was only one woman who worked there... part time. But, the men's restroom was horrible... Several men who work in a warehouse + one year of no cleaning = Nasty. It was beyond disgusting. The sink literally had a black coating on it and took a good half hour of scrubbing to get it clean. The toilet and urinal were even more atrocious. You can't even dream of the vomit inducing site under that toilet seat. I couldn't believe anyone would actually use a bathroom that gross. I always wondered if the restrooms would ever have been cleaned had we not done it once a year.

The last job we had was to sweep the warehouse. It was a pretty big place, but it was our favorite job. First, we'd sprinkle some sawdust type stuff all over the floor (who knows what it was for) and then we'd sweep around the perimeter of the floor with a small broom and get into all the little nooks and crannies. This was followed by a pass with the large push broom.

Though most of the day was filled with work, we did get to have a little fun. Dad would always buy us a can of soda out of the pop machine and he always took us out to lunch. The year I turned 16 he took me over to the DMV to get my drivers license. At the end of the day when the work was done, we'd play and hide-and-go-seek in the warehouse. You could search for hours in there and never find a soul. My dad also gave us rides on the hand truck. It was always scary, but very exciting. I'd have a white-knuckle grip on the sides of the dolly while he ran around the warehouse doing crazy figure eights at 50 mph. I was sure at any moment I was going to launch off the front of that thing into a bin full of duct elbows.

My dad really instilled a good work ethic in us. He would never let us waste time lounging around and he wouldn't tolerate us continually asking what to do next. He was like any real employer who expects you to know what your job is and to do it well. I remember him teaching us how to clean the bathroom and telling us to do it "systematically" so that we didn't miss any spots. I still think of that whenever I clean a mirror or vacuum the carpet.

On one occasion back at home my dad asked us to come outside to help weed the yard. Annie asked why we had to help and my dad's answer was so that we "could learn how to work." Annie replied that she "already knew how" and I agreed. It was a dumb notion to us that somebody wouldn't know how to work. Pulling weeds and doing housework was easy. It was common knowledge as far as we were concerned. It wasn't until I got out into the real world that I realized that the majority of people don't know how to work. They don't know how to do simple everyday tasks and they don't care if they do a good job or not. I appreciate my parents making us work and making us learn how to do things for ourselves. Even Annie, who fought tooth and nail the whole way and who I was sure would become a bag lady living in a trash can, ended up ok. I hope I can be just as mean to my kids someday.


heidi said...

Oh my gosh, I had completely forgotten about Dum Dum bank suckers!! For a moment I was 8 again, and my mom that timeless young age she used to be.

That men's restroom, it sounds like, really made a "Woman" out of you--in the sense that, what could scare you after THAT?

My parents weren't able to get us to help much when we were young--we had more energy to resist than they had to insist--but I actually quite like cleaning & "mindless" tasks now. We weren't fair to my poor parents--hopefully we're nicer now--but I'm kind of grateful to have not had preconceptions about cleaning, and to have discovered that chores can be "fun" when you do them 'cuz you want to make the house shiny and pretty and your loved ones comfortable... and, doing cleaning with music playing in the background, it feels like a pleasant trance-like rest for the brain.

I can't decide what I'll do with my kids. Maybe hope my chore-enjoyment will be contagious. (Yeah, right! :)) Although Co says her kids thought "helping" with things like the dishes, when they were wee tiny, was fun.

You're right--it IS a hard knock life! But someone's got to do it!