What I Learned As A Salad Girl

My dream for Sean has always been that he will be a worker.  I think God made us to work. I think work provides many things that we humanoids need for a meaningful existence – structure, purpose, satisfaction and if you are lucky, a paycheck.

But oddly enough, work is something that has to be learned.  It doesn’t always come naturally.

In the summer of 1974, when I was 14, I got a job at the Bonanza Steak House.  I was as blind as a bat and wore hideous thick glasses and dreamed of getting  some of those new fancy soft contact lenses.  But at my house, there wasn’t money for anything like that, so if I wanted contact lenses, I was going to have to buy them myself.  And if I were going to buy them, I was going to have to get a job.

So that summer, before I started high school, I somehow managed to convince the people at Bonanza to hire me as a salad girl.  My job consisted of cleaning and chopping lettuce, cutting jello into sparkly little cubes and putting out slices of pre-made pie, and although it was not explicitly stated, when those things ran out, I was supposed to replenish them — as opposed to standing around twirling my hair — and that was a thought that would have never occurred to me.

I knew nothing about work. I thought I was there to look pretty and socialize.  After several days of what must have been exasperating training, Alma, the poor lady who not only had to stand on her feet most of the day but had to train me, flat out said, “Honey you are going to have to  learn to work or we’re going to have to let you go.”  Well my ears perked right up because if I were ever going to get those contact lenses, I was going to have get someone to pay me.  I quickly put two and two together.  Work = someone gives me money = I get stuff.  No work = I no get stuff.

After that conversation, I quickly figured out what work meant and went on to become one of the best salad girls in history.  It’s true. You can check the Salad Girls Almanac, my name is right there under Who’s Who Among Salad Girls.

Once I was set straight, it turned out that I liked work.  I liked how it felt, the sense of accomplishment one gets when salad, jello and pie don’t run out and I liked having spending money and not having to rely on anyone to provide for me. I could pay my own way. I could buy my own contact lenses and that gave me a sense of hope, that I had the power to change my circumstances.  The only sad part of the story is that it took me 14 years to figure that out.

Sean has been pretty good about learning to do things and doing them when I ask.  He’s been a teachable sous chef and reliable towel folder.  He puts away the silverware, carries in groceries and makes his bed when I ask. But what I want for him to learn is to take responsibility for what needs to be done — to see it and do it.  Oh, there are dishes in the sink?  I can put them in the dishwasher.  Oh, the trash is full?  I can take it out and put a new liner in the trash can.  Oh, the newspaper is lying in the driveway?  I can run out and pick it up.

But even beyond all that, I’d like for him to develop a heart that loves to serve, because I think if you have that, then you are more likely to see work as a joy and a privilege and not just a means of a paycheck.  They say if you have a job you love, you never work a day in your life.  I would add to that if you have a heart to serve, you probably love your job.

So the other day, AD and I had this discussion with Sean. We told him how we wanted him to identify some tasks around the house of which he could take ownership.  He half-heartedly mentioned a few things before he got to the big question, “How much will I get paid?”

“Paid?” said AD.  “How about you get free room and board here at the House of Antique?”

“And dental and medical too,” I chimed in looking at several thousand dollars worth of metal in his mouth,  “And we’ll even throw in paid vacation.”

He looked a little disappointed because his generation is all about the paycheck, the trophy, the snacks — the reward.

And I don’t know how to change that other than to let him grow up to become a salad girl.

19 thoughts on “What I Learned As A Salad Girl

  1. I love that you are writing more often. I have missed your blog!
    I started working when I was 16, and have always loved doing a job well, and earning a paycheck, to buy my own things. I was expected to buy my own car, if I wanted one, and that’s what my children also were expected to do. We never paid for chores, and they had a lot. We had a great point system tied to the chore chart, including when chores needed to be accomplished, for maximum points, and little gems like help your siblings, go the extra mile, and do something unexpected for someone else, incorporated into their charts. When my oldest was in Marine Corp boot camp he wrote a letter home saying, “Thanks for being so strict, you’ve made boot camp easy.” My middle son has ADHD, is bipolar,and will probably always need to live with us, but he manages to be the go-to guy for all of the people on our street, including a few neighbors with medical conditions, for free. My daughter is an ABA specialist, working with autistic children 3-12 years old. I think their appreciation for being a contributing member of the family helped them to learn a strong work ethic, and has served them well as adults.


  2. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, even though my kids are only 3 and 1. My oldest loves to help, even when I’d rather not have his well-meaning help. But if he’s not doing something productive, he gets himself into trouble or spends a lot of time doing something decidedly not productive. So I try to give him a “noble purpose” – something that really needs to be done and is really helpful. He loves it.

    This makes me wonder about when he’s older. I like to read historical fiction and have been drawn to the idea behind an apprenticeship. I’d like to implement something like that in my boys’ lives by helping them to find a “hobby” in a few years that takes real work and real responsibility. I can see teaching my oldest computer programming as he approaches middle school, maybe with the idea of creating an app to sell in the app store. Or encouraging them to write a book or start a small business. Something with a “noble purpose” behind it. My hope is that these endeavors would shape the way they see work – as something necessary and expected and fulfilling.


  3. Teaching my child to take initiative around the house has been a concern of mine for some time. I am afraid that as an older Mom of an only child, I often find it is easier to do it myself than to nag. And now she is in high school where the homework load is ridiculous. I have to constantly remind myself not to do something for her that she can do herself.


  4. When our son was in 6th. grade he got a call from a neighbor that owned a clothing store. He wondered if ds would like a job breaking down boxes and getting them ready for the furnace/or recycling truck. That summer/fall ds put $800.00 in his savings. He still has that money today. I ask his once if he was going to spend any of that money. He replied, Why spend mine when I can spend yours. ha. Smart?

    The spring he turned 16 and wanted a new car. I told him that whatever he saved up from his little odd jobs that his dad and I would match to buy said car. Of course never thinking he’d save more that a thousand and a good used car would carry him to the places in his dreams.
    He saved $4,000 and in the fall we matched the amount and he drove away with a new small jeepy type vehicle.

    Those types of things, working outside the house was always easy. BUT! The inside stuff, yard work and such was like talking to a mule. A hardheaded mule.
    He did them and never complained but his time table and mine never met in the middle. And he was never paid to keep up his chores.

    Take out the trash? Sure. Midnight he’d be taking out the trash. Put up your ball uniform. Sure. 2-days later. Rinse out your plate and put it in the dishwasher. Sure. An hour later.
    He had his own time table, his own way of doing things and never a hair out of place. He surely walked to the beat of a different drummer.

    Today he’s totally different. Never a dish in the sink, trash barely makes it to the bin until he’s roped it up and taken it out. I think he got a new drummer or he’s more scared of his wife than he was of his mother. 😉


  5. We also expected our kids to do chores for no pay; but we did offer a “bonus” for extra work. We wanted to give them some money on a regular basis so we could start the basics of budgeting with them too.
    As for daily chores, if they asked to be paid we said “We all work in this house. It’s part of being in a family and maintaining a household.” Sometimes, when I was feeling really snarky, I’d say “Nobody paid me to make this meatloaf….”

    We were also the mean parents who did NOT pay for good grades. Another topic, I know, but goes along with the sense of entitlement that prevails today.


  6. I get a little smile when I see a new post show up in my email. I always love to read what you write. Thanks for sharing! We have 4 kiddoes and my oldest is 11. We’re already hearing the moaning about “other kids” having sleep overs, cell-phones, ipods, ipads and everything else electronic and hip. I tell her that she can get all those things when she earns or saves enough money. You’re on the right path just stay the course–he’ll thank you one day just like you thanked your parents. 🙂


  7. “But what I want for him to learn is to take responsibility for what needs to be done — to see it and do it.”

    I wish this for my husband, also. When it comes to household duties however, I think this trait may only be found in the XX Chromosomes. Gabe likes his room to be clean, but he’s doesn’t seem to mind any other room in the house being messy.

    So good to read you again.


  8. We have regular chores that are children are expected to do daily without compensation. We also have above and beyond chores for which they can earn money. We felt it was important for them to be able to earn some money of their own (ages 8 and 10) so they could start learning the process of saving and spending their own money. Now when we go to the store and they ask if they can buy something, I can just say, “do you have enough money?” It stops the “I wants” and holds them responsible if they want to buy something instead of looking to me.


  9. It’s been so nice to see you writing again. I’ve missed it.

    I too have often wondered how to help my son to notice the things that need to be done around the house. No matter what I tried, he remained oblivious unless I took the time to ask him to help out. Now that he is a little older (he turns 12 next month), I am happy to report that his eyes are slowing opening.

    I think that Lota is right. Kids just see things differently. It has only been through age and maturity that my boy is finally doing things without being asked.


  10. I’ve been meaning to say, I’m so glad you’re blogging again. You entertain me, but you also make me think about the kind of parent I am, and challenge me.


  11. They cut up jello into cubes and put it in salad? I lived in the US for five and a half years, and I never knew that.

    We don’t pay for chores, and we don’t pay for school work effort or achievement. I’d be interested to know where you’re going to be on that one too.

    As for “seeing” the work that needs to be done… I think that kids just have different eye sight to adults. And it’s nothing to do with contact lenses. I agree your point about these things having to be learned, but whoa, that one is a long road (in my humble experience, with a 15 year old, and still much progress to be made. Much.)

    * * *
    No we do not put Jello IN the lettuce salad! I put the cubes in their own individual little bowls with whipped cream on top! Very elegant! If you are a four-year-old.


  12. SOOOOO glad you are back to blogging!

    I was a “Sandwich Artist” at Subway when I was 15 – not my dream job. I remember my step-dad fussing at me when I was younger about not being able to “see” what needed to be done – I was so sad every time he pointed something out because I really hadn’t “seen” it and I felt like I had let my family down. This is such a tough (but very important) issue!


  13. I didn’t have my first “real” job until I was 18 but I liked it. I was a clerical assistant. Seems most kids these days don’t have a clue. I loved to please my mother and would not argue about chores. Of course back then we would of been spanked! My daughter does chores but I have to nag. She did do the dishes the other day without asking however! I was talking to my husband the other day about a young man who comes over to hang out with my stepson. I was taking the big trashcan out to the curb and he just walked right by me. I was brought up in a generation where you ask someone if they need help etc.. so I was a little surprised. I don’t think he meant to be rude, he just didn’t have a clue.


  14. 2/3 of my kids like to work. 1 of them will cheerfully work with reminding and 1 of them will actually work on his own, bless his industrious little soul.
    And then there’s the non-working 1/3 of my kids. Not sure what to do with that kid!


  15. When my kids were younger I developed a chore chart for them. Some friends thought I was crazy because their children did not have chores. Others thought I was wrong because I did not “pay” my children based on their chores. When my father saw my son bring in the garbage can from the curb at age 6, he asked me “what does he get for that?” I replied, “he gets to live in our house.” My kids ended up changing the chart–they each had tasks they preferred, and that was fine with me as long as they agreed and everything got done. As they got older we did give them an allowance (although it was very small compared to their friends). We felt that they needed some of their own money in order to learn how to spend and save and also since everyone in the household worked one way or another, we were all entitled to a little cash. We did not give raises based on age or on the number of chores. We raised their allowance when, over time, they showed more responsibility by either showing more initiative (doing before being asked or reminded or taking on new chores) and when they did their jobs better. I didn’t totally realize how much they did until they went away to school and I had to do everything. Now (since husband works out of state), I am the only one folding laundry, taking out the garbage, and emptying the dishwasher. I sure do miss those kids :).


  16. OMG, the similarities. I was a Salad Girl too! At a place called “Good Compay”. And I too wanted things like contact lenses and Forenza sweaters. And, we do not pay our kids for chores. They get paid in bandwidth, cell phone minutes, insurance for driving, hot showers, healthy home cooked meals, rides to and from school…need I go on? My eldest recently got a job, and he has had a hard time budgeting his money. So much so, that he was unable to make his car payment last month. (we procured the car, he got three months free and clear, then he took over the payments and we pay insurance) We graciously agreed to loan him the $47, but it has to be paid back AND he was warned that if he is short again next month because he blew too much cash on lattes and fast food, the car will have to be sold. It sounds harsh, I guess, but I don’t want him to get out in the real world and think the bank is going to let $47 slide month after month. Life is the best teacher. something my husband and I argue about all the time. He wants to protect them, because he loves them, but he was a bit spoiled as a teen and made some very bad decisions as a result. He can’t see the correlation, sadly. (sorry for the epic comment)

    * * *
    I always love what you bring to the conversation. I bought my own car, paid my own insurance. At the time, I resented it when I saw other kids whose parents provide them with everything. Now I appreciate how it shaped me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s