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.