I’ve written before about how challenging finding a job can be when you’re 40 and have been out of work for 12 years while raising your kids, so I won’t belabor that point. But my job status has evolved from where it was a year ago and it continues to shape me and how my life looks on a day to day basis, so it seemed important to evaluate, at least to me.
I started the year waiting tables with my cousin as my boss. It was an interesting job and, at the time, all I could get. It was fun a lot of the time, I liked being around all the people I worked with. I genuinely enjoyed serving people…I think I was good at it. I was certainly personable and polite and tried to be friendly. I only encountered one jerk who was pissed that his burger came with a bun when he’d asked for it without. When I made a mistake (which was oddly much less often than I’d have expected) most people were incredibly kind and gracious. I definitely found that your tone and demeanor goes a long way to pave the way for a pleasant experience for someone. It was strangely easy for me to be nice to the people I waited on. Maybe because I knew it might affect the size of their tip. Maybe because they were only on my radar as a tiny blip…unlike my family, perhaps, who I have to deal with all day, every day…I knew my customers would be gone in less than an hour and I wouldn’t have to deal with their issues forever. Oh, sure I complained about the old folks who split their lunch specials and left loose change for tips, but I was always super polite and deferent to them. It wasn’t hard.
What got to be hard were a few things. Many days it felt like a let down to be 40, college-educated and waiting tables. That is probably elitist and snobby of me. But the bottom line was that I didn’t want to be waiting tables when I am 50, which was a major push for me to find something else. A lot of times I was the only female in the whole restaurant. Which was sometimes flattering because most of those boys were incredibly good to me, helpful and kind and even flirty which I’d be lying if I told you didn’t make an old lady like myself feel good. But good god. Somedays it felt like I was in a frat house. I heard way more illegal drug-alcohol-sex escapades than I need to for probably the rest of my life. It wasn’t that I was offended…just some days I wanted to shake them and say GROW THE HELL UP PLEASE! While other days their antics were charming. Restaurants are such funny places to work. There’s a total camaraderie in there but at my age and stage in life sometimes it was more than I could tolerate. Everyone there is smart and talented but god do they make some bad decisions. Just like I did when I was 24, so I get it. But somedays I just couldn’t take it. It was great to feel like just myself again, to just be Jen and not mom or wife or sister or daughter, someone that no one really knew much about but of course you can’t live unknown. It might be a nice break but it’s not a good permanent situation. And I wasn’t going to be hanging out with these kids outside of work, at best that would just be ridiculous and at worst totally pathetic.
So in late spring, I stumbled across my current job on Craigslist of all places and I headed to the Maryland Science Center (because I’m so…sciency???) to do Pop Up Science! with kids and their families visiting the museum. It’s another interesting place. Like any job there are days I love it and days I hate it. Everyone I work with is nice but you’re pretty independent during your work day so I don’t interact a ton with my co-workers…we’re supposed to be interacting with the guests anyway. You get in ruts where you take out the same old explainers and you’ve been talking about Sharks and Minerals and Geobubbles until your eyes pop out. Some of the people I work with are young kids much like the guys in the restaurant, and then there’s the old folks who come in because they like to have something to do now that they’re retired. Again I’m kind of alone in my age group. I’ve found that the type of day I have is largely dependent on the kids I encounter. I’ve seen the best and the worst of kids at MSC…kids who are polite, respectful, patient and kids who seem to have been raised by Neanderthals. I’m convinced as well that the worst kids are totally the result of the adults in their lives who may or may not be doing their jobs. Seriously the other day a chaperone FELL ASLEEP while her kids were doing a project. Totally conked out. Really? Then there are the hours where all the school kids have left and you’ve still got an hour to go and you’re sitting there on the floor with a pile of Dixie Cups you’ve built into a tower checking your watch every 2 minutes because it is a ghost town in there.
But on the good days…those are the days that have inspired me to start pursuing getting my teaching certificate back on track. Those kids who are engaged, and interested and curious and ask great questions and are funny…god I love those days. I love those kids. I still remember this one girl, she had this sparkle in her eye and I just thought “Damn I want to be that girls’ teacher.” I haven’t felt like I wanted to teach in a long time. In fact, just probably a year ago (when I had subbed a couple of times) I was still thinking Hell. NO. with regard to being in the classroom. But this job…if I get nothing else out of my time in this museum, it has been the desire to work with kids again that I am most thankful for. To get me pointed in a direction that actually feels like a direction, that actually feels like it’s going somewhere. I have no idea where I will be a year from now…still at the Science Center? Teaching part time somewhere? Doing something completely different??? But if nothing else I am moving forward now, where a year ago I felt kind of like I was standing still at a crossroads with no idea which direction to head. Well-I’m heading out now, starting my first college class in 20 years next month. It may be the wrong direction but I’m walking. I’m going. I’m moving. And that’s gotta be worth something.
Oh, and the bills got paid mostly this year so…I’d say success all around.