Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Turns Out, My Job is Kind of Silly

I dropped by a friend's house for lunch the other day on my way to work. Her youngest two kids are the same age as mine, and until recently she stayed at home with them, but has since gone to work part-time at Starbucks. On Mondays, though, she's home with her two youngest and willing to serve me a bowl of tomato soup in exchange for some conversation and an occasional offering of chocolates or cookies. So when I arrived this week, the kids were delighted to see me. Was I going to stay and play with them? Did I bring them anything yummy to eat? Unfortunately not - I could come in for lunch, but then I would have to go to work.

My friend's daughter looked at me sorrowfully. "It's sad when people have to go to work," she observed, "especially mothers." (You can see why returning to the work force nearly gave my friend a nervous breakdown. I've never seen so sincere and finely tuned a guilt trip, much less from a three-year-old.)

"Do you work at Starbucks?" her five-year-old son asked.

"No," I said. "I'm a teacher. I teach some big kids - the biggest kids of all."

This, in my experience, always comes as a bolt from the blue to the kindergarten set. My own children generally respond to this announcement with a moment of stunned silence, and then shake their heads laughing, "Nooooo." I'm not sure what they think I do when I go to work, but they flatly refuse to believe it involves teaching anybody anything. So when I told Ben that I was a teacher of big kids, I expected some opposition.

"You mean ... teenagers?" he squeaked. I shook my head.

"Not even. Bigger kids than teenagers."

He pondered that for a second. "You mean, you teach adults? But I thought adults knew everything already!"

He continued to chew over this amazing information as we sat down at the table for our lunch. "So," he asked, "do you teach the adults where everything comes from and how it works?"

Um, no. Actually I teach them to read books and poems, and then to write essays about them. It's a very important job, but I can't exactly explain why.

Ben's face brightened. "You teach them how to write books?"

Not really. Let's maybe not talk about my job anymore and just eat our lunch.

21 comments:

wheelsonthebus said...

wow. glad i opted out of academia.

Anonymous said...

I love my job and always did, through my boy's baby and toddler-hood, through adolescence and teenager land my job was the same job it is today and tough to explain (CEO of a mental health agency).

Sounds like you approached it as adults do when answering questions about sex: age appropriate answers, etc.

The biggest Mommy guilt is feeling NOT GUILTY ENOUGH! Role-modeling work ethic to one's children should be enough but NO, moms feel badly about everything regardless.

Quick story: while driving teenagers three hours each way to rehearsal in Columbus Day traffic, I nearly got hit by a car and accidentally let lose the F-bomb. Apologizing quickly, I later asked the teenagers one at a time, "Does your mom work outside of the home and does she swear"?. Those with SAHM's were quick to demur, "no she doesn't swear or work outside the home". One girl said, "She says Fudge...". Those who's moms DID work outside the home laughed and said "Yes" to both.

What does any of this mean? I don't know but feel guilty retroactively anyway.

(Your)
Anon

Jaelithe said...

Oh, but you DO teach them how to write books. One has to know how to read books in order to know how to write them. Whether or not your students choose to apply their knowledge of reading books to writing books is entirely up to them, of course.

painted maypole said...

gee, why can't you do something really important and necessary, like design a new cheap plastic toy?

Patois said...

Just hand over the chocolate and they'll be happy with whatever you do.

Janet said...

You teach your students to think critically, a hard concept to explain to pre-schoolers.

I used to work in high tech marketing. My in-laws always told everyone: "She works with the computers." Sheesh. They are much more at ease now telling people I am a writer. Just don't ask them what *sort* of writer...

Mimi said...

Ha! I told my oldest nephew once that I taught English, and he paused, thought about it for a moment, and said: "Really? ... ... ... Anyone can do that."

Um, thanks.

BTW, he got a ***D+*** in grade 8 language arts this year.

Yeesh.

Lady M said...

At least they know what a teacher is! I haven't been very successful explaining what I do (marketing in high tech) except that Q-ster knows I have to talk on the phone a lot.

kittenpie said...

Oh, c'mon, they wouldn't understand that you tech critical thinking and analysis? That you teach people how to make an argument? (the response to that last would be pretty shocked, too, I'm guessing.)

Mad said...

Miss M is unnaturally proud of the fact that her daddy is a teacher. He teaches actors, though, not adults. Sub-categories can be very important.

Hannah said...

Tee hee. It's always funny to hear about your job through a child's filter.

We went through this when Michael was running in the election. Try explaining parliamentary democracy to a three year old. Good times.

Katie-Rose said...

You said "My friend's daughter looked at me sorrowfully. "It's sad when people have to go to work," she observed, "especially mothers."

I don't agree with you that this three year old was trying to lay a guilt trip on her Mother, she is far too young too understand things like that. I think she was simply expressing her own sense of loss and bereavement when her mother goes out to work and leaves her. She clearly understands how important it is for young children to be with their mothers, because she knows what it is like for her when her mother goes out to work and leaves her.

Mad said...

Twitter. Twitter. Twitter.

Mad said...

Can't leave you at unlucky #13.

Once you're on, I'll give you the grand tour. Give it up in a week if you don't like it.

Bea said...

Katie-Rose - I did use the word "sincere" to describe it. Rather than accusing a three-year-old of conscious manipulation, I was acknowledging the hit-to-the-solar-plexus aspect of a comment like that.

slouching mom said...

I love this. Just love it. It made me laugh so many times and on so many different levels.

jess said...

I think there's an inverse um, thingy, going on with kids and adults in this area. Kids are always deeply impressed that I'm a nanny. Adults tend more to the, "Oh just while you're in grad school, right?" My brother was in the army and little boys think he's the coolest thing since sliced bread.

jess said...

p.s. I'm not in grad school. I didn't even go back & finish college. I'm pretty sure this horrifies some of the families I worked for at the start of my nanny career who now have teenagers I am setting a horrifying example for. I don't care. I'm smarter than they are.

Kyla said...

Kids are so judgmental. ;)

No Mother Earth said...

Ha! I think if you explain most jobs that aren't obvious service roles (fireman, doctor, etc) in language that young children can understand, they sound pretty silly. My job was to "make a computer program look for things that a person was interested in and send them emails about it". So useful I was!

Occidental Girl said...

So funny! I think it's better not to analyze one's profession too much, or else none of our efforts would make sense.

When I worked in graphic design, we used to say we weren't doing important things like saving people's lives or teaching.