Joe and I come from loving families with parents who gave us everything (and more) of what we needed, but not necessarily everything we wanted. As a result, we learned at a very young age the value of a strong work ethic.
The summer after our family moved to Georgia, my sister and I walked around our entire neighborhood taping 3x5 index cards to mailboxes advertising that we were available for babysitting. The venture quickly turned into a veritable business and families booked us in the fall for New Year’s Eve. During that summer I also worked at Dairy Queen, and because I didn’t have a car I walked to work, changed into my uniform (a disgusting brown polyester thing), and then changed again before walking home at the end of my shift.
In high school I was hired as the nighttime librarian for the children’s department at the downtown public library. I loved that job because I was in charge; I shelved books, answered questions, decorated the bulletin board, and did inventory. I loved helping people find books. One night, a desperate father came in looking for a book on “that island about Charles Darwin and the finches” for his son’s book report and I said, “Oh, you mean the Galapagos Islands?” and he was so relived he gave me a hug. I worked there until I left for college.
My husband was equally industrious. In grade school Joe had a paper route seven days a week—every evening Monday through Saturday, then in the morning on Sunday. The job involved him walking to the distribution point, loading his papers into a back satchel, and then walking his route to deliver the papers. On Sundays he loaded the papers on a wagon because, being a larger edition, they were too big and heavy for the satchel. He delivered papers rain or shine (although in inclement weather sometimes his mother or one of his sisters took pity and drove him around).
On his 16th birthday Joe walked into Hardee’s and applied for a job. The manager was so impressed he applied on his actual birthday that he hired him on the spot. He worked there from 10th grade until he graduated from high school. The summer before college he worked in a lumber yard cutting wood, filling orders, and making deliveries.
In college we both continued to work. Since one of my goals while a student at The University of Georgia was to study abroad, I worked (and saved) to pay for it—at a women’s department store, as a dorm night clerk (midnight to 7 a.m.) until they promoted me to the day shift, and briefly for Nanny-to-Go (a babysitting service in the Athens area). One summer I worked as a counselor for Camp Villa Marie in Savannah and to this day I think that is the hardest job I ever had (and that Savannah during the summer is the hottest place on earth). Eventually I saved enough money for a study abroad in Salamanca, Spain.
At Penn State, Joe worked in his dorm’s post office, collected the trash on Sunday mornings, and had two work co-ops (both in upstate New York).
When we look back, Joe and I agree that working was just ingrained in us. If we wanted that car, or a study abroad, or a new stereo system, we worked to pay for it. We were also cognizant of family finances, so we contributed to college tuition and textbooks.
Simply, this was how we were raised, and it is how we’ve tried to raise our sons.
When Nicholas and Jonathan were in high school, they both held jobs while continuing to play sports and be active in school activities. Nicholas worked as a busboy for Mellow Mushroom and Jonathan worked at Arby’s. They coordinated schedules in order to share the family car; in fact, neither of them had a car until their sophomore year in college. They also had internships every single summer, and every fall before school started they sat down with Joe to figure out how much they could contribute to next year’s tuition.
Of course, as parents we are always filled with self-doubt. Are we too hard? Do we expect too much? Should we just buy them that iPhone or give them a car instead of having them work for it? But then we see how Nicholas was offered a job before he even finished college (a great job in which he is now head of a team) and how Jonathan finished his internship this summer and received a job offer once he finishes grad school (he accepted), and we are assured that maybe it is all good and that the lessons our parents taught us are good ones to pass on to our sons.
This past April, we were in New Orleans wandering through the art galleries on Royal Street when Timothy asked for a souvenir—a drawing on canvas of a hedgehog typing away at a computer. At the top are the words: work, work, work, work, work. It made us laugh—say the words fast enough and it sounds like the clicking of a keyboard—and so we purchased it. Once we returned home, Timothy placed it on his nightstand where it reminds me that those very same lessons—passed on from our parents, then to our sons, and even brother to brother—are catching on with him, too.