There’s a picture on the bookshelf that greets you as you walk in our house. On the top shelf, between the blue miniature wooden dory that once carried Barbies, stuffed animals, a beloved plastic horse and hand-drawn paper dolls, and the wicker basket full of Christmas cards, sits a red foam photo frame.
Adorned with two pink hearts (that always seem to be falling off and are just as easily found and reaffixed), it’s a photo of a 10-year-old Sofie in the cutest gray and silver dress and me in a tweed jacket and tie. Taken one night long ago at the community center’s Father Daughter Dance prior to Valentines Day.
That color red, which seems so apt a counterpoint at this time of year, is doubly so today. When the stinging cold rain pelts the picture window overlooking an ice gray Oyster Pond framed in a thin white border of snow, this cheap shade of crimson brings a spark of cheer even without the sweet image within.
Right now she’s using the Sunday afternoon indoors to finish Spanish homework. Lounging in an old overstuffed chair, she’s testing the limits of her iPad’s battery. The charging cord won’t reach that comfiest of chairs. My now long-legged bird tries to curl her limbs up under a multicolored fleece blanket. The accommodations we make for perfect comfort.
She’s 13 now – 13 and a half, she still says. But I’ve gotten used in my head already to thinking of her at that next milestone. If 13 means she’s truly a teen, then the year following is even more meaningful. At the end of next month, once she turns 14, Sofie is legally able to hold a job.
That’s been a big deal for some time. Always a gregarious child, she’s been looking thoughtfully at the occupations and asking questions of every person she’s encountered as she grew up here in Chatham. Teacher. Police Officer. Doctor. Baker. Artist. Bookstore clerk. Politician. Chef. Banker. Actor. Shellfish constable. Journalist. Attorney.
Sitting in Chatham Bakery or Larry’s PX, we’ve had great conversations over the years about what these jobs might be like, the pay, the responsibilities, the hours. I’ve worked a variety of occupations since I was 14, back when Lorania’s Book and Toy Shop was across the street from the 5 and 10 and movie theater downtown. She wants to hear mostly about the ones focused on helping people.
These are the times that cause me to reflect. Fourteen is the age when I truly made my own independent income. During the school year, I worked Saturdays. At lunch, I’d cash my check, deposit most of it in my Cape Cod 5 passbook account. With the rest I’d buy a cheeseburger and a chocolate frappe at what’s now Sandi’s Diner. School vacations, I’d get the chance to make more money.
Summers, well, for a teen there is nothing like working on Main Street in downtown Chatham. Especially the evening shifts. Especially Fridays for the band concerts. It was me, my bike and meeting my friends after work on a warm evening with a little cash in my pocket.
When I got to college, it struck me how this was not a regular thing with most teens. Or if they did work, the settings were lacking the magic of this place during the summer season. I remember a friend of mine from New Jersey meeting me when I got back my sophomore year. After hearing what I’d been up to, I asked him. “I worked at a Bed, Bath and Beyond in Paramus,” he said. Like it was a sentence he had survived. My reply was simply, “Ohhhhhh, mannnn.”
As a single parent, I have raised Sofie to be have to ability to get along if something happened to me. So it’s no wonder that she wants to work. I’m glad for that. The over-scheduled bubble that so many parents have raised their kids in continues to expand further up the age ladder, so that the idea of a teen part-time job sounds like something exotic in many circles now.
They’re too busy or it’s not safe. Probably both. It’s a sad and needless expansion of infantilization. We’re preparing our kids to become fully-functioning adults, not trying to keep them tied to us as long as possible. There’s nothing to focus a young mind like saving for something special. Just as the routine of cleaning up at work and having to deal with difficult colleagues and customers goes a long way to gaining the skills to navigate through all relationships.
Fourteen. She starts high school in the fall. In two years she’ll be driving. Four and she’ll be graduating, and off to college. Here’s where she takes some of the steps I’ve laid out for her, she begins to follow them, and as she continues, makes more of them her own.
It’s all about this age. The last part of our dance. Like watching her glide and whirl around on the dance floor at our event many years before, I’m very excited to see what she makes of this time.