“I can get a job when I turn 14,” my child announced one evening. “That’s just a few months away.”
“Why are you wanting to get a job?” I asked.
“Because,” he began, looking me squarely in the eye. “There are a lot of things I want that cost a lot of money and I don’t want to ask you to buy them for me.”
I have to admit, a lot of emotions hit me with this statement, the first being that my child was getting old enough to enter the workforce.
The second was that I admired my child for wanting to work for the things he wanted.
He recognizes what he wants is kind of pricey and he doesn’t expect me to pay for it.
I started working at 15, for pretty much the same reason.
My weekly pilgrimages to the mall had taken a toll on Mama’s finances. Her credit cards were given a better workout than her Jane Fonda tape and she could have saved a lot of time by just having a huge chunk of her check deposited in the bank accounts of Macy’s and The Limited.
Clothing, makeup, books, shoes, and music were staples and necessities of my teenage life, and unlike now, where I tend to be more frugal, everything had to be name brand and top of the line.
Now that I am paying for it, I find myself realizing L’oreal can cover my freckles as well as Lancome.
But, back then, when Mama was paying for it, was a totally different story.
Until one day, she said something she rarely said: No.
“W-what?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“That’s too expensive. I have already bought you jeans that were $100 – what made those jeans so much? Are they stitched with gold thread? I can’t get this for you this week. Maybe ever.”
I don’t even remember what it was that I was wanting. Back then, clothes were expensive and disposable. Mama would buy me something and the next month, it was considered out of fashion and discarded.
“You have to clothe me!” I cried when she told me no.
“Clothe you, yes; spend ridiculous amounts of money and go into debt over one pair of blue jeans – no.”
“What am I going to do?” I cried.
“You’ll figure something out,” she said.
And I did.
I got a job.
Granted, I had been ‘working’ since I was in kindergarten, writing up invoices for my grandfather and uncle and taking phone messages. I was paid a dollar a week and copious amounts of candy.
This was a real job, with a weekly schedule and lunch breaks, and where I paid taxes.
I was 15 but fibbed about my age. Or rather just danced around the whole age question. I started working at Cato, taking credit card applications at the door.
I think I made $10 for every application that was filled out, but more importantly, I got a discount on clothes. No, it wasn’t The Limited but it was clothing.
By the middle of the summer, I was working over 30 hours a week.
I loved it.
But, I never brought a full paycheck home.
I spent it. All of it. If it wasn’t on clothes, I was going to the Revco next door and getting drugstore makeup and hair products.
“Even though I am working, I still get an allowance, right?” I asked her one week. “And as your child and your main tax deduction, I think you should still be responsible for some of my clothing and upkeep.”
Mama laughed. She had probably expected me to burn through my paycheck in rapid speed.
Mama had mistakenly thought having a boy would be cheaper than a girl. Boys typically don’t worry about fashion like girls do or care about name brands or getting their hair and nails done. Mama was right on those things, but she failed to realize that boys tend to want bigger ticket items. Video games, cars, and electronics. Things that needed upgrades and enhancements.
Things I have no idea about and that run in the price range of car payments.
“I know the things I want cost a lot of money,” Cole explained. “I know you try your best to get me these things for my birthday and Christmas but sometimes, I don’t want to wait to get them. And, even if I do wait, some of the things are a bit more than what I would feel comfortable with you spending.”
He rattled off a list of things: a gaming computer, new consoles, video capture cards. And a corgi. He’s still wanting a corgi and knows those little herders are pretty expensive, not including the vet bills.
“Where are you thinking about getting a job?” I asked.
He took a deep breath and told me the places he was considering. “I want something that will pay me decent and be a good place to work. There may be scholarship opportunities for me, too.”
He had clearly thought this through.
“So, what do you think?” he asked.
What did I think?
I was proud of him.
Immensely full of weepy mom-pride.
“I think any place will be lucky to hire you,” I said truthfully. I know he will be a great employee wherever he works and bring a great attitude and work ethic to anything he did.
He smiled humbly. “Can you believe I am almost old enough to start working?” he asked excitedly.
No, I can’t. I really can’t.
I was proud of his initiative but really wish time would slow down.
Then I had to think of an added perk Mama
had when I started working and smiled.
“Maybe when you start working, you can buy your dear old mom dinner,” I said.
He beamed. “Absolutely! One thing
“Will you let me borrow the car?”