When I was in college, I spent a summer working at a nursing home that was 6 miles down the highway from my hometown. I don’t remember what my job title was. It was a very long time ago. But I do still remember some of the residents. There was Joe. He was kind of a funny old man with a loud voice. I helped him shave some mornings. He knew my dad and shared stories about him. And then I would go home and tell my dad, and get another story back. There was Bernice, a lady who was far too young to be in a nursing home, but had some disease that kept her from being independent. She was this crazy scooter driver. I sometimes fixed a lady’s hair or helped someone onto the toilet or helped the nurse change the bandages on a bed sore. Once I saw someone die.
Now we live across the street from an assisted living facility. My 15-year-old son works there, as my daughter did through her high school years.
My son reminds me often, when I’m hounding him about grades or chores that not many kids his age have a job. It’s true. When we talk about other activities that he should be doing at school, he reminds me that not many other kids his age are also scheduling around a job. When he needs extra help at school, sometimes it’s a challenge to stay after school to talk with the teacher, because on the days he works, he has to be there at four. And when he gets home at seven, sometimes he’s kind of wiped out and doesn’t really want to focus on homework.
Life is all about choices. And for all of the times he’ll use this one as an excuse – he doesn’t want to trade it. Most work days, those old people are an endearing part of his day. There’s Hans, who has an accent. My son does an impression of how Hans orders shrimp and a big smile spreads across his face, revealing a lot of braces. He witnesses the spirit of these people in this season of their lives. There’s the cute little lady with the high pitched voice who shares stickers for the young servers to put on their nametags. And there’s the spunky man in the track suit who got a drone for Christmas, and brought it to dinner, attached to his walker.
I think of all my son learns at this job as he bridges himself across four generations to figure out how to make the occupants of the mean ladies’ table happy tonight. He practices patience as he repeats the menu over and over for a few in need of memory support or a new battery in the hearing aid. He learns perseverance as he gets up early Sunday morning for church before his mid-day work shift. And he learns about saving and delayed gratification, as his check goes toward his cell phone bill and the 2016 Sophomore trip.
I’ll let him whine a little, and maybe cut him some slack on grades now and then, because I know right now where he’s getting the real education.