My mom loves to tell the story of how, as a first-grader, I told my teacher that my father sold socks and bombs. The baffled teacher called my mom to ask what my dad actually sold for a living (which makes me a bit concerned for my early education). Clearly, Dad was a stockbroker, but because I had no clue what stocks and bonds were, I translated those words into ones I understood. (Note to Homeland Security: My father has never had any dealings with actual bombs.)
What kids think their parents do and what their parents actually do can be worlds apart. The other day, I overheard my 6-year-old telling a friend that Enviro-spouse is a garbage man. I asked him why he thought that. He said, “Well, he always picks trash up off the ground.” I asked: “So what does he do in his office all day?” My boy thought for a moment, and then answered: “Blog?” In the boy’s world, the word “blog” is synonymous with the word “type.” Which is what he sees his father do. That and pick up litter. Of course, a few years ago, my daughter told a friend that her father mostly takes naps in his home office.
I then asked the boy what he thinks I do for a living. “Mom, you’re a reporter and you blog.” This is pretty much right on. Then he added, “That means you talk on TV.” I did, years ago, talk on TV a couple times a week for a tiny community-news station, but not since. I then explained to him that I’m a print reporter, and people who talk on TV are rarely really reporters.
Then I asked my girl, a third-grader, what she thinks her parents do for work. “You’re a freelance writer and Dad is a system dynamicist,” she answered. Bingo. So I asked her what a system dynamicist does. Her answer: “I have no idea.” Me either, sweetie—maybe he blogs and take naps.
These job discussions gave me the idea to venture over to my kids’ school, Isaac Dickson Elementary, and interview some of the kindergarteners in our boy’s class.
My favorite responses were from a girl I’ll call Rachael. She knows what her mom does. “She’s an ob-gyn,” Rachael said. “What does that mean?” I asked. She paused for a long time, and then said: “She helps people. And does stuff with babies, I think.”
“So what does your dad do?” I asked. “He’s supposed to watch the kids, but mostly he goes downstairs and watches football.” She laughed. “His job is to watch football.”
Although some of the kindergarteners know exactly what their parents do, many of them have no clue. “I don’t really know. He’s never told me. She just goes to work,” were all common answers. Other kids, like my boy, are fairly oblivious and base their responses on something they’ve just seen their parents do, like pick up trash.
For example, one kid said his dad “fixes things. Like chairs. With glue.” I happen to know that this dad actually is a freelance writer. But one who must like playing with his glue gun.
Another kid said his mom “does errands all day.” One said his mom “drinks Pepsi and takes care of my baby sister.”
Several said their parents’ job is to “cook for us” or to “take care of me.”
Some days, cooking and caring for kids does feel like my job. I was secretly thrilled that these young kids appreciate some of what their parents do for them. Maybe kids aren’t as self-absorbed and inattentive as they can seem.
Another good answer came from Seb: “My parents just play with me and my brother.”
My kids both know that while we like playing with them, playtime often is usurped by work, or by important activities like napping or blogging. That said, I just took a break from writing this column to make popcorn for the kids, using my old-fashioned stovetop method. My son said: “Mom, if you get fired from your job, you can become a popcorn maker ‘cause you make the best popcorn in the universe.”
It’s good to have a back-up plan.
Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville. She covers a number of topics (including parenting) on her blog, www.EdgyMama.com.