As I watched my 9-year-old daughter Justine stand upright in the ocean with the last wave of summer cascade over her capable shoulders, I took in the image slowly, understanding that I wasn't quite ready for summer to end. Her squeals and laughter reinforced that feeling. I knew she wasn't quite prepared to go back to school, and I found myself conflicted about going back to work, still wishing for one more summer wave.
I thought a lot about transition this summer, especially after leaving a job I had for 20 years and setting out on something new. Yet, I never really asked myself 'what do I think about going 'back' to work?' The truth was I never stopped working this summer except for a spectacular week in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico for my older brother's wedding. But something about the fall, something about September always feels different. Kids go back to school with a tiny sense of regret that summer is over and a big burst of excitement that school has started. And those of us who are parents feel as if we are "going back to work, too," even if we love our jobs and have been working all summer long.
I began to wonder about the difference between school and work and what kids think about this topic that is dominant in the media. I didn't want to wait, so on the ride back home after that last summer day, I interviewed my dearest Justine and then some of her friends and kids of my friends on their views.
Here is what I learned:
QUESTION 1: What do you think the difference is between work and school? What do mommy or daddy do all day and what do you do?
Justine, 9: I think the difference is at work you work hard to make money for your family and you get paid, but at school you learn important things that you will need to know in life -- say, like at the grocery store you need to know how to calculate your total and at the bowling alley you need to calculate your points. We don't get paid, but teachers get paid to help us.
Jordan, 11: At work you are in front of a computer all day and you get paid. You spend time with co-workers instead of friends.
Ryleigh, 7: Not much difference really. Daddy does a lot of math problems. I do a lot of math problems. Mommy's job is different. She types a lot of emails she doesn't do many math problems.
Amit, 6: Work is when you make money and go out. School is all about writing stuff. Mommy and Daddy work all day and we get to see our friends.
QUESTION 2: What do you think is better about going to work versus going to school?
Jordan, 11: You sometimes get to go out to lunch at work.
Justine, 9: Going to work people aren't bossing you around and telling you what to do every minute. So if you need to rest and put down your pencil you can without someone saying come on and pick up your pencil, we need to step up the pace.
QUESTION 3: What do you think is better about going to school than going to work?
Amit, 6: School is better because you get to do sports and have snack time every day with friends.
Jordan, 11: At school I am with my friends. At work you hang out with people you don't get to pick.
Ryleigh, 7: It's better to go to school because you can learn more.
Justine, 9: At school there are a lot of kids to play with at recess and you can partner with your friends on activities. The teachers are really nice. Sometimes bosses aren't so nice. Also you can go to the nurse and pretend to be sick so you can get sent home.
QUESTION 4: What type of job or career would you like to have one day?
Ryleigh, 7: I want to be a doctor or a scientist.
Amit, 6: Something with football.
Justine, 9: A spy or a professional basketball player, but I might change my mind.
Jordan, 11: I want to own an architect firm.
QUESTION 5: What are your biggest questions for your mommy or daddy about work?
Jordan, 11: Are you happy?
Amit, 6: When are you coming home and how long do you have to work to buy ten Star Wars Lego Sets?
Justine, 9: Do you get to play games on the computer all day?
Ryleigh, 7: To mommy, how many houses or apartments do you sell? Also I want to know when Aunt Jenn worked at Burger King if she got to taste food all day?
Interestingly, none of the answers even mentioned 'getting the summer off.' The members of this small sample of young people are looking forward to the school year ahead, and focused on what they get to do -- and who they can be with -- in their world, just as we focus on many of the same questions, all year round, in ours. In a survey about what kids think about working parents surprisingly, most children didn't wish for more time with their parents, most children wished that their parents would be less stressed and less tired by work.
I took this to heart and made sure to regale Justine with great, fun adventurous stories of my work and all the fun waves I jumped through with my colleagues in the office last week. She shared with me a few adventure stories from her first week that included a signing up for band, a new math program, and cute new boy from overseas who joined her class. (uh-ho!)