the winding road

When I took Jordan to the mall play area the other day, about a half dozen teenage boys walked in. At first, I thought they should not be there since they were quite clearly over the 46" height limit. But once I saw one of them with a little boy who was probably someone's little brother, that concern disappeared. Unfortunately, it was replaced by something far more agitating: the realization that I was old enough to be the mother of these boys. When I was in high school, chances are these boys were not even born. And for whatever reason, that disturbed me.

Actually, when I think about those boys, I am reminded that at some point during my senior year in high school, I decided I wanted to be a teacher. This was after years of toying with careers in acting, biochemistry (without ever having taken a biology or chemistry class), law, social work, psychology, and I cannot remember what else. I ended up choosing high school English for a number of reasons: I really liked my English classes, and my senior year, I remember getting the highest score on some standardized English test. I was in high school in the time, so why wouldn't I want to be with high school kids (obviously I was not thinking that I would be at least four years older by the time I did teach)? The thought of teaching young kids to read scared me (and I did not like kids much at that time anyway). The teachers in my school seemed to like their jobs, and from what I had heard, they were pretty well paid (not rich suburban Pittsburgh school well paid, but still). And I really liked the idea of having my summers off. Who wouldn't?

Soon after graduating from PSU, I started substitute teaching. On my first day, the vice principal of the junior high (whom I knew as my high school track coach; I went to Catholic grade school) told me this was the worst seventh grade class they had ever had. What a nice beginning! All in all, it was not awful being there (and I was called a lot those few months), and I had even managed to win over this one girl who had apparently hit/pushed/threatened some teachers. But I was starting to think teaching these hormonal youths may not be for me. At the beginning of the next school year, I got a job teaching at a business college. It was great that I could pick the books I would teach. And having to teach business math the first quarter I was there (how crazy was that) taught me to balance a checkbook. I was happy not to be around teenagers, but it was awkward that many of my students were my age or older. I had trouble with some of the students for that reason, but for others I know I really made a difference. One "biker chick" student, I think her name was Ronnie, wrote in my evaluation that had she had me in high school, she probably would not have dropped out. I cannot remember if the good outweighed the bad, but comments like hers reminded me that as long as I made a difference in one person's life, I was doing something right.

But, alas, the low pay, grading papers in the evenings and weekends, and the thought that maybe there was something else out there for me, led me to apply for admissions counselors positions at both Pitt and Penn State. I had no experience whatsoever, but the job seemed interesting, and I still thought of myself as a college student at 23 or 24. No dice there, so one spring day I applied for an editorial assistant position in Pittsburgh. When I interviewed, I was not sure how I would do; the spec guides that I would be working on looked kind of boring. But I decided, after doing a cost-benefit analysis (what a surprise) and feeling comforted that two good college friends already lived in the area, to throw caution to the wind and accept the job (interestingly enough for those who know me, the woman who interviewed me worried I was going to be too shy for the job).

Fast-forward almost 12 years, and here I am at the same company. I started out proofreading and making copies; then I did a lot of editing and project coordinating. The spec guides I worried would be boring were pretty much never to me, even after working on them for almost 11 years. I could tell you so many things about different furniture lines, though I wonder how much I still remember now. Late in 2006, I started to manage projects, which I still do. I like my job for the most part, most days; I am detail-oriented and care a lot about making my clients happy. I am pretty black and white about work, so I struggle to find one right answer when there is usually three, but in some ways it is nice that working with different people on different projects is a totally different experience. Is this my life's work? I doubt it.

I guess I can just hope it comes to me some day soon, just in case I don't win the Powerball or achieve a total money makeover. And in many ways 36 is still pretty young; why couldn't I have a complete career change when I am 40 or even 50? But for now, until the epiphany comes or I get enough energy to figure out what I like to do that I could parlay into a career, I will do the best I can in my job and for my family.


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