My work history included almost every position known to man that included the word “assistant” in the job title: office assistant, program assistant, assistant clerk treasurer, medical assistant, educational assistant, library assistant, legal assistant. Those are the ones that come to mind. The mystery with some of those was, who was I assisting? Typically, I was solely responsible for the success of the program I was employed to assist.
As the library assistant in a small-town middle school I assisted students, faculty, administration and janitorial staff. It could be messy work, but it was wonderfully rewarding (just not financially). The children attending the school ranged in age from 12 – 15. Parents of those children ranged from poor to affluent and law-abiding to fugitives from justice. Our family lived in the district and fell in the lower portion of the standard-of-living scale.
The district was rural and encompassed a large geographical area with limited law enforcement presence. Many families’ only source of income was less than legal, or flat-out criminal, which resulted in one of my self-proclaimed library rules: If your library book was destroyed when your parents’ meth lab exploded, you were not required to reimburse the library (I would cover the cost). Parents of library patrons ranged from the most fundamentalist of Christians (“You should not have books like The Giver in your collection”) to parents who would show-up in t-shirts displaying the image of pigs humping with the caption “Makin’ bacon.”
Children’s character had little to do with their parent’s income level; there were well-behaved, and badly-behaved children from all levels. I suspected that this was the result of what was regarded as acceptable and unacceptable in individual homes. For instance, it might be unacceptable to take the Lord’s name in vain, but perfectly acceptable to bully and disparage anyone who didn’t share your beliefs. It might be acceptable to beat-up and bully your peers, because you were beat and bullied at home.
For me, a source of great joy, was when an adolescent would allow their child to shine through the oily self-conscious veneer of adolescence. It frequently emerged as a moment of hippity-skippity movement followed by extreme embarrassment. Their inner child would erupt like a soon to-be inflamed blemish on their face. For just one moment, the child within rose to the surface and emerged to be seen. It was a happy moment, for the adolescent, and for me watching. I worried that if the young people held that part of themselves submerged below the surface for too long the joy that was a child would drown and die. I was surprised that this was as likely to happen in the presence of strict fundamentalism as it was in an atmosphere of lawlessness and drug abuse.
I held that position in the last half of the nineties. The children I worked with are now in their mid to late thirties. I hope they still find opportunities to let their child shine through. I have held many positions since then (some, but not all, with the word “assistant” in the title) and am now retired. It’s time to let my child shine through (probably it will be best to do so when no one is looking). I’m going to embrace spontaneity and have fun when the opportunity arises (like going to a painting class when friend Ronnie calls just one hour before the class is to start to offer me her spot). I’m going to sing loudly to the radio when no one else is in the car (I will retain more friends if I limit this activity to times when I’m alone). I’m going to skip. It’s a great calf exercise.