The Best Job I Ever Had
Friday, March 24 2017–11:12 AM
Today is my last day working at FUN — an after school and summer program for kids — and I feel like how Michael Scott looks in this photo:
If I went back in time and told 17 year old, startup-starting me that I’d be working with kids in ten years — and loving it — he would’ve told me that I was insane. Then he would’ve asked how many championships the Celtics will win over that span.
But what started as a summer job during college that my girlfriend Isabelle, also employed there, nudged me into (why they hired me, I don’t know — I hadn’t talked to a kid since I was a kid) has carved out a permanent place in my heart.
I can tick down the reasons why I love the job: co-workers (and bosses) that became lifelong friends, field trips that made me feel like a kid again, getting to work with (and share a new history and language with) Isabelle, all the sports and games (some that I made up on the spot) I could ever want to play. But I can and will stay connected with those things after I leave. (Ok, maybe I’ll play slightly less kickball.)
The biggest reason — by far — it’s so hard to leave is because of the kids.
FUN sort of occupies the territory between home and school. A typical hour could include a kid getting help with her homework, building LEGOs with friends, playing a board game, and joining a game of foursquare. It’s an invaluable service for working parents who don’t want their kids (ages 5–12) home alone. And rather than being with them for just a year, like a teacher (Mr. Feeny notwithstanding), we’re with them every weekday, vacation days, snow days, and summer — for several years, in most cases. I started in the summer of 2012, which doesn’t sound very long ago — but for a child, that’s a lifetime. The kids at FUN who had just finished 1st grade in 2012 will be 7th graders next year.
While after school is sort of a free-for-all, where the kids bounce from activity to activity — there’s a core group that have always stuck near me. I help them organize (and often join them in) basketball games, football games, kickball games, etc. I try to set a good example and be a role model. They know my habits and tics, and I know theirs. Years of context have accumulated: running jokes, nicknames, funny things that happened that became “remember-whens”. Conversations about school, sports, and family. It’s been hard to tell them that I’m leaving.
We always hear how important it is to “live in the moment”. Too often, we’re looking to the past or the future. “Life was better back then.” “When this thing happens, THEN I’ll be happy.” One thing I so appreciate about FUN is that the second I walk in that door, my mind is there. I’m not thinking about anything else. In fact, I’ve gone in before trying to think through something — a problem I need to work out in my head — and within minutes, I’ve forgotten about it. And I think that’s because I’m surrounded by sixty 5–12 year olds who know, better than anyone, how to live in the moment. They’re carefree. They’re interested in what’s happening right now. Stresses from the real world — and there have been a few for me over the past couple years — evaporate when I walk in that door.
The old song lyric about not knowing what you have ’til it’s gone is almost always true — but I’m happy to say that it’s not the case here. Every day, I looked forward to going into work, and every day, I left with a (sometimes tired) smile on my face. All along, I knew exactly how good I had it, and I tried to squeeze everything out of the experience that I could. Never once have I complained — even a little bit — to anyone about this job.
I accepted a position at a creative agency a couple weeks ago, and I’m excited about it. I start Monday. There’s so much I want to do, and this is the perfect next step. It took the right opportunity to pry me out of FUN, and this is it. It’s time.
But this week, as I’ve started saying goodbye to the kids I’ve known for years, I’ve felt a tightening in my chest a few times that remind me that this was no ordinary job. It was genuinely a life-enriching experience that I’ll forever be grateful for.
FUN has served the families in our community well for 25 years. It was around long before me and will exist long after I leave. I was just a small part of it. And that’s good enough for me.