What Is Work? Where Is Work?
Today my six-year-old son made a pronouncement, “I figured out what work is?” My husband and I looked at him with curiosity, since neither one of us is entirely sure what we actually do. “Work is talking on the phone, sending e-mails, texting, making estimates, going to meetings, and having conference calls—sometimes with the phone on mute for five hours.”
Well, I guess you could say that about sums it up.
In the not so olden days, when work was somewhere else other than a laptop on the kitchen table or the screen on an iPhone, it was easier to understand. My dad left the house every morning, dressed in a suit and a cloud of aftershave, and didn’t return until 6 p.m. He went to work—a mysterious place, in a big building, behind a big desk decorated with pictures of me and my siblings in awkward stages of our youth.
Occasionally, on the rare Saturday when Dad needed to tie up some loose ends, we were allowed into the inner-sanctum of his office. With the promise of “It’ll be just a sec,” my brother and sisters and I fondled paper weights, shot staples at each other, and made rubber band slingshots while we waited for dad to finish whatever he was doing. Eventually, tired of flying paperclips landing on his desk, Dad sent us to the copier room for some real fun. There we smashed our faces and hands on the Xerox machine photocopying ourselves for hours. It’s no wonder that I ended up in the “photography” business.
If at six years old I was asked what my dad did every day at his job I would have said, “He wears a dark suit, goes to a big building with a copier machine in it, and bosses people around. Sometimes he goes away on an airplane for a few days, which is great because when he’s gone we eat weenie wraps and waffles for dinner. When his friends from work come to our house they like to drink, smoke cigarettes, and stay up really late.”
Now, when either my husband or I say we’re going to work my son isn’t sure where or what that means. It could imply that in pajamas one of us is going into the bathroom to talk to a man about a horse and to send a text. It could also connote going up to the bedroom where the wireless signal is better than it is in the kitchen to crank out an e-mail in bed. Or it could imply a trip to the market with that weird thing in our ear, or it could suggest going into the “den” and closing the door for an eternal conference call. Regardless of which room the “work” takes place, it means a lot of shushing and hand waving indicating that silence is required.
They say, those people who say things, that kids tend to follow their parents lead when it comes to career choices. I can imagine Cameron, our little guy confessing to a school counselor, “When I get big I want to be an e-mailing estimator who takes conference calls in pajamas, sends texts at the park, and makes deals with a weird thing in my ear while driving the car to a little league game.”