why teenagers should clean toilets

i recently read an article by a mom titled “Please don’t help my kids” (read here).  the frustrated mom lays down some firm ground rules about assisting her kids at the playground.  while her tone seems to be a bit harsh, i really appreciate the heart behind her words.  i appreciate her desire to race independent kids who know how to stand on their own two feet.  who can be creative, original selves in a world that screams conformity.  who understand resilience because they’ve practiced it, endurance because that is the framework for their lives.

i began “working” when i was just 12, scoring my first few babysitting gigs with the children of my parents’ coworkers.  on one particular night, as my dad was dropping me off, he encouraged me to do the dishes and help straighten the house while the parents were away.  his thinking: if you clean for them, they will be wowed and want you back.  i took his advice, cleaning the kitchen while the children played and watched movies.  the parents came home, refreshed from a night away and ecstatic that they didn’t have to deal with a mountain of dishes.  they paid me well and called me again.

that’s when i learned the importance of adding value to my job.  doing that thing that took the position just another step further in quality.

at the age of 16, i decided to spend my summer working as a young counselor-in-training at the church camp i grew up attending.  me and the few other staff members my age were all considered too young (rightly so) to handle a cabin of campers on our own, so we spent our days doing odds and ends jobs around the camp, and our evenings/nights with the campers.  i was put together with 2 other young girls to assist Marilyn, the housekeeper.  our daily job: cleaning toilets.

we arose at 6:30a each morning, moving quietly about the cabin, careful not to wake the counselors and campers who didn’t have to rise for at least another hour.  we ate breakfast together, then set off in golf carts with cleaning supplies.  we cleaned every bathroom on the campus, from the hair-spray, body-wash fruitiness of the girls’ cabins with showers full of hair, to the dingy, dirty nastiness of the boys’ wash houses that wreaked of urine.  Marilyn was a stickler about hair left in the drain so we scrubbed until the sinks shone and picked out every loose hair that lingered.  the boys had a nasty habit of clogging the conventional toilets, and then turned to pooping in the urinals.  i’d never touched poop until that summer (and never have since).

we finished mid-to late morning with the housekeeping, went to lunch with all the campers, and then i headed to the concession stand, a little trailer with a fridge full of sodas and counter full of candy, and sold sugar to children.  we stayed up too late laughing and joking about boys, and i woke up too early the next day to repeat the cycle.

14 years later, i find myself in a fun, rewarding position at a yoga studio, where i get to interact with people and help build the business.  i have a marketing and promotional background, i’ve written freelance articles and pieces for many folks over the years, i’ve managed departments and had significant positions in companies.  and still, i clean toilets.

why?  because it’s so necessary, so basic.  toilets need cleaned (and floors swept and the counter wiped off) everyday.  because they get used everyday.  if they told me in high school i would eventually use my degree to work a front desk and clean the bathroom.  I would have laughed.  but my dad’s words still linger in my head.  go above and beyond.  work hard to wow your boss, and you will be asked to stay.

what i appreciate about the article, mentioned above, is that this is a similar type lesson the mom is trying to teach her young babes.  when we teach our children anything less than the importance of cleaning toilets, or the value of climbing the slide ladder by themselves, we make them believe the impossible lie that life can be lived without hard work and basic effort aimed at tedious tasks.  we instill the idea that life is not worth the toil necessary at times to move forward with dreams and goals.  that life is somehow easily gotten and that there is no beauty in the simplicity of serving others.

that’s why babes need to learn to pick themselves up when they fall from the monkey bars, and teenagers need to clean toilets, and adults need to rejoice in their challenging work.  because life, rich and full and beautiful life, will be the prize for those willing to work for it.

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