Toddlers take their first steps, and teenagers do an updated version of that when they start working. After years at sleepaway camp, my 16-year-old daughter lived at home this summer, dividing her week between an internship in a state law maker’s office and another at a performing arts program that offers high school students from low-income families a deep dive into singing, dancing, and film-making. So far, she has said two things about the summer that are so resonant in self-awareness and discovery that I wonder if they will be important personal themes for her in the years ahead.
One I got second-hand (from my wife). The performing arts program culminated in a celebration of song and dance and film-making last Thursday night that was a joy to watch and uplifting for performers and audience alike, as everyone there knew how much was achieved in a relatively short period of time and could sense the bonds of trust that had been forged between the kids, and the pride in their achievement. My daughter was one of two summer interns, helping out with anything that needed helping with, so the teachers and the students could focus on the main task at hand. I can’t tell you how gratifying it was to see her warmly and enthusiastically applauded by the cast, when they offered their “thank yous” at the end of the performance.
Apparently, as Elena would later tell my wife, the day after the performance during their last class together, the cast and the teachers and the interns, joined in a circle to share among themselves about the experience and their lives. Some kids hinted at such difficult circumstances that it caught Elena off-guard, somewhat.
She said to Rebecca: “Of course, I know there are people whose worlds are incredibly challenging, but I don’t think I really understood until yesterday.”
Now there’s a gift of knowledge I have never been able to give her – this even though I myself grew up just north of poor.
The other insight she gleaned from this summer she shared with me last night.
“I don’t know if I’d like working in an office every day, all day,” she said.
“Yeah, I kind of like when it’s looser, and you have projects going on, and you can come in a little later, and work together to do creative things, and it’s just a kind of fun, crazy environment, but not too crazy.”
She added: “But I recognize that that’s probably not as realistic. That there’s probably more of the office kind of work.”
I’m so proud of her right now that I tried not to add too much of anything that sounded like an opinion. The beginning is the time to just enjoy the journey.
Eric Messinger is the editor of New York Family. He can be reached at [email protected]