A notice came into my mailbox yesterday that today was Take Your Child To Work Day, and it instantly made me sad and somewhat irrational and I hit delete angrily.
Instantly, I was seven years old again and found myself sitting in my father’s office and I don’t know why I was whisked there yesterday but for one minute I was back there and I was with him and I knew the moment, like all of the moments in the past five years, was about to disappear and then it did and it left me feeling empty.
I don’t often wish to be seven again, but I would have stayed seven yesterday for an entire day if it meant I was back at Take Your Child To Work Day, some time in the late 80s, when I still thought the President was like a movie star, a dollar was worth something and all I needed were gum balls.
It was actually the smell of the gum balls that hit me first yesterday.
There were three candy dispensers outside in the hall in my father’s building, a lighting company in New Hampshire, a company where I suppose he did sales because that would make sense but I really couldn’t tell you. All I knew at the time is that he had a desk and lots of pens and pictures of me and my sister and a great big calendar for your desk that also could be used as a notepad and I imagine this is where my obsession with desk calendars began.
The three candy dispensers in the hall were the source of hours of entertainment for us some days. We’d run our grubby fingers all over the red bottoms, flicking the top of the gumball slide open over and over again. We counted the gum balls and tried to guess what our next color would be and where we could find change. We’d never pay attention to the peanut dispenser or even the M&M dispenser, that one uninteresting because the M&Ms appeared to be three years old minimum and tiny chocolate candies never beat out giant flourescent gum balls.
There was a warehouse in the back of the store and sometimes we’d follow him up and down the aisles looking for cables or wires or lightbulbs marked with a series of numbers and letters that we were able to help look for. I remember the concrete floors were always cold and the shelves seemed to go up and up and up and it smelled like my Meme’s basement, which I kind of liked.
Sometimes we’d sit in the hall and flick the light switches on and off and on again, until we were told to stop and then when no one was looking, we’d do it again for good measure. Sometimes we’d stand against the wall or sit on the floor of the light bulb show room, watching the business people or husbands come in, looking for just the right fixture. Other times we’d wander down to the break room and stare at the machine that shot out soda cans and sometimes we’d have one, if the nice lady down the hall, was it Denise or Sheila or Diane or Carla, I can’t remember, if she gave us change. When she wasn’t dispensing change, she was smacking her gum and checking her feathered bangs, asking us about imaginary boyfriends and asking questions about school. She wore lipstick and her feathered bangs were mesmerizing.
I can remember sitting on his lap and staring at my own face in the picture frame on the corner of his desk. He wore light blue dress shirts from Sears and his hair was still brown then, his mustache of porn star quality. I’d lean against his chest if he took a call and take in the mix of Irish spring soap and Old Spice cologne. Heather Smith, Heather Smith, Heather and Katie Smith, I’d write in cursive on the yellow memo pad with one of his pens, over and over again to pass the time.
I remember running my fingers over the pretty manilla folders that were held in the cold and grey filing cabinets, on the one day of the year I got to file the papers. I’d open and close the heavy drawers, pretending to run the office, and mess with the paper clips that I never attached to anything, except each other, if I was up for making a paper clip necklace.
I remember my father telling me during each visit to never end up working in a place like that, one where you have to answer to people who you’ll never make happy. “You’re smarter than that,” he’d say firmly, even though I was seven and I’m sure I wasn’t expressing the greatest of potential at the time.
At the close of each visit, on the way out the door, one of us got to push the time cards into the machine that bit holes into the paper and the other got to get the gum balls. As I waited to see what lucky gum ball Katie had scored for me, I silently wished for green over and over and over again.
Today I’m silently wishing that all the kids working with their parents today will one day grow up and appreciate such seemingly meaningless days while they’re living them.