My students’ daily homework assignment is usually to frolic in the clover. When I write frolic in the clover on the board where the homework assignment goes, new students want to know what I mean.
Students: Is that a book we are supposed to read? A website we’re supposed to look at?
Me: No. Just find a patch of clover and frolic in it for a second.
Students: What do you mean frolic?
Me: Why does the forty-five year old lady have to tell the teenager how to frolic? Just find a patch of clover and do this (takes off shoes and frolics).
Today is Labor Day, the day we celebrate workers, the five day workweek, the weekend, basic human rights in the workplace, the right to organize into unions. . . .and today I celebrated with a frolic in the clover at a picnic:
It might be tempting to forget the necessity of labor unions and workers rights when you are (as I definitely am) gleefully employed in an uplifting workplace. For me, work itself (both teaching and writing) is a frolic in the clover. It has not always been thus and so I remember the contributions of laborers who have risked terrible repercussions in order to fight for the rights of workers by remembering when:
- At seventeen I got a job telemarketing that offered a boost in pay if you were willing to come in on Saturdays. Every time I did work on Saturdays, the company issued me a check leaving off the extra hours and the pay boost. I always had to request the correct amount, argue for it, and wait days for them to cut the new check.
- At eighteen I worked as a phone operator in a little booth above the floor of a large hardware store. On my second day of work the middle-aged manager came up to visit me in the tiny space. He sat down beside me and traced his pen up and down my arm and asked me what kind of girl I was.
- At twenty I was a lifeguard and swim teacher for my local pool. I went a month and a half without a paycheck. I approached my boss for the third time asking him to file my paperwork with the leisure services department so I could be paid.
“I’m so sorry to keep asking you,” I said. “I don’t mean to be a bitch.”
“Then stop being one,” he said.
- At twenty-three I worked a summer at a dry cleaner and laundry. The owner greeted me on my first day by ordering me to rub out a period stain in the crotch of a pair of pants laid out in the back and standing beside me to watch me do it.
- At twenty-four at a meeting with the priest in charge of the elementary school where I was a teacher, I asked him to consider raising teacher wages and benefits above the national poverty level. He told me that I should be working for God, not money.
- At twenty-eight I worked in a second-story public school classroom with an enormous empty planter box right under the windows. The planter was so filled with pigeon excrement, rotten eggs, and dead birds that it fouled the air of the classroom with ammonia stench and insects. Because of the location of the box on the building it was impossible for me to do it myself. Repeated calls over the course of a calendar year to the district office resulted in nothing being done. Finally I called the superintendent’s office and told his secretary that if the problem wasn’t fixed in forty-eight hours then I would call child protective services as well as several major news stations. The planter box was completely scoured in twenty-four. It was full of shit again by the end of the year.
- In my early forties I worked a job that reduced teacher pay every year. When in a meeting a colleague voiced a concern, he was met with the response: “At least you have a job in this economy.”
It isn’t pleasant for me to think on these things. I would rather return to the clover, and shortly I will. Yet it is important on Labor Day of all days to reflect that it is honorable to work. It is honorable to make a living. It is very dishonorable to take advantage of, mistreat, and profit unduly off of workers yet it happens all the time, it has happened to me, and it will continue to happen in many places but for the efforts of organized labor.
Now. Back to the clover. It would be interesting to hear your good and bad labor day stories in the comment section.
I labored on these. I was my own boss and I was fair and just to myself while I was working on them. I gave lots of breaks for snacks and Twitter. Click on the covers to the links to buy if you want.
- List every job you’ve ever had. Any weird or cool experience stand out?
- Who were your worst bosses? Your best bosses? What did you learn from your earliest jobs about leadership?
- What would be your ideal work environment? Do you have anything close to that now? What can you do about making that happen?
- If you could take a yearlong Sabbatical from work, what would you do? What about a five year break?