THE MIDDLE ONE has finished her first year in college. She is just starting to luxuriate in lie-ins and lazy days, when I remind her that as a college student, she has a duty to get a summer job. Preferably one that pays. Because we are not a bank.
The last bit resonates particularly with me, as it's exactly what my own parents once told me. They didn't mind me being stroppy and student-y, once I was able to pay my own bus fares.
She doesn't look too happy when I raise the idea. In her mind, summer means endless days with friends, pizza parties and ice cream and lots of reading, drawing and lazing around. I tell her that at 19, it also means a JOB IN THE REAL WORLD. At least for a few months.
She manages to secure a job in one of our big department stores. On her induction day, she tells us that the store is so big, she'll probably spend her summer getting lost. The Eldest, who worked there last summer, is sure of it. Google Maps was invented for The Middle One.
We await news of her first shift, with interest. She spends it in the massive bag department. As she doesn't yet have the proper uniform, she's told to dress in black. "The trouble with that," says she, wearily, "is that customers think you're a manager. And they ask you everything. And I knew nothing!"
What she does learn is that she's great at customer service. She's a 'people person'.
"My granddaughter asked me to get a particular bag for her," an old lady tells her. The Middle One gives a polite nod.
"Do you have a description?"
"Well, she's just as pretty as you are," the old lady replies, beaming.
After a moment, she realises her meaning. "Oh, the bag! Sort of square, maybe round. With a clasp." She gazes out at the vast array of clutches and satchels and shoulder bags, then links her new young friend. "How about we look together?"
The following day she's assigned to changing rooms.
"That sounds easy," we say later. Her look is stony. "It involves returning everything that customers tried on, that they don't want to buy. I spent the whole day wandering around the store, looking for things. Have you any idea how many different pairs of jeans there are for women?"
This sounds like a rhetorical question, so I say nothing.
"There's short leg, medium leg, long leg, low waist, flares, boyfriend jeans, high waist, baggy, skinny..."
"Stop! We get the picture!"
"You can't hang anything back in the wrong section."
The eldest starts to laugh, and has to turn it into a cough.
The main thing she's asked for, in such a huge shop, is directions. "Which is fine, if we're talking about where the lift is," she says, "but they keep moving all the clothes around, so I never know where anything is."
"So what do you do?"
"I take a fair guess. I figure if I can get them a bit closer to where they're going, someone else with rescue them. There's plenty of us to ask."
To date, her newest skill is folding! Thousands of tops and jumpers, all neatly arranged and displayed on stands. Sometimes, she spends hours doing that.
As an artist, pursuing a college degree in animation, the kindest thing I can say about her bedroom is that it's creative. In a sort of Omigod-the-whole-room-just-imploded kind of way.
In her entire life, I don't believe she's ever folded a single item of her own clothes. I learned long ago to step back. But it's reassuring to hear that she knows how.
I can't believe May is almost over! We've had really mixed weather here in Ireland, but we saw a bit of sun this month, so if you were visiting, I'd love to hear from you!
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Wishing you a wonderful month.