From Summer Jobs to Side Hustles: Making It Work Through the Years

Summertime coming closer has me thinking back to all the ways I have worked over the years to make some extra money. What started with summer jobs to have spending money for clothes evolved into work-from-home jobs I could do while raising my kids to help our family run on one income. The very first time I earned my own money I was probably 11 and living out my Baby-Sitter’s-Club-inspired dreams. I liked playing with little kids, I loved rocking babies, and having a few dollars that were my own was everything. As I got a little older I baby-sat on a pretty regular basis. I would watch the clock after kids were in bed and count the hours by 3s…to figure my cash take home. That’s right. I made 3 whole dollars per hour.

Through high school I taught swimming and coached an 8 and under swim group. I fell completely in love with the water, and first considered the possibility of having kids of my own someday. I was also a lifeguard at our huge public pool. This was not neighborhood pool lifeguarding…we had hundreds (thousands? I’m not great at estimating…many, many) of people and a handful of “saves” everyday. I remember distinctly finding a very young toddler by herself in the baby pool area who was not old enough to talk. I picked her up and wandered around saying loudly “Let’s find your family! I wonder where your parents are!” After announcing over the intercom something horrible like “if you are missing your baby daughter in a blue butterfly bathing suit please come to the front desk”, and after wandering the pool deck carrying her for 20 minutes, her 11 year old brother came over and calmly said “oh, that’s my sister…I was supposed to watch her.” It was a special kind of stress, lifeguarding at the huge pool.

During the school year I worked at a grocery store slicing meat in the deli. You haven’t fully lived until you’ve dodged gelatinous chunks of souse loaf flying off the spinning wheel of the meat slicer. In college I eventually worked my way up to baker, which came with a 4am clock-in time and a completed workday before noon. It was lovely!

I worked at Old Navy for a brief stretch of time. I never was certified on the denim wall, though, but I did like wearing the headsets and offering people those enormous mesh shopping bags. (Why is that helpful? Would you like to carry the same huge, heavy pile of stuff in this fishing net? No? Huh. That’s odd.)

After college I taught high school English. I adored every minute of it. I loved sharing my love of reading and writing, but I honestly don’t know why we teach Romeo and Juliet to children. It’s filthy. One of my favorite moments was when I was trying to explain what two characters were discussing in a subtle enough way that some of the kids understood without having to spell it out for them…and one wise girl in the back row raised her hand “Do they mean ‘doin’ the grown-up??’” Yes, Kiki, yes they did.

When we found out I was pregnant, Nick was a football Graduate Assistant. It paid in experience and opportunity rather than big money. By the grace of God he had the opportunity to take a full time coaching job at a Division 3 College in Ohio. I finished the school year and left teaching behind to join my husband in Ohio. In order to make life run on his new income and be a stay-at-home mom we got creative. I got a job grading SAT essays from home. It paid 1 cent per essay (or something horrifying like that), and it involved sitting at a computer and straining to read HORRIBLE essays in chicken scratch handwriting that had been scanned and loaded onto the computer. It was mind numbing.

I don’t think my next job even exists anymore. You see, in the days before Siri or Alexa, or smartphones, really, if you were out somewhere and wanted to know something…you had to call someone and ask! And in a technology-seeking world that someone was ChaCha. Does anyone remember ChaCha? The idea was that basically you called and left a message and then someone returned your call with an answer. Or if you were super high tech you could TEXT your question and get a response back via text message. My job was pretty simple, I listened to voice messages and transcribed the questions. If I knew the answer I could respond; if not, I passed the question on to someone further down the ChaCha chain. There were many questions about hours of operation of random establishments. Lots of inquiries about which actor/actress starred in a certain movie. And, as you can probably imagine, many, many calls from bored preteens and teenagers asking just vile things. The anonymity brought out the most disgusting things they had ever wondered. Maybe that’s why my kids don’t have smartphones…I know first hand what people google.

I started baby-sitting for a family when I had two little kids of my own, and my friend brought her two kids over at 7 am. That job is the reason I started drinking coffee. It also gave me the confidence to have a big family, so that job was a winner on two counts. When I had our third, I once again agreed to babysit, because it was for a family I loved. Their baby girl and my daughter are only a few months apart and age and having two babies in the same time gave me a profound respect for moms of multiples! They both wanted to be held around the clock. It was probably the hardest job I’ve ever had. 

But there is something about being able to financially contribute that gives you a sense of value. When I was 18 and slicing deli meat I dreamed about what Abercrombie jeans I was going to buy with my paychecks (like three combined checks for one pair of jeans), but then in reality I paid for car insurance and gas money. When I was a young mom I was rounding out my Aldi’s budget. Whatever the goal it felt good to be working toward it. In all honesty, though, I’m mostly glad I’ve had all those crazy jobs so that when my kids someday complain about their first jobs programming robots or cleaning lunar rovers (or whatever kids will be doing part time in 5 years) I will be able to say “oh really??! You think that’s worse than acid washing the floors of a public pool men’s room?” Don’t even try, future kids!

3 thoughts on “From Summer Jobs to Side Hustles: Making It Work Through the Years

  1. Wow! I forgot about some of those jobs…especially cha cha.
    I think every work experience gives us an appreciation for many things… difference and similarities in people….time…. money…cooperation…
    So grateful for the experiences that made you the wonderful mom you are.

    Liked by 1 person

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