interview with a 16-year-old working her first summer job

My 16-year-old niece, M., has appeared here before — when she was 12, she and her sister helped me answer this letter about a boss who was always making out with his girlfriend in his office, and when she was 14, they helped me answer this letter about a boss stopping up a toilet and asking someone else to plunge it. This summer, she got her first job and I asked her to tell us what it’s like to be working for the first time. Here’s our interview.

So you have your first job! Tell us what you’re doing.

This is my first job and I’m working as a lifeguard at an outdoor pool. There is also a hot tub and wading pool that we guard. Lifeguards are also in charge of a bunch of secondary duties like cleaning and checking the chemical balance of the pool water.

Is it weird to have a job? Does it make you feel more grown up?

It isn’t really weird; it is kind of like school except you can to decide not to come in as long as somebody can cover your shift. Also, it feels more important than school in some ways because at school if you fall asleep or aren’t paying attention or something, it doesn’t matter but at this job it immediately matters because somebody will probably get hurt.

I don’t think it makes me feel more grown up, but it gives me a different understanding of employees in jobs that involve customer service or cleaning. Before, I didn’t always know how to act around people in those types of jobs. I would always be nice and polite and everything, but now I know that the main thing is to stay out of their way and just be polite. Some members make the job easier and some make it harder; there isn’t much in between. If they follow the rules and do everything correctly, it makes it easier, and if they are rude, or they don’t follow the rules or argue, it makes the job harder.

Well, it makes you feel more grown up to me. What has surprised you most about working?

It might just be the particular place I’m working or the job I have, but I was most surprised by how many people are inconsiderate or rude to the staff or other members. It especially surprised me how entitled some people feel, and how they say very rude things to lifeguards when their kids are right next to them. Even kids are rude sometimes, but how can you blame them when they learn from their parents that that is the way to talk to lifeguards?

Members will often question a rule, and they honestly believe that they have thought of something that nobody else ever has, that this particular rule is completely unnecessary, and I just need an explanation about why their particular kid should be able to use water wings. Sometimes the excuse is as silly as “she just loves Frozen so much, and she came to the pool so excited to wear her Anna and Elsa water wings, I just don’t have the heart to take them away from her. Look at her!” What do they expect me to say to that? “Oh, yes, of course, I did not realize that she was such an avid Frozen fan! In that case, enjoy the water wings!” Sometimes, parents are a bigger problem than their kids are.

How do you handle it when parents are being rude like that?

In this job, the customer is not always right. In fact, usually they are wrong. It is important to remember that, because many members will tell you something that sounds like it could very possibly be true, and it can make you rethink what you are about to say. But you have to remember that this isn’t a bartering system, and rules are rules. Sometimes, a rule is changed or altered if there has been too many complaints about it, but it would never be changed in the middle of the day or something like that. Mostly, you just have to keep telling the customer the rule and explain why it is in place and try to convince them to follow it, but if they start yelling or will not listen, we just get a manager to deal with them.

Do you remember years ago when I taught you what to say if you ever need to fire someone? Now that you’re working, does the thought of firing someone seem heartless and cruel?

I remember you said we have to talk about COBRA! (Note: When I taught my nieces about this, they were young and thought there was a snake involved.) I don’t think that having a job changed what I thought about firing someone, but when I first started, I was very worried about being fired because I messed up or got in trouble or something, but when I started working with other people who were less hard-working than I was, I realized that it would require something very, very bad to be fired (at least at my job), so I am not worried about that at all anymore.

Yeah, I think I had that same experience with high school jobs. You come in terrified, and then you realize that just showing up and making a sincere effort makes them pretty happy with you, or at least so it was at Mrs. Fields Cookies and TCBY (both excellent summer jobs, by the way).  Anyway, what do you like most about working? 

I am lucky to be working with such nice, funny people, so I like my coworkers the most about this job. I have gotten closer to some of my friends I already knew from working with them, and I also met new people. But I know that it won’t always be this kind of situation, so I would say that my second favorite thing is the paycheck.

The paycheck is indeed nice. What are you doing with the money you’re earning? And what does it feel like to suddenly be earning much larger amounts of money than you’ve had in the past?

Mostly, I just buy things that I really wanted before, but I couldn’t get. It’s also helpful to pay for concert tickets. It feels good, because I can buy most things that I want. Also, I got a checking account and a debit card. I have been saving most of my money.

Were you surprised by how many taxes are taken out of your check?

I wasn’t really surprised by the taxes because it wasn’t too bad, and I bet I have used way more money than they took from all my years in school and using everything else that taxes pay for.

You are a good person; I am annoyed by how many taxes come out. What do you like least about working?

When I first started, I really liked when nice kids would talk to me and ask me questions and act like I was a celebrity, but most of the time people are not very nice to the lifeguards because we are always the ones yelling at them. That is my least favorite part. There have been multiple times when, after I tell the parent and kid the rule, the parent will turn to their kid and say something like “The lifeguard is here to stop us from having fun again; let’s just go.” They probably just say it so that I will apologize or something but I never do because I’m not sorry that they are not allowed to do dangerous things at the pool. When people don’t listen, I hate it.

Last year, you helped me answer a question at Ask a Manager from someone whose boss had clogged up the toilet and then asked him to plunge it, even though he was in a professional job that wasn’t supposed to involve plunging toilets. Your stance at the time was that the guy was being a prima donna and should go ahead and plunge it. Now that you have a job, has your opinion changed?

I agree with my past answer, but if I was the person, I might try to just get someone else do it by telling them that the boss needs somebody to do it. At my job, it is one of my jobs to plunge the toilet if needed and clean up poop from the floor and stuff like that. But, it isn’t too hard to get someone else to do it usually. If it is in the boy’s bathroom, you can get a boy to do it easily. If it is in the girl’s, it is a little harder, or if there are only girls working, but you can say that you were planning to go on your break right then or say that you have to guard the pool if it’s the right time, or say you are in the middle of something else. So far, I have never cleaned up poop, and hopefully I can keep it that way for the rest of time.

{ 281 comments… read them below }

  1. JMegan*

    This is my favourite part:

    They probably just say it so that I will apologize or something but I never do because I’m not sorry that they are not allowed to do dangerous things at the pool.

    Sounds like M has her priorities right, and she has a really good outlook on how to deal with problem customers. Thank you both for doing the interview!

    1. J.B.*

      I loved this interview. I hope that with the really hard stuff a manager steps in to handle it. As an example, at our pool a kid did something really really unsafe. The lifeguards whistled him and then the (adult) manager on duty came to talk to the mom about it and to say they were giving him a 10 minute timeout. The mom argued extensively but the manager said he could have the 10 minute timeout or they were welcome to go home.

      I was really glad both that he stuck by the rules and by the fact that he was handling it over the lifeguards. It should not be up to teenagers to handle really sticky situations like this.

    2. Dr. Ruthless*

      I worked at a theme park, and we ALWAYS had parents try to get their too-short kids to be allowed on the ride. We had one incident, where a food service employee (sigh) had done a quick height check of a kid, said he looked tall enough, and then they waited in line for an hour or more. Of course, kid WASN’T tall enough, and parents were (understandably) pissed that they’d waited for a ride he couldn’t ride. So they, just, wouldn’t move. They screamed at the staff, had the kid sit on the ride and strap himself in, and camped out for the better part of an hour.

      The resolution wound up being the manager of the area let the kid ride (and pushed the buttons himself so that none of us were doing it), and then had the family escorted out of the park by security. Also, food service employee got a serious talking-to.

      1. Liana*

        Wait WHAT. The parents had the kid strap in and just CAMP OUT? Those poor people waiting in line behind them!

        Also, if I was that kid and my parents were behaving that terribly, I would have been so mortified it would have ruined the ride for me.

      2. Megs*

        As a fairly short person, I do not get why you would want to let your kid on a ride they are too short for. I’m a few inches over the minimum for rides, but I’ve still been on a couple of memorably poorly adjusted rides where the restrains were too high, and spent the ride crying as my ears were continually boxed. Not fun!

        1. Anon for this*

          Because they’re a half centimeter too short and you’re not ever going to be at Space Mountain again, and I know there is a factor of safety built into the ride design so that they’re still safe if they’re a half centimeter under the posted minimum. (Consider that there are different torso, leg and head lengths. Not everyone who does meet the minimum fits in the restraint the same way.)

          We never argued with any park employees who said our kid couldn’t ride, but we may have come back later and remeasured with him slightly lifting his heels inside his shoes. (And I’m definitely talking about a kid who is right at the limit, not one that’s a couple inches too short.)

          1. Honeybee*

            Yeah, but if they let you get away with a half centimeter, what about the kid who’s 3/4 of a centimeter? And then if they let that kid ride, what about the kid who’s a whole centimeter? If you start bending the rules on safety then you’re going to have a 20-minute argument with every kid who’s just a little too short to ride the rides, hold up the line, make everyone else miserable, etc.

            Besides, do you really want to be on the teetering edge of safety? (Not you specifically – royal You.)

            1. AnotherAlison*

              I was curious about this, so I did a quick search, and found a UK study of height restriction policies saying they are too lenient. However, historical data of 40 roller coaster-related deaths from 1994-2004, only 3 were children under 12, and one of those was cardiac arrest (Injury Prevention journal). One was safety restraint failure, but it looked like the adult passenger also died, so it may have been mechanical failure not necessarily related to size.

              So what is the real risk?

        2. Dr. Ruthless*

          My most memorable height-check involved a kid who was *sobbing* in the ride, strapped in and ready to go. He was crying about riding, and his parents told him he needed to be a “big boy” and ride, they’d waited 2 hours, etc. (also, for what it’s worth, this was one of the genuinely scary rides–loops, fast acceleration, you go backwards). I asked him if he wanted to ride and he said no. I told him I needed to check to see if he was tall enough, and if he wasn’t tall enough, he wouldn’t be allowed to ride.

          He gave me a brave nod, and stood up with the most egregious slouch I’ve ever seen–making him an inch or so too short. I said it looked like he wasn’t tall enough, and he smiled and walked to the exit. His parents were yelling at him to stand up straight, and he just…wouldn’t. He skipped the ride, his parents were furious at me.

          1. Cecily*

            I ABSOLUTELY HATE theme park rides, always have, and my mom’s a roller coaster junkie. There is absolutely nothing fun about being strapped into a moving contraption that I have no control over. NOTHING. And no, I don’t like being a passenger in cars, though I will deal with that because there is the benefit of getting to a place whereas there is NO BENEFIT to rides.

            I remember one time at Epcot I didn’t want to do the race car one and I SOBBED AND SOBBED because I didn’t want to do it. My parents were making me go on until a HERO park employee said they couldn’t let me ride if I didn’t want to, doesn’t f*cking matter if my parents think I should just get over it.

            A few years later they made me do it again and I absolutely hated it because JUST BECAUSE YOU THINK RIDES ARE FUN DOES NOT MEAN A COMPLETELY SEPARATE PERSON WILL THINK THEY ARE FUN. (this is an ongoing thing with them not just with rides if you can’t tell)

            There was actually one ride I was okay with at one of the Disney parks, but you could drive and I would insist on driving (it was like two per “car”) and my parents were… relieved? I don’t know.

            1. JeanLouiseFinch*

              It sounds like you should have strapped your parents into the “It’s Small World” ride and made them ride it about 30 times back-to-back.

            2. bluemoon72*

              I know this is a very late reply, but I was one of the fortunate ones whose parents read the situation correctly by forcing me to go on a roller coaster I was scared of when I was 7. I cried in line (I might have even sobbed!) but my dad would not back down. We ended up in the particular place in line where we were going to be in the front car, but my dad traded with a couple that were a few cars back so that we wouldn’t have that added stress. I cried and sniffled and trembled all along the straightaway and up the first hill, and screamed my head off down the first hill — first in terror, then delight. I gleefully laughed through the rest of the trip. I loved it! We got back in line and managed to get the front car for our second trip, and I gladly bounded in. I’m fortunate that I had a dad I trusted and who knew me well enough to know that my fright would be temporary and non-scarring. :)

          2. Stardust*

            That’s awesome! That really made me laugh. Thanks for sharing and shame on his parents.

        3. AnotherAnon*

          ohhhh, so that’s why that one ride always sucked for me! It never occurred to me that the height limits could be set wrong – but I think I’m at least a foot taller than the limit (unless I’m misremembering when I gave up on the ride), so it was really *really* wrong.

      3. Honeybee*

        Those are also the types of families that will be the first to sue if anything happens to their precious child.

        I hate that the manager gave in. They should’ve had the family escorted off the premises. Rewarding people for their behavior in this way just encourages them to do it again because it’s worked before.

        1. Dr. Ruthless*

          Meh. It was a bit of a pyrrhic victory for the family, though–they got to ride, but had to leave immediately afterwards (so they were out hundreds in admission fees). The kid had camped out on the ride, and I imagine the bossman was trying to avoid the scene that would have ensued if they’d had security manhandle him off the ride. The manager had tried apology and offering the family “compensation” (if you want to call it that)–escorted to the front of the line for a few rides that the kid was tall enough for, plus I think some food/beverage coupons, but the kid/family wasn’t budging.

          1. babblemouth*

            What a terrible lesson to their kid too. If you want to break the rules, just throw a temper tantrum and you’ll get your way.

      4. Lynn Whitehat*

        At Six Flags, they measure your kid ONCE when you enter the park and give them a colored wrist band to indicate what height they are. It avoids so much of this kind of stupidity.

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      There are lots of excellent parts! Your nieces are cool and I enjoy hearing from them.

  2. Mishsmom*

    a) this is really cool; b) i’m still surprised when people are rude to employees somewhere; c) you seem like such a thinking, sharp young woman – it’s a joy to read! :)

    1. WorkingMom*

      Yes, I loved reading this! Brings back wonderful memories of working as a lifeguard in high school. She sounds like she has a good head on her shoulders. Her observations regarding rude patrons and parents is really interesting to hear it from her perspective, unfortunately it never goes away! But, the skills you learn on this job will be great in whatever your next job will be!

  3. Caledonia*

    Unfortunately rude people exist in every job (and I have also been rude myself when I was younger).

    You get taxed in the US even for a summer job!? In the UK I think I’m right in saying you don’t get taxed if it’s below a certain amount (but you do have have to pay National Insurance which is a bit like your SS? but again, you have to earn a certain amount)

    1. Poppy*

      In the US you get to file a tax return in April, and if you earned below the threshold they give your a rebate. Super fun, because this way you give Uncle Sam an interest free loan. All because the system isn’t set up to code things correctly in the first place. I miss PAYE so bad!

      1. OhNo*

        Of course, you do have to file a return to get that money back, which not every young person does. Many of them are still dependents on their parent’s tax forms and don’t realize they can file their own.

        That said, I love M’s take on taxes. I feel the same way – what they take out is worth it for all the things I get in return. I might not like it, but I know it does me a lot of good in the long run.

        1. De Minimis*

          I think I owed money on my first tax return as an adult [summer job right before college.] The single rate is pretty high, and I obviously wasn’t having enough taken out.

          Thing is, I don’t know if I earned enough to have been required to file, but it was a long time ago so the thresholds were probably different.

        2. Lana Kane*

          “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes

          Not that I *like* to pay them! But I agree with the sentiment.

        3. Grapey*

          Same here on the tax view. I was a kid to a low income single parent, and turns out that made in-state college tuition EXTREMELY cheap for me (less than 10K out of pocket after 4 years). I now make six digits at age 30, and am very happy to pay taxes so other disadvantaged kids can have the same opportunities that I do.

        4. Ever and Anon*

          Yeah, it’s good to take a philosophical attitude towards taxes. As long as it doesn’t turn into the self-righteous “you used a government service in your life, so you should be happy to pay any amount of taxes I say.”

          1. state government jane*

            Or the classic for those of us who do any marginally customer service-related work for the government: “I pay your salary! You work for me!”

        5. Analyze All The Data*

          Yep, my parents didn’t let me file my own tax return because they got more back by claiming me as a dependent than I got back by claiming myself. They were nice though, and would give me what I should have gotten (while keeping the extra for themselves). It went this way until I graduated from college and they couldn’t claim me anymore.

          1. Natalie*

            I thought you could still file as a dependent though? I did for all of my high school jobs, and my parents still claimed me and got my dependent exemption.

            1. J*

              You can. There’s a question on the tax forms that asks if anyone else can claim you. Technically if anyone CAN claim you as a dependent, you’re not supposed to claim yourself, whether or not they actually claim you.

      2. Grapey*

        “because this way you give Uncle Sam an interest free loan”

        Depending on if you claim yourself or not. For an actual dependent, like Alison’s niece, her parents probably (hopefully!) claim her so she shouldn’t put 1. But for adults without kids (for simplicity), you can claim yourself and not give Uncle Sam that loan.

        Of course, this may mean that you might owe at the end of the year, but if you have the discipline to save the money that you would have otherwise given Uncle Sam, you keep that interest for yourself. The problem is that so many people can’t save money. (I know, people have expenses, but the point of this comment was that you wouldn’t have that money in the first place if you just give it to Uncle Sam.)

        1. Elysian*

          If you owe too much at the end of the year, you have to pay a penalty for failing to deduct properly (or, alternatively, I think you can file quarterly statements or something?). So it isn’t really a saving problem – you do actually have to try to get the withdrawals right, or you’re hit with the non-payment penalty even if you pay what you owe in full at the end of the year. #experience

          1. LawPancake*

            I ended up owing a significant amount this year, my spouse’s employer screwed up her withholding, and the penalty for underpayment was only $15.

            1. Elysian*

              Mine was a couple thousand the year I figured out that I have to withhold extra. I think it might be a percentage of the amount you’re wrong? I forget.

      3. Young'n*

        You can opt out of having your employer calculate and pay your taxes for you. You are not forced to give Uncle Sam an interest free loan. Over or under paying taxes is a risk you take letting your employer pay your taxes for you.

      4. ashleyh*

        Well, you could just claim you are exempt when you fill out your W4 and then taxes would not be withheld initially.

      5. LeRainDrop*

        Since she has not owed federal income taxes in the past, and if she is not expected to go over the threshold to owe them this year, she could have written “EXEMPT” on her W-2, in which case, the federal income tax would not have been withheld from her paycheck.

    2. Lizabeth*

      Yup, but you get most of it back when you file a return…or at least I did way back when in a galaxy far, far away (or should I say pool/pond?)

    3. BadPlanning*

      As I recall, you get taxed, but when you file your taxes, you get a large chunk back.

    4. Observer*

      Well, when you do your returns, if you earned less than a certain amount, you get your taxes back.

      1. Caledonia*

        ah thanks! man that sucks though, having to pay it and then get a rebate at the end of the year.

        1. De Minimis*

          A lot of people do micro-manage their withholding to where they break even or maybe owe a little bit.

          I’m pretty sure we will have a bigger tax bill this year–not thrilled by it, but I live someplace where I do feel like the money is being put to good use.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yeah, I have always been in a position where I could probably manage my withholding better to get less taken out up front and then not get a refund, but because I am an anxious person by nature I’d rather find out at the end of the year that surprise! money back than surprise! you owe. A lot of other people feel differently, though, and manage their withholding accordingly.

            When I was doing summer jobs, I basically always got a refund that amounted to essentially all the taxes I’d paid. (Since this was when I was in high school, and only working in the summer, it was actually sort of nice–a chunk of money that appeared in late February/early March when my summer money was beginning to wear thin. It probably would have been better overall if I’d managed my money better and didn’t need the sudden check, but… I was sixteen.)

            1. EmmaLou*

              Yes, that “you owe us money!” is not a happy surprise. Our state is one that likes to dig deeply into your pockets so some years we get back federal and get to use it to pay state. We’ve only owed Federal once and it was not happy but they were very understanding and patient.

        2. Young'n*

          You don’t have to do this in the us if you pay your taxes on your own. This is only when people let their employers pay taxes on thier behalf. Most people do out of convenience.

        3. Marillenbaum*

          I’ve never minded much, in part because I’m always paranoid I’ll owe, but also because it’s way easier for me to save that money when I treat it like an unexpected windfall in my head, rather than as a larger paycheck (which I would then have to fight not to spend).

        4. Ellie H.*

          Really? I’ve always got a lot back and I LOVE it. I really enjoy doing my taxes (I think the tax code is super interesting – I read the entire federal tax manual and the one for MA a few years ago) and I think getting an unexpected windfall is so great psychologically. I don’t mind the “interest free loan to Uncle Sam” thing bc I like paying taxes w/the same attitude as Alison’s niece. I also pay the optional higher tax rate for MA (here you can choose to pay more taxes if you want to. Another weirdly interesting thing about tax codes!) for the same reason.

          1. Random Citizen*

            Woah, that’s an option in MA? Do you get additional benefits for paying the higher rate, or what’s the idea behind it?

            1. Ellie H.*

              No, it’s literally just you can pay more money if you want. It’s not even the default option, the lower rate is (5.2 vs. 5.85). I had thought it was the result of some ridiculous process of arguing over changes to the tax rate but it was a slightly different it seems – I just looked it up:

              Apparently only about a thousand people in the whole state choose it every year so I feel pretty special!

          2. Natalie*

            It’s not like you’re giving up tons of interest anyway. Savings accounts are less than 1% these days.

    5. Ife*

      If I remember correctly, the tax thing didn’t seem like a huge deal to me at my high school jobs either, because, omg-so-much-MONEY$!!! But now that I am making an adult-level wage (so more taxes come out), and paying all the adult things (omg-so-much-money is not actually that much anymore…), I really notice the tax more!

      1. UnCivilServant*

        I notice the tens of thousands of dollars that don’t come back every year, and then I realize I’m not getting services worth anywhere near that amount.

        1. esra*

          I find that a lot of people feel that way, but tend to not look at the benefits that come from, say, paying for schools even if you don’t have children so there is an educated populace. Which benefits everyone.

          1. anoning*

            I guess, but as someone who grew up in a poor town where the public schools, parks, and infastructure got very little money from the state versus the richer towns nearby whose public schools got so much more money, I find this rationale hard to take seriously. In the grand scheme of things it may benefit everyone, but it’s not like that tax money is used equally.

            1. catsAreCool*

              I know that life isn’t fair, but it would be good if schools were good even in poorer districts and people could feel safe no matter where they lived.

        2. pope suburban*

          Yeah, I would be a lot happier if the money that comes out was providing a better quality of living for me and for everyone else. It’s not tens of thousands of dollars in my case, but that just serves to make all the closed doors for various services sting more.

    6. Gaia*

      Sure do. You pay federal (and sometimes state or local) income tax, Social Security tax (which is like old age pension or disability insurance), medicare tax (insurance for retired folks) and sometimes a small amount for unemployment insurance.

      If, at the end of the year, you earned too little to have to pay income tax you can claim it back and get a refund. But you will not get refunded for social security, medicare or unemployment taxes.

    7. Cambridge Comma*

      Tax is deducted as normal from your payslip if you are over 1/12 of your annual tax free allowance in a month, but that probably won’t happen in the average summer job.

    8. Chickaletta*

      In the US, if you earn at least $600 you’re taxed. Most summer jobs easily meet that.

      1. Young'n*

        That varies by state. Federal is something close to 12k. Eg the standard allowable deductable.

        1. Elysian*

          Well, you’re taxed, and then you claim the appropriate deductions and get it back, usually.

          1. Young'n*

            Again only if you let the employer pay for you. You could not pay taxes and never owe taxes. Unless you are stating that the standard deduction of gross revenue is somehow taxable (it’s not) if you made that or less you can tell your employer not to withhold and then submit taxes as zero withheld zero due.

            1. Elysian*

              I’m fairly certain that in most cases, the general rule is that either you either set up withholding or you pay quarterly estimated taxes. Or you pay a penalty when you file if you didn’t do either of those things. So I suppose if you think you’ll have no tax liability you could get away with this, but no 16 year old is filing quarterly estimated tax statements.

    9. Rayner*

      It happens in the UK too – if your boss doesn’t put in a different tax code, the Revenue taxes you as if you earned that much money across 12 months and then you can reclaim the tax later on. Likewise, the same happens if you start a job half way through the year and end up earning less than the taxation threshold – you get it all back in a fat lump sum at the end of the year.

      1. Jessi*

        I *think* HMRC has actually started doing real-time updates now, which means that you get a correction in the following month – not the end of the year. I only know this because payslips came out today and I’m on an emergency tax code due to being on week one (started job mid-year and already worked since April).

  4. WellRed*

    The parents the blame the lifeguard for ruining fun are the same parents that tell kids if they don’t behave the cops are gonna arrest them. IME, parents are pretty much always worse than the kids.

    1. N*

      Yes yes and yes. I used to work in a children’s museum and I can confirm that parents are the worst. Children are basically decent people who are trying to find their way. Parents are sociopaths.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        One of my favorite things to do at museums is listen in on parents telling their kids about the exhibits/scientific concepts. Ninety-five percent of the time, they’re totally wrong, but it’s a good source of amusement.

      2. Grapey*

        Ha, I hold a (mostly tongue in cheek) opposite view – children are basically always testing boundaries so they’re the sociopaths that need to be trained by adults that know better.

        1. Ife*

          Yeah, I agree. Kids push boundaries and ignore rules, it is how they learn. I feel like most parents are doing the best they can with the knowledge they have.

          Of course there are the parents who don’t follow/enforce rules and set a terrible example, but then there are the kids who refuse to follow rules even if the parents/authority enforce them. You can lead a horse to water, and all that. From an early age kids are their own people.

    2. OhNo*

      Yep. Kids usually understand that what the authority figure says goes, even if they don’t understand the reason behind it. Left to their own devices, they’re even usually okay with following the rules (once they know what the rules are, anyway). Parents, though? Forget about it. The type who argue like this are always convinced that they know best, and the rules just don’t apply to them.

      I’m really glad that M. knows how to stand her ground and insist on doing things safely! That is going to serve her well in future jobs for sure.

    3. LawLady*

      Ugh, I remember when I was a 15 year old lifeguard, I gave a kid a 30 minute timeout because he wouldn’t stop cursing (not just sortof bad words, REALLY bad words). When his mom came to get him later she pitched a fit that he had gotten kicked out of the pool. She said “what the f***?? He got kicked out for that bullsh**?? Are you some kind of pussy?”

      Apple not far from the tree.

  5. AnonInSC*

    As a former camp counselor, meeting the parents almost always explained SO MUCH about certain kids.

    1. Vroom Vroom*

      As a former camp counselor also, I concur.
      Though sometimes the sweetest kids have the worst parents and that was kind of heartbreaking.

      1. Vroom Vroom*

        Heartbreaking in that, you know that eventually those kids will grow up to be assholes.
        I used to babysit two little boys who were kind of jerks, but they were little. Their mom was such a jerk and didn’t discipline them and they’d hit her etc, there was a nasty divorce and it was sad bc the dad would try to impose discipline – no Nintendo at dads! – and the mom would just negate everything.
        It made me sad because the boys were 5 and 7 and super cute, and I was certain they’d grow up to not respect women because they were taught to not respect their mom. Now they’re in college and my niece knows them and says they are, in fact, little misogynists (niece doesn’t use that word but what she describes I define as such)

        1. AnonInSC*

          I know. It broke my heart sometimes. I felt like while we did as much as we could at camp, we couldn’t change the home life. Some kids got some raw deals.

          Others, though, just made me mad. That was usually the ones with a sense of entitlement versus other types of problems. I could work with a kid who showed anger in inappropriate ways or stole food (because they were hungry at home). The ones that brought their expensive toys to show off (but not let anyone touch or use) against camp rules always made me crazy. The parents didn’t care. “But he loves his Game Boy!” (And I just dated myself…..)

          1. catsAreCool*

            I worked at a day care center, and if I remember correctly, if a kid didn’t want to share a toy, then the toy would be put away until the end of the day and given back to the kid when the parents came to pick up the kid. I know this was the policy with toy guns. Not much of a “punishment”, but that discouraged the kids from bringing them in – what’s the point if no one gets excited about it and they can’t play with it.

        2. Tara R.*

          It’s not true that all kids with asshole parents grow up to be assholes, though. (I feel the need to point this out after my mid-teens angst about how my dad being The Worst made me doomed to be The Worst.) Plenty of kids grow up with rude/abusive/selfish/etc parents and turn out just fine.

          1. EmmaLou*

            Amen! I have a niece who grew into the sweetest, most generous and responsible woman in spite of two less than stellar parents (and yes, I realize one of those is a sibling.) We are so proud of her.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Sometimes these kids turn out to be wiser than their peer group because they better understand how words and actions impact other people.

            Rotten parents can have good kids. and good parents can have rotten kids. While we like to look for patterns because it helps to reassure us in some odd way, we can get sucked into believing a falsehood. By that I mean, every kid is like a clean slate, we have an opportunity to show the kid there is a different way to act and think. I have had it happen twice in two different places that I have lived. There was that one kid, who got pushed out the door at 8 am and only called home for dinner time. The neighborhood raised the kid, the not the parent. I tried to grab opportunities to teach/explain. I remember the first kid, he kept doing X after we told him not to. My husband went off on the kid. (Well, the kid was going to end up serious hurt and he just would NOT listen.) By the time I got out there, the kid’s face was as white as a sheet and my husband had left to do something else. So the kid and I chatted, I got the “good cop” role. I explained “when you are in other people’s yards/homes you have to do as they ask. If you do not like what they are asking, then you just say that you have to leave now. I explained that it goes this way for adults, too. I leave if someone asks me to do something I don’t want to do.”

            It tugged at my heart strings. That kid would watch for me to come home from the grocery store and he would ask to carry my groceries from the car to the porch. So I would say okay. Later I learned daddy beat the crap out of him on a regular basis. Hopefully, he found more people who were not like daddy. It seemed like he was going to be a fine adult.

    2. K.*

      Ditto. My fellow counselors would have “it all makes sense” conversations when we met some of the parents.

  6. JOTeepe*

    My favorite part about my summer jobs was having money to spend on things I wanted/needed. In fact, my senior year, I insisted on paying for most things myself that my mother would not have blinked had I asked (and was upset to find out I hadn’t, actually) – such as college application fees and (semi-mandatory) school field trips. I liked the feeling of self-sufficiency it gave me. :)

    1. BadPlanning*

      Yes — I bought a High School class ring with my first summer of earnings. It felt really awesome to have purchased it for myself.

      1. swingbattabatta*

        I bought my high school class ring with money earned at my summer job… although it wasn’t from the paycheck. I was a bank teller through high school (summers, weekends, evenings during the school year when I wasn’t playing sports), and one day I was held up by a bank robber. I followed all of the security protocol (I have no idea how, I was freaking out), and the security company gave me a $200 reward. Voila! Class ring.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      Paying my own college application fees was a big part of why I only applied to three colleges. I don’t think my mother required it, but I was also taking SAT2 tests and AP exams and I felt guilty about how much it all cost.

      1. C Average*

        Same. I applied to only three schools, because application fees were EXPENSIVE! I had some friends who sent out dozens of applications and compared financial aid packages. Not me. I applied to the state school I knew I’d attend anyway, and then two dream schools. Then, weirdly, both of the dream schools managed to misplace some of my materials and asked me to re-send them, and I never did. I think I wanted to NOT have choices! And I hadn’t told my parents I was applying to the two dream schools, and frankly dreaded having that conversation if I did get accepted. Looking back, I probably would have gotten in. Who knows how my life would have turned out if I’d attended Georgetown instead of the University of Idaho??!

        1. Vendrus*

          They charge you to APPLY?
          That seems like the best way ever to reinforce class barriers

    3. Mabel*

      When I had my first summer job, I think I saw every movie that came out that summer. I was so excited that I could afford it, and I was old enough to drive myself and my friends to the movies.

  7. Jess*

    I was a lifeguard for my first job too, nearly 20 years ago, and she is spot on about everything. Good head on your shoulders, M. :)

  8. Muriel Heslop*

    I am both pleased and discouraged that my job as a middle school teacher is so much like lifeguarding.

    “Sometimes, parents are a bigger problem than there kids are.” You know it, sister.

    This was great! M, you seem like a great person. Enjoy the rest of your summer! #avoidthepoop

  9. ArtsNerd*

    In addition to all of the above: holy cow is she good at expressing herself. She’s gonna go places.

    1. Pineapple Incident*

      No joke- she will obviously be known in her future career for being a stellar communicator and a super professional woman- she’s already there!

    2. Aurion*

      I think Alison said before that she only fixes minor spelling/grammar mistakes from her nieces, and the response is all them, no edits otherwise?

      Yeah, Alison’s nieces are going places.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, it’s all her. I don’t think I even did any grammar editing; she uses semicolons perfectly, which makes her a rarity among people of all ages.

        1. Aurion*

          I suspect she may have formalized her prose a bit for publication unless she normally doesn’t write with any contractions :)

          But please let her know that many strangers on the internet are very, very impressed by her poise and articulate response.

        2. Elle*

          I think she has your sense of humor, too! I absolutely loved the line, “Oh, yes, of course, I did not realize that she was such an avid Frozen fan! In that case, enjoy the water wings!”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Humor can carry a person though some situations where nothing else will work.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Aunts (and uncles) can play a huge role in a kid’s life. I am sure that Aunt Alison has been very influential in shaping these two young people. I am waiting for them to grow up and write their stories: “How Ask A Manager shaped my life.”

      Clearly, you have had lots of talks with them about all kinds of stuff, Alison. What a joy, really.

      M, you are doing great, you have great perspective and a great attitude.

  10. Alex*

    “In this job, the customer is not always right. In fact, usually they are wrong.”

    BRB, getting this embroidered on a pillow.

    1. Teapot Project Coordinator*

      I said something along the lines of: the customer isn’t always right, but there’s always a solution to satisfy both sides in an interview and the interviewer was like, I think the customer is always right and I was like, and….show me the door.

      1. Amy G. Golly*

        I’d want to ask, “And is there some sort of mind-altering drug you’re taking in order to arrive at this viewpoint, or have you just never met a customer?” Because really.

  11. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Well, I, for one, LOVE it when the lifeguard enforces the rules. I’m not the greatest swimmer and if I’m doing laps in the set-aside lap lanes, I really, really do not want to have to keep an eye out for people who swim crosswise through the lanes and then hang on the lines treading water.

    I still get a knot in my stomach remembering having to swim for about a month in a huge (and expensive) pool where that happened and the lifeguards (adults!!) couldn’t be bothered to do their job.

    1. Julia*

      The pool I frequent never seems to have any life guards around, so sometimes I swim laps and People – not just Kids – jump into the pool in front of me even though there are signs forbidding it. Holy turtle.

  12. CM*

    Great insights! My first job was working at a movie theater, which is more of a “please the customer” job, so it’s interesting to hear about her job, where she has to enforce important rules.

    Also, this has to be the most mature teenager ever. The line that really stuck out to me was: “I bet I have used way more money than they took from all my years in school and using everything else that taxes pay for.”

      1. UnCivilServant*

        And what about those of us who attended schools in a system that was an utter, dysmal failure costing twice the national average for below-average results? Sure they spent more than I’ve paid in on it, but it would have been cheaper and more cost effective if they’d paid tuition at a private school instead.

        Being in government has only made me more opposed to it, because I see the waste and ineptitude first-hand.

          1. just a reader*

            I’m just an avid reader that has been through most of the archives but never comments and I had to say something: you sure seem to be censoring a lot more lately when people do not agree with your views.. I find this sort of sad, because your judgment on work issues is spot on, and even if I don’t agree with your political views I can usually ignore them but lately they’ve been popping up everywhere!
            I would respect it more if it applied to both sides but you never seem to stop it when you agree with the views presented. You halt it only when the viewpoint is on the opposite spectrum (examples: this, Trump bashing from the other day when the person was coolly defending her views, etc.)
            Oh well, who am I – just a random reader on the internet. Forget it, carry on!

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Actually, in this case, my views actually align more with the person I asked not to debate tax policy, but I didn’t want the conversation to derail in that direction. (I also, frankly, don’t really want my niece to have to read political criticism of her statement since that’s not what she signed up for.)

              But yes, I’ve been stepping in more lately because there’s been more need for it as the readership has grown. And I’m actually planning to ask for no presidential politics talk here through the election (there will be a note on the weekend open thread about it), and that is very much because I don’t care to host comments in support of a candidate who’s anti-semitic, anti-immigrant, and anti-women, and I will happily own that decision. This isn’t a viewpoint-free forum. (But I genuinely appreciate hearing your take on it — seriously, I don’t mean that in a snarky way and I hope it doesn’t sound like that.)

              1. just a reader*

                Thanks for responding, I do appreciate it!

                I also definitely understand the no-election talk, and support it. People are multidimensional (not in the weird aura sense, I mean more as in depth) and seeing a viewpoint from a comment without having any other information about the person behind it is like judging a sphere from what you (generic) only see as a circle. If you were intending to cut political talk though, I would love to see you stop it when people speak out against the undesired candidate as well (again, your website, not trying to tell you how what to do!)

                Your niece seems great, so best wishes to both of you!

                1. Apollo Warbucks*

                  Last time I made a political comment bashing trump Alison asked me not to carry on, so there is some balance and I’ve always seen Alison’s moderation as farily light touch and always with the intend to keep conversations on track and focused on the work place issues being discussed.

              2. penny*

                Here here! I’m all for no political talk on this site. I come here to discuss and read about work issues and politics is something I also try to keep out of work. I see enough political bickering on Facebook that I’m sick of and of course when one person gets into it everyone wants to argue their side. I don’t think that kind of stuff adds value to the site.

                FWIW I haven’t noticed outlandish censoring. No one wants this site to become a troll mecca and someone has to be the person to put a stop when there’s fighting, pile ons or irrelevant commentary.

            2. The Unkind Raven*

              just a reader – I believe you are referring to me, and I just want to say thank you! I never went back to see what people wrote to/about me, because I really don’t like confrontation; I was simply fed up (the names that people were using to characterize supporters of one candidates were fairly awful.

              That being said, Alison, I get this isn’t a viewpoint free site, and you get to run it how you like. I really do appreciate that (no snark); I think I just wish a) that in general there was more civility in political discourse, and b) people would not stereotype others. Just because I vote one way does not make me a,b,c, in terms of my gender, what I like to do, my religion, where I live, etc.

              This is OT and I get if it doesn’t get put up. I enjoyed your niece’s interview and generally enjoy reading the comments. I won’t be back to read anything else posted her, and I’ll probably just go back to lurking altogether.

            3. A Non*

              For what it’s worth, I’m a regular comments reader and I’ve seen a lot more explosions of unpleasantness in the comment section recently. (A couple things got some media attention recently, which seemed to drive a lot of it.) I’m happy to see Alison stepping in more often to head off acrimonious and off-topic conversations before they get started, and I don’t think that conflicts with her having political opinions of her own.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        I agree. I like having paved roads and electricity and police and fire fighters and safe working conditions and schools for kids — that’s a simplified picture because there are lots of different taxes taken from lots of different places, not just my paycheck. But together we are buying things that can benefit us and that we can’t pay for individually.

    1. motherofdragons*

      Yes, that stuck out to me too! I was like “Wow, she gets it, while soooo many of my older relatives don’t.”

    1. KimmieSue*

      I was about to make the same comment! M sounds quite logical and wise beyond her years! Great post!

  13. Allison*

    I remember being equally surprised by how rude people could be when I started working with people. I was raised to be very polite and considerate towards service people like cashiers and food servers, clean up after myself, and speak up if I want something but ultimately understand if things don’t go my way because people were human and the world doesn’t revolve around me. I thought most people were taught this as children, so it was a little shocking to see how many people were rude to me and my coworkers, and how many people got angry over the smallest things.

  14. C Average*

    If you DO wind up having to clean up poop (or do something else disgusting, difficult, or strange), just remember that it will one day become a good story you can tell to younger people. I truly think one of the best things about working entry-level jobs is that you amass so many good stories.

    There is almost a competitive aspect to this story-telling, too. Who had the grossest job? Me! I cleaned the meat department at the local grocery store. Who had to ride three different buses to arrive at work at 4 a.m. to make the bagels? My sister! Who had to buck bales on his uncle’s farm, something nobody does now because machines do it instead? My dad! And so on.

    It’s akin to the stories about having to walk ten miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways.

    1. Emmy*

      My dad and his brothers all worked at a truck stop on the NY Thruway in the 70s and have absolutely the best stories.

    2. Sadsack*

      I thought this was a good interview that provides an interesting perspective from a young person. However, I feel like something was missed. I wonder, if it were not in her actual job duties to clean toilets, say it is separate janitorial staff’s duty, but she was told by her manager to clean up a stopped up toilet, how would M feel about that?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I believe M. stands by her original answer from last year, in which she said, “If you can get a better job where the boss isn’t so confused, go get it. But otherwise calm down and plunge the toilet. He didn’t ask you to hide a body.”

        1. Sadsack*

          Ha, that’s funny. So she would do the work and probably start looking for a job where the boss isn’t “confused.” I like that answer. I’d probably argue about why I shouldn’t be asked to do it, then get fired.

      2. GovWorker*

        Cleaning up poop has danger attached, things such as ecoli contamination are real risks. I hope the teens are given protective gear when required to do such a task. For myself, as a professional, no way am I plunging my bosses or anyone else’s body waste. Nope.

      1. Aurion*

        Dead…animals? That’s for outdoor pools only, right? O.o

        (Most of the public pools here are indoors…)

        1. OhNo*

          Nah. The pool at my high school had to be closed for a week for cleaning while I was there. They found a dead rat in it. There are a surprising number of animals that are smart enough to live indoors and hide from people, but apparently not smart enough to not drown in a pool. :/

      2. Honeybee*

        Oh yeah – my sister was a lifeguard for 8-10 years, all through high school and college, and she has multiple stories of cleaning up bodily fluids.

      3. Jess*

        I used to find dead animals in the pool at least once a week. And I STILL remember the horrible sewage smell from one apartment pool bathroom.

      4. Tris Prior*

        I must beg to differ with Alison’s statement that TCBY was a great summer job – I worked there for a summer and I have never cleaned up so much poop and vomit.

        (It was near a park that held many summer festivals, so we’d have drunk a-holes coming in all the time to use our bathrooms. And trash them. SO much beer barf. Ugh.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Ah, mine was in suburbia. Clean, quiet, and a general delight. No poop or vomit. Although we did get to make the frozen yogurt pies and decorate them however we wanted, and the other teenage workers and I took great delight in making one that we called “booger pie,” decorating it to look like … well … like someone had blown their nose all over it, and then labeled it that way, and put it in the freezer case. Someone bought it, label and all.

    3. CM*

      I had to clean up barf and I would gladly sacrifice the story to un-have that experience.

    4. Mrs Erdleigh*

      Yes. My first job was also as a lifeguard. At that pool, I learnt stellar methods for dealing with poop/ vomit/ blood/ people having sex in the pool/ladies whose swimsuits went transparent when wet… in other words for dealing with the public in all its repellent glory. These skills have been highly transferable – I have always been the go-to person in any job for coping with bodily emissions. Managers would always comment on my helpful can-do attitude on performance reviews.
      Now I’m dairy farming, poop is just part of the corporate dress code.

  15. Elizabeth West*

    I laughed so much about the COBRA thing. When I first heard of it, I was really disappointed that it didn’t have a cool snake logo.

    Thanks for sharing with us, M! :D

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      When they were little, my nieces used to run around screaming “now let’s talk about COBRA!” because that was part of the script I’d taught them (and of course the only part that stuck with them because there seemed to be a snake involved).

      1. LBK*

        I’m now wildly curious what they thought that meant. For some reason I’m picturing, like, a mystical snake that knows a lot about health insurance, and when you fire someone you bring it out and it explains the fired employee’s benefits to them. “And now, the part of the process where we consult the COBRA.”

        Or maybe you just have to put a snake on the table every time you fire someone. Maybe to make the whole process not seem so bad – “Sure, you’re getting fired, but do you really want to stay in the office with this snake?”

        1. pope suburban*

          Now that I think about it, the snakes on Asclepius’s staff would not discourage the notion of a wise medical snake…

        2. That one girl*

          I’m sitting here going, “What do you mean firing someone doesn’t involve a snake?”

          I mean, personally, getting fired from my last job by a snake wearing a little necktie would’ve taken the sting out of the whole situation.

      2. JennyFair*

        I’m imagining ‘let’s play house’ type of play involving ‘let’s play manager-employee’ and firing all their friends. This is fantastic.

      3. Lana Kane*

        This is cracking me up! I’m imagining them playing office and firing their stuffed animals in a very professional and above-board manner.

    2. CM*

      The part that cracked me up was Alison teaching her little nieces, in detail, how to terminate an employee. “Now listen up, kids, because you’ll need to do this when you are the CEO. First, call your benefits administrator…”

    3. Traveller*

      So funny!!

      When I was a child, I was convinced that firing someone involved chasing them out of the building, waving a flaming torch at their back-side. By corollary, I figured that hiring someone involved waving a torch over their head.

      I think I was taking the “fire” part a bit too literally.

      1. Trig*

        As a kid, I thought that when you got divorced, you had a reverse wedding ceremony. You had all your friends and family come very somberly witness while you wore a black dress, you both walked down the aisle together, got formally pronounced divorced, burned the marriage papers and/or your wedding dress, and then went your separate ways.

        I have no idea where I got this idea, but obviously a divorce is the opposite of a wedding, right?

        1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

          The mental image I have of my parents doing this right when they got divorced (or 5 years before that, or now) is amazing and hilarious to me. You have absolutely made my day, thank you.

        2. Trillian*

          Years ago, I heard about a couple who went on a divorcamoon. They had no children, so rather than fighting or litigating over the common assets, they went off on a last vacation together and spent the lot. When they ran out of cash they each came back to start their single lives with nothing hanging over them and good memories besides.

      2. Loose Seal*

        Ha! I read British novels as a kid and it took an embarrassingly long time to realize that when a person was “sacked,” they weren’t physically put in a bag and dragged out of the job.

  16. Emmy*

    Having a customer service job is such a valuable experience for young people. Both my husband and I worked service jobs for years, and it’s influenced how we treat people and how we guide our child. (Not all parents are bad!) It’s just not that hard to be patient and polite.

    1. Cath in Canada*

      I often think that in an ideal world, everyone would have to spend at least 6 months in a customer service job when they’re young – kinda like military service. The world would be a nicer place!

  17. Interviewer*

    I’m not going to argue with Alison’s niece about the rule against water wings, but now I’m really curious why they’re not allowed. :)

    1. Dr. Ruthless*

      I was a lifeguard in college. I think that kids were allowed to have water wings, but they had to stay in the baby pool (so, like <2 feet deep). If they wanted to be in reasonably deep water, no water wings, because they didn't want kids who couldn't really swim being in water too deep to stand in (and water wings = proxy for can't swim).

      1. JessaB*

        Also easy to slip out of and go down quick. AND parents get stupid. Seriously, they think water wings or any flotation device means they can just ignore the kid and the kid’ll be fine. They stop paying close attention because well “floaties = kid will be fine.”

        1. Honeybee*

          That’s why my sister’s pool banned them (and the donuts). Parents put their kids in the floaties and they think it means that their kid doesn’t need to know how to swim in the deep parts. They caused more problems than they solved, so the pool banned them other than in the little wading pool they had.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. When I was a kid I was swimming with my dad in water a little deeper than I was tall, and I remember twisting around such that I just dropped right out of the wings and went straight down. Fortunately, my dad was not using water wings as a proxy for keeping an eye on me, and he grabbed me right away and all I got was an unpleasant sensation of water up my nose–but I could have been in real trouble had he taken ‘water wings’ as an excuse to look away even for thirty seconds.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I completely agree with M’s stance on this, and the rule in general, but I do think it’s interesting how much kid-flotation devices have changed over the years. I can completely see parents buying something and not knowing it’s not allowed until they get to the pool (except the assholes who buy those 6′ long alligator rafts. No one in their right mind could think those are okay).

      When I was small, blow-up inner tubes were the thing (not safe at all). For my sister’s age group, water wings. By the time I had kids, life jackets. Now I see kids in these foam water wing looking things that are connected to a foam waist belt. . .looks horribly uncomfortable.

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        They ARE uncomfortable. A lot of kids don’t like them. They really restrict arm movement, so I don’t think of them as safe. The only way to go is a properly-fitted Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

    3. Rayner*

      Water wings build over confidence in both swimmers and parents – if they fail or the child comes out of them, the child must be able to swim or they risk drowning. Children wearing arm bands usually can’t swim very well, if at all, so it’s dangerous to put them in a situation where only two bits of plastic that are not secured to them are the only things keeping them safe – they can come off quite easily or deflate if they have a slow leak. If they can’t touch the bottom while standing, they should not be wearing water wings in that pool. They are used as a substitute by parents to allow their kids to be unsupervised a lot of them time, especially in a ‘safe’ environment like the pool but drowning can happen in seconds and silently.

      1. Clewgarnet*

        My dad actually used the ‘slow leak’ to prove to me that I could swim in a pool. (I was absolutely confident in the sea, but didn’t believe I could swim in a pool. I think I’d probably half-understood something about sea water making you more buoyant.) He put a slight puncture in each arm band then set me off (while keeping a close eye on me). It was only when they were completely deflated that I noticed, and realised I’d been swimming under my own steam.

    4. Amy G. Golly*

      I imagine the reasons described by everyone above apply to why noodles and other floats are banned on Myrtle Beach. I suspected it was to keep poor swimmers from going out too far, but I’ve never heard the official reason!

      When I was there, I didn’t know this was the rule. My mom and I bought some noodles to take to the beach with us. (For the record, I’m a good swimmer! It’s just nice to float around a bit. :P) We were out in the water for quite awhile before the lifeguard noticed us and started signalling we should come in. I didn’t have my glasses on, so I couldn’t see the lifeguard, and since I’d never heard of such a rule and couldn’t imagine we were doing anything wrong, I kept insisting that he couldn’t be talking to us! I think we kept swimming for 10-15 minutes before he got really insistent, and my mom convince me he was indeed talking to us. The poor lifeguard! (But I still giggle when I think about it. Oops!)

    5. TheCupcakeCounter*

      It usually isn’t water wings specifically but all inflatables. They can be broken and in the case of water wings that can lead to a distressed swimmer because dollars to donuts the parent isn’t anywhere near the child. As for other inflatables similar reason as the water wings plus they tend to be an obstruction to lifeguard’s view of the bottom of the pool.

  18. Dr. Ruthless*

    A thing I learned at high school summer jobs was that there are gross things that have to be done, but you might be able to get out of doing them personally–and that people will tend to have different ideas of what the grossest job is (so perhaps everyone can avoid doing the thing they think is the worst).

    In particular, I worked at a theme park for three summers in high school/college. I really, really hated pulling trash from the trash cans at the end of the day (soda and food that’s been baking for 12 hours in 100 degrees? No thank you), but was only mildly grossed out by cleaning up vomit (you sprinkle sawdusty stuff on it and then sweep it up. There’s usually not too much close-up scrubbing), *plus* vomit is (sorta) rare, but trash is constant. I was able to trade daily trash duty for being willing to cheerfully clean up vomit each and every time. I think I got the best end of this deal, but I also think that my trash-pulling colleagues *also* thought they did, and that’s the beauty of the thing. Life is a rich tapestry, and some people are more grossed out by hot garbage than by vomit. Hooray.

    It also makes me appreciate that I don’t have to clean up vomit or hot garbage anymore. (And more broadly, appreciative of the hard working, low-paid folks that make the world go ’round). See also this article from the Billfold about measuring privilege by how much contact they have with OPP (other people’s poop).

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Life is a rich tapestry, and some people are more grossed out by hot garbage than by vomit. Hooray.

      Now that should be embroidered on a pillow.

          1. UnCivilServant*

            My skill with a needle extends as far as reattaching buttons.

            But pillows should be pithy. While the quote above is good, it is a bit protracted for the part.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Oh yeah! And not even with gross stuff–I think a lot of jobs are situations where your “I hate hate hate this task” is someone else’s “eh, I don’t mind,” and vice versa, and if you can suss that out it makes life more pleasant for everyone. (I am reminded of a time when I worked as a student worker in a university library; I didn’t mind lugging books around but hated answering the phone, and my shift-mate felt exactly the opposite. After a few awkward weeks in which we kept trying to be ‘nice’ by offering the ‘better’ task to the other person–with completely backwards results–we figured it out, and thereafter I hauled and lugged and she picked up the phone and everyone was happy.)

      Obviously this only works if your boss doesn’t mind, but in a lot of jobs the boss doesn’t care who does which as long as it gets done.

    3. C Average*

      I’m with your former colleague. Vomit is an absolute deal-breaker for me. Poop, blood, guts, slimy stuff, rotten stuff, hairy stuff, scary stuff . . . bring it all on. Just no barf, please.

      1. Lily Evans*

        Agreed. It always interests me what people’s deal-breakers are. Like, I have a friend who’s a nurse who was saying how it took her a while to stop being grossed out by spit, but had no problem with vomit.

    4. Lily Evans*

      And sometimes things aren’t as bad or gross as you think they’re going to be. I started working at a daycare and dreaded having to change a poop diaper and I definitely built it up in my head as being way worse than it actually was.

      When I have to do something gross now, I just take a moment to brace myself, like “Yeah, someone has to do this and that someone is me.” Then while doing it I just don’t think about what I’m doing, just focus on the process, like “Okay, now I have to do this step,” and staying rational. If you start thinking “Yikes, I’m cleaning poop! This is terrible!” you just work yourself up needlessly. Once it’s done, then I get to have my moment of “Oh my god, that was so gross, I can’t believe I just did that,” as I’m washing my hands.

    5. themmases*

      Trading is the best. It’s how my whole marriage works! Turns out my partner hates folding so much he feels weirdly guilty about asking me to do it, like he’s getting a surprise vacation. I’m happy to sit in front of the TV and fold as long as I never have to plan my afternoon around our shared laundry room again. Always put it out there if there’s one task you weirdly hate or weirdly don’t mind.

      As for cleaning up poop, washing your hands is magic. Scrub for at least 20 seconds with clean water and even the CDC says you did a good job avoiding disease and grossness. Becoming an epidemiologist actually made me *more* willing to touch just about anything as long as I do the officially correct hand washing routine after.

      1. Ife*

        Folding laundry is the best. So calming. I am decreasing entropy in the universe one sock at a time.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        This is me and my new roommate. I have absolutely no problem with cleaning the bathroom: I can have the entire thing spotless within 30 minutes, and I love how it’s an easy win. She hates it. On the flip side, if I never have to deal with a kitchen floor again, I will be so happy.

    6. Amadeo*

      When I was a vet tech I worked this out with my fellow tech at one place. I never used to have my gag reflex triggered by animal vomit (people are not allowed to puke around me though, I will end up puking with them), but for some reason it developed into a problem towards the end of my career stint as a tech. But I wasn’t bothered by horrible, bloody (think parvo) diarrhea like she was.

      So we had an agreement. She cleaned the vomit that was more than just a pile of foam and I took care of the nastiness that came out the other end.

  19. Cambridge Comma*

    M sounds like an awesome employee and colleague. However, just as you pay your share of the tax, I think you’ve got to scoop your share of the poop.

    1. Sadsack*

      Yeah, I guess you don’t want to become known as the one who always passes off that duty (or doody, I guess). But who can be blamed for trying?! I’d take my turn if there’s a small mess to clean and make sure everyone sees me cleaning to get the cred.

      1. UnCivilServant*

        If I’m cleaning something at work, I don’t want to be seen doing it. Both because it implies I made the mess (even in instances where I didn’t) and to avoid the expectation that I’ll do so for future messes not of my making. If I, for example, knock something over in full view of people I don’t hesitate to rectify it as that does not set negative precent. (And it’s only right to deal with your own messes)

        1. Sadsack*

          I understand, but I was referring to cases where a manager may say, hey the toilet is clogged, please go plunge it. M is getting others to do it instead, which may be noticed after a while.

            1. Ccccccc...*

              Ah, but is it fair? The aunt in you may applaud her, but what does the manager in you truly feel about the deliberate shirking of assigned-yet-unpleasant duties? ;)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                The manager in me feels that if the manager there doesn’t want people trying to get out of poo clean-up duty, they need to come up with a better system for overseeing it :)

    2. Lissa*

      This can depend, too — I managed to work a customer service job and never clean poop/vomit over a good decade, because there was always somebody else on shift who minded less than me, but I’d make sure to do enough other things it didn’t feel like I was refusing to do it. And luckily it didn’t come up *that* often. This was a high-volume sandwich/coffee place and my favourite thing was just to do nothing but deal with customers all day long, but other people would way rather clean than talk to people so would take any opportunity to get a break from the rush. Which seemed weird to me because I’d way rather deal with 10 irate customers than deal with bodily fluids but hey, as said above everyone has their “nope”.

  20. ZSD*

    1) They tell their kids you’re there to keep them from having fun?!?! You’re there to GUARD their LIVES. Hence the position title. Jeez, parents.
    2) It sounds like you’ve induced a valuable lesson that will serve you well in future employment as well: sometimes rules seem silly when you only have part of the picture, but when you’re given the whole context, you can see that there’s a good reason for the rule. Often times, I’ve been faced with a problem that I’ve been looking at fairly narrowly, and I come up with a solution that fixes that narrow problem. However, someone more experienced will give me more context, and I’ll see that the solution I’ve found would actually cause larger problems.
    For example, the university I was working at once was facing the threat of a mid-year tuition increase for grad students. For our office, this meant we would have to first enter the current tuition rate into the system for all the teaching and research assistants, and then change the winter and spring quarter amounts in the system later if the increase went through. I suggested that we save time by just entering the fall quarter tuition now, and then entering the winter and spring quarter amounts later once we knew whether there would be an increase. (Narrow solution.) My department head explained that this would actually mess up those students’ financial aid requests because it would look like they were getting paid less than they actually were. (Broader context.)
    Similarly, those parents only see the narrow view – they want their kid to be able to use the water wings they love. You’re giving them the broader context – the water wings are dangerous to other pool users, etc.

  21. Bolistoli*

    This cracked me up: “Oh, yes, of course, I did not realize that she was such an avid Frozen fan! In that case, enjoy the water wings!”

    Your niece is a real chip of the Aunt Block – I can hear your voice in her. :) Congrats on being such a good role model for your nieces (and us).

  22. Anne*

    Awesome interview, Alison and M! Sounds like there’s at least one 16-year-old in this world who has her head on straight.

  23. Amber Rose*

    Don’t have kids then. It’s all poop all the time. ;)

    Just kidding. Sort of. Your first job is way better than mine! I worked at a pizza hut. I was 12 and the only thing I was allowed to do was fold boxes.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      My first jobs were babysitting. There was a lot of poop involved. Baby poop is not horrible, but I used to watch my cousin’s twins when they were 3-4. The boy would poop his pants. Poop from a 4 year old is indeed horrible. (He’s now 26 and a paratrooper, so I guess he outgrew it).

        1. AnotherAlison*

          C Avg & Joan –
          I am going to see him in a month & I’m definitely going to remind him of his slow potty training tendencies and call him these nicknames. (I’ll check with his mom that he doesn’t have lasting trauma from the potty issues first and that he doesn’t mind being teased.)

    2. Lily Evans*

      According to my mother, it’s different when it’s your own kids too. She couldn’t understand how I could change diapers all the time at work and my response was always, “How’d you raise two kids?” apparently, it’s somehow less disgusting when it’s you’re own child? If that’s the case, I’ll be well set if I have children someday.

    3. Ife*

      I started with a four year old, and three years later, I still have not cleaned up human poop yet! There was, however, the time she vomited all over the bed… and then the time she vomited all over the kitchen floor by the shoes… so much vomit, really, for such a small human.

  24. kristinyc*

    This is great. M is so professional already, and I’m glad that she understands the responsibility of being a lifeguard. I’m sure it’s difficult dealing with all those rude customers! I laughed out loud several times during this. :)

  25. New Bee*


    “Members will often question a rule, and they honestly believe that they have thought of something that nobody else ever has, that this particular rule is completely unnecessary, and I just need an explanation…”

    is everything! Most of the people I train are in their first post-college job*, and I’ve had to (pretty bluntly, in most cases) point out that this line of thinking makes them come off as pretty naive and entitled, not helpful, creative, or innovative (which is what I think they are intending). I wish they were as grounded as M.

    *Not an invite to bash Millennials.

    1. Petronella*

      Yes! this was my favorite insight of the whole interview: “they honestly believe that they have thought of something that nobody else ever has…and I just need an explanation.” That is something you will see everywhere, in every job, with people of all ages. It’s also the theme of many of the letters at AAM.

  26. Lemon Zinger*

    I absolutely loved this interview! My first job was as a lifeguard as well. I agree with M, it’s amazing how grown adults feel like it’s okay to abuse lifeguards and/or treat them like babysitters. I took my job seriously, and it paid off– I rescued six drowning kids during my time at the pool!

    M, you rock!

  27. AVP*

    Speaking of being terrified of being fired….when I was 17 I was a cashier at a Coconuts music store (RIP) and my end-of-day accounting was always *perfect* until one day I was off by $40. I still don’t know how that happened! But I was soooo scared that I would be fired on the spot, they took me into the “back office” for a discussion, and then the assistant manager was like, “Dude, it’s $40 out of [a much larger number], it happens to everybody once. Just be more careful.” I almost cried, it seemed like SUCH a huge mistake that they were forgiving.

    1. KR*

      The threshold at the store I work at is 10 for them to watch your drawers not ecarefully and 25 for 5 separate mandatory audits on everyone who was on that register and even then they don’t fire Willy nilly. If you mess up too much on a drawer they’ll try to get you a different job in the store. Always surprised me.

    2. Angelina*

      I love and absolutely relate to the feeling of, “Oh, other people are allowed to behave like THAT? Ok, I’m definitely not going to be fired”

    3. Lily Evans*

      This happened to me at my first retail job! I was so afraid of being fired. But in my case, it turned out that one of the supervisors had been stealing from the cashiers’ registers and she was eventually caught and fired.

    4. Tara R.*

      The first time I screwed up at the bank I was SO SCARED. And my manager was like “Well, you’ve done everything perfectly for six months, so you definitely owe us a couple of big mistakes!” It was such a relief.

      I always find it interesting in customer-facing positions that the teenagers seem to be held to a way higher standard than the older folks who have been in the job for years. If I don’t put my most peppy attitude on, I get complaints– but my middle-aged coworker can talk to customers like they’re toddlers & they just look mildly uncomfortable.

      1. Honeybee*

        Because people have this horrible stereotype that teenagers are awful, just the Worst People in the World, ready to snap and get an attitude with them at any minute. Even better, a subset of those people believe that it is their duty to School these ungrateful teenyboppers on how to be better workers.

        I do a lot of volunteer work with teenagers and they can be pretty delightful people if you treat them like humans, just like most people are.

    5. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      This happened once to me, although it wasn’t a round number. Turned out I’d accidentally processed a return as a sale– the amount I was off was exactly twice what I’d given back to the customer. Wasn’t too hard to fix, but man, was I nervous about it!

  28. Liane*

    It does make you feel proud seeing young people you care about being mature, doesn’t it Alison. Our kids have volunteered at Cub Scout Day Camp all through middle and high school, a job which like M’s, involves safety, kids and parents. When Luke was 16, a youngster who’d banged up his knee came up to us and Luke just took over, talking kindly as he checked the wound, asking me for water to wash it off and getting the boy to the first aid tent. I was wowed, at mature and grown up he was. Last year daughter Leia told me about having to deal with one of Those Parents. She and another volunteer managed to deal with the erring parent in the moment and then called in their Venture Crew Advisor** to let her know what had happened so that Advisor could have an Adult to Adult talk with the parent. I was particularly proud of Leia as she struggles with anxiety and it sounded like the kind of situation that might have triggered an attack.

    Both our grown kids are working at [Big Grocery Store] now and doing very well–buying their own stuff, saving for next term’s expenses, helping with household costs, etc.

    **Co-ed Boy Scouts of America program for 14-21 year olds (that has always been GLBT-friendly, for the record)

  29. Construction Safety*

    That was awesome!
    For tales from the bad customer wars, visit

    1. Camellia*

      I enjoy all the “notalways…” sites but always end with notalwayshopeless so that I can try to retain some, you know, hope…

      1. UnCivilServant*

        Some of them appear to share hosting with less… reputable sites that set off all sorts of red flags in my security software. It disappoints me, but their digital neighbors’ reputation makes it harder to visit. (Same physical address, different domain names. Typical with third party hosting where multiple sites run from the same box)

    2. EA*

      There’s also for the same type of stories from Theme Park employees.

      (Alison, if you ever want an interview with a former Theme Park ride op/supervisor/trainer, you have at least one on your site … or hotel front desk supervisor)

  30. squids*

    I cleaned a long term care home for a summer job at 17 and there was a lot of cleaning up poop, vomit, and other unpleasant things. After the first few times you do get used to it (and I guarantee that experience has prepared me well for handling children and pets.)

    Tip: If you’re doing something really gross, and you feel like gagging, put on the biggest toothiest grin you can muster, and it suppresses the reflex.

  31. LBK*

    This is a great interivew. I particularly love all the insights about how rude people are and how they try to barter or think they’re so clever because they come up with their own interpretation of the rules/excuse for why they should get an exception. After 6 years of customer service I can safely say that that’s universal (it was particularly fun when I was working with 401ks and the “rules” in this case were IRS laws that people thought they shouldn’t have to follow).

    Side-note: Alison, isn’t Mrs. Fields the job you ghosted? I feel like I remember there was a story around how you left that job.

      1. LBK*

        I somehow totally missed this interview when you posted it originally, so I guess you must have mentioned it elsewhere before. Thanks for the link!

  32. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

    I worked at a theme park for the summer when I was 16. I can completely agree with the issue of people being rude AND that parents are worse than their kids. Most kids are fine if they can’t ride something, they’ll just move on to something else. I think in order the worst guests were parents, drunk middle aged guys trying to hit on you, and teenagers in that order.

  33. Boss Cat Meme*

    I loved this interview! Thank you for contributing today! I worked a lot of jobs where I had to deal with people who wanted things we just couldn’t provide. One time I worked at a summer camp where it rained every single day for a week, and on the very last day, when the parents arrived to pick up their kids, it was bright and sunny. The parents came up to me (I was a nature specialist) and told me their kid didn’t get to ride in a canoe, and made a HUGE fuss about it. It was right in the middle of last day festivities, where all the kids are eating ice cream and running around, and introducing their friends to their parents, and trading phone numbers and addresses, and here this very angry mom is yelling at me! The girl kept saying, “Mom, stop, don’t yell at her, she’s a good counselor,” and the mom told her to shut up! It was very sad.
    Our camp director finally reached a compromise where one of the lifeguards agreed to take the little girl and her parents out in the canoe for a trip around the lake. The parents paddled, the lifeguard sat in the middle, and the little girl sat behind her and cried the whole time, because she wanted to say goodbye to her friends. I don’t know why parents especially will act that way in front of their children, but it’s very common, and sometimes they feel as if they are some kind of special people because you broke the rules and made allowances just for them. They want to brag how they “got away” with something no one else could do. When it comes to kids, people can be completely unreasonable.

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        Ditto. There are so many times I see parents behaving badly and I just want to lean over and offer a hug to the kid.
        –Signed, not normally a kid-friendly person, but, maaan there really are some s*&t parents out there.

    1. Honeybee*

      Damn, at that point you’re not even doing it for the kid anymore. You’re just trying to stick it to the parent.

  34. Little Love*

    My office has a touchy sewer line. EVERYBODY has had to plunge occasionally, even the publisher. If you are the one in the room with the toilet, you grab the plunger and go for it. Frankly, my plunging skills are excellent because of growing up in an old house with iffy plumbing. I have superb plunger technique, as well as the ability to make many minor toilet-related repairs unassisted. I must remember to put that on my next resume.
    I also worked as a nanny when (much) younger and in retail so up vote to this young lady for her mature attitude.

    1. A Non*

      “I have superb plunger technique, as well as the ability to make many minor toilet-related repairs unassisted.”

      That definitely belongs on a resume. XD

  35. Turtle Candle*

    That last answer cracked me up! And reminded me of my own high school job–I was a grocery bagger at a big grocery store, and the baggers, being lowest in the pecking order, often got tasked with additional gross chores (cleaning up poop/vomit being a big one).

    I was a hard worker and also a bit of a goody two shoes, so I almost never tried to slack on the job. I had a coworker, “Lucy,” on the other hand, who slacked all the time, usually by finding some minor task to take her away from the cash registers (“takebacks,” putting an item that a customer decided that they didn’t want at the register back where it went on the shelf, was a big one), and as soon as she was out of sight of the cashiers, she’d then wander over to the deli to flirt with the cute deli boy. She’d often spend much of her shift like that. The managers didn’t care so long as the work got done, and the cashiers–who did care–couldn’t really do much about it, so I’d basically run around covering for both her and myself.

    Which made me feel justified when I got told by a manager to clean up something disgusting (because I was the one who was where I was supposed to be, and thus the one they always asked) and I foisted it on her. Which I would do by wandering back toward the bathroom (or wherever else the site of the disgustingness was) by way of the deli section, where I’d say, “Lucy, the manager wanted me to tell you to clean up the mess in the bathroom.” And she would always do it, without question! I think through some combination of panicky guilt (she knew she wasn’t supposed to be spending half an hour chatting with the deli boy) and, well, the fact that I was such an incredible goody two shoes I don’t think it occurred to her that I’d make anything up, or try to get someone else to do my work.

    I’d kill five or ten minutes at the magazine rack, long enough that the managers wouldn’t have a chance to notice that I couldn’t possibly have gotten the cleaning done in time, and then wander back. And I never got caught, either by Lucy or by the managers. (I think the cashiers were onto me, but I also think they were sort of on my side….)

  36. Kittens*

    Your niece is so deft and thoughtful! I love the insight about how people think rules shouldn’t apply to them – I’ve worked in food service for 10 years (I’m 27, finally transitioning into new career now, but it’s always been reliable work) – it’s AMAAAAZING how often people think that because they don’t like the rules the appropriate response is to not sit back and say, ‘hmmmm maybe there’s a reasoning for these rules even though they seem arbitrary to me’ or even ‘I don’t like these rules so I’ll try a new restaurant’ but instead sit there and argue with me that they should be able to substitute potatoes for extra steak.

  37. Liz in a Library*

    Great interview idea, and awesome interviewee!

    My husband worked as a swim teacher and lifeguard in high school and college, and it’s amazing to hear about parents who would basically tell their kids to ignore instructions from him. The lifeguard isn’t telling you not to do something because she is mean; she’s telling you because it’s dangerous! Geez…

  38. SanguineAspect*

    M is amazing, Alison. You need to keep us informed as she goes to college, and let your readers know when she’s on the hunt for internships. I’m sure there are a lot of us who would love to snap up someone as thoughtful and intelligent as your niece seems to be (and seems to always have been!). I’d love to see more of M!

  39. the gold digger*

    Niece, as a former lifeguard and swimming teacher, I applaud your stance on water wings. You are right and the parents are wrong! (And parents – teach your children to swim. Never ever ever rely on flotation devices. They are OK if you are in the pool with your kid, but otherwise – no. Just no.)

    It has been decades since I was a lifeguard, but I cannot walk past a body of water that has people in it without scanning the area anxiously. And I get really concerned when I see easy access to water, like to a hot tub. Lock those gates, people! There is a reason it is there – do you really want to be the reason the toddler got into the area with the hot tub, fell in, and drowned?

    1. AnotherAlison*


      I was never a lifeguard, but I went to a lifeguard-free neighborhood pool as a kid. More than once, I pulled a toddler out of the pool. Their parents were sitting there yakking away with their friends and leaving up to random 13 year olds to save their kids. (Of course I’m nervous nellie anyway and read disaster and survival books for fun.)

    2. Marillenbaum*

      So, as a former lifeguard and swimming teacher, any recommendations on learning to swim as an adult? My mom HATED swimming, the local pool was expensive, etc. and I just never learned, but I’m also really embarrassed about fulfilling the stereotype of “Black people can’t swim”. What’s a girl to do?

      1. the gold digger*

        Take lessons – they might not be too expensive at the Y. I would suggest taking adult lessons, not joining kids’ lessons. Teaching adults (and learning as an adult) is completely different from learning as a child.

        I taught swimming to other college students when I was in college – you had to pass a swimming test to graduate from my college. What was so hard for students that age was they were terrified of the water. If you can, maybe spend time by yourself – maybe even in the bathtub – learning to put your face in the water and blow bubbles. Don’t laugh! That’s the first thing I taught the little kids and it’s one of the hardest things to do! You have to be comfortable putting your face in the water. Do that – open your eyes – blow bubbles – turn your head until your mouth is out of the water and breathe – just get comfortable with that feeling.

        My husband didn’t learn to swim until he was an adult (and he still won’t put his face in the water) and neither did my mom. My mom did better than Primo – she would swim laps for exercise. It’s hard! It’s really hard to learn a skill like this as an adult and it takes a lot of courage. I commend you for your willingness to think about it and maybe do it. (And I truly believe that everyone needs to be able to swim well enough to save themselves if they fall into the water.)

      2. A Non*

        The gold digger is right on, getting used to the feeling of having your head underwater is more than half the battle. If you need extra time to work on it outside of lessons, go to a free swim and play around in the shallow end. I learned a huge amount about how to move effectively through the water by throwing a weighted toy in the shallow end (we used a rock in a film canister) and then swimming after it. Swimming/scooting along the bottom was useful too – it turns out it’s actually work to keep yourself down. And then you just stand up when you need air.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        My parents made me take swim lessons. For years. I never learned how. If you do not have strong legs, it’s hard. I had no issue getting my face wet, opening my eyes underwater and so on. The last swim lesson I had was when an instructor decided she was going to help me to learn by pushing me straight down into the water in the deep end. She had been swimming/floating beside me, barking orders, I tried to do everything she said. She assumed my problem was that I did not want to get my face under water and she decided that she was going to cure me. She put her hand on the top of my skull and pushed me straight down so I was totally under water.

        Meanwhile, my legs are screaming in pain. So here I am submerged, I had not taken a breath before I went under (I did not know she was going to push me like that), my legs HURT, and she won’t let me up. And she wouldn’t let me up, I don’t know how much time passed and she STILL would not let me up. I sincerely believed I was going to die, so I pulled my knees up into my chest and pushed off of her to get away from her. To say she was ANGRY does not fully describe, maybe it was because my push made her move also? I was benched and ignored for the rest of the lesson. I was good with that as this woman had just tried to kill me.

        My punchline is, yeah, try it but if your legs are not strong, it can be a challenge. My legs are like two concrete blocks that I drag through water. I was always told “you have to know how to swim, your whole social life will revolve around swimming.” I could count on one hand the number of people I know who go swimming. It just never played out to be that big a deal.

        1. Vendrus*

          I think you had a bad teacher – swimming does not need to involve legs to any significant degree. Even treading water doesn’t require legs, though it will require a bit more arm effort. If the teacher couldn’t adapt to low leg use… yeah. Bad teacher – even without the attempted drowning lunacy.

          Essentially, it doesn’t matter what your legs are doing so long as they are reasonably in line with your body which is far more about back and stomach muscles.

          Fun observation: If you ever watch the olympics, about 1/3 of front crawl swimmers don’t use their legs. That’s reflected all the way down – I don’t either, just alternate which one’s down with swimming strokes to keep my body from rolling side to side.

    3. Natalie*

      My cousin was years past being a (paid) lifeguard when she saved someone from drowning. You never know!

  40. KimberlyR*

    In a perfect world, no one would ever be rude to service workers and lifeguards and people in those roles. Since this isn’t a perfect world, I think it is so important for kids to start out with these kinds of jobs and see how hard it is from the other side. I’m sure M would never yell at a worker anyway, but she gets to see things from that perspective anyway, and she can see why yelling at someone or getting mad at them for enforcing the rules is not right or fair. I think this is an important lesson for kids to learn. If they don’t, they risk growing up into those adults who do those kinds of things. My first job in fast food taught me so much compassion for fast food workers (and restaurant workers, retail, etc.)

    1. Anon Moose*

      YES. Everyone should have to do customer service work at some point in their lives. And as necessary to remind them not to abuse customer service workers.

    2. Lissa*

      Absolutely! I worked in this sort of job all through my 20s and I find that now that I’m not, I actually get *more* irate when I see somebody treating a customer service person badly. It’s like, when I worked that job myself I had developed an immunity to it but now that I’ve lost that immunity, I want to jump in and yell “Don’t talk to him/her like that, you jerk!”

  41. Tara R.*

    When I was 16, I worked my first summer job as a bank teller. What you’ve said about having to enforce the rules rather than bowing to what the customer wants was very true there as well! I experienced a lot of really bad behaviour there, but often I could understand the frustration; when Billy Joe is yelling at you for no reason but you can see his account is $500 overdrawn and he has a government garnishment and he has kids to feed etc. etc. it’s a little easier to handle. You’re dealing with people’s finances, so of course there’s sensitivity and the occasional upset.

    What I never got used to was the people who got enraged about being asked for ID. One guy THREW HIS DRIVER’S LICENSE IN MY FACE. What the heck, dude. Do these people want anyone to be able to waltz up and take money out of their account and access their personal financial information? It was a great start to learning how to stand up to customers nicely, though. When I interviewed at the liquor store he specifically said I was a great candidate because I was used to saying No.

    If you want a little bit of advice, in my experience there are a few magic phrases that calm people down pretty fast. My go-to was “My first priority is keeping your account secure.” That tended to deflate the “How DARE you not know me I’ve been coming here for X YEARS and I want A THOUSAND DOLLARS NOW” types. You might try a “Our first priority is keeping everyone safe” and just repeat ad nauseum. Resorting to “It’s policy/Those are the rules” can be helpful eventually, when you’ve given up on calming them down and you just want them gone, but it doesn’t help much in defusing the situation (in my experience).

    FWIW, three years later much of the rest of my job experience has been non-traditional (office internships, etc.) and I’m so glad I had that customer service-esque job to put at the top of my resume when I’m applying to coffee shops and whatnot. (I say that just after I accept a position as a TA for next year… I’m starting to feel like I’m never going to have a low-paying customer service job on my resume!)

    1. Loose Seal*

      When I was a teller manager, I had to get creative to defuse one of those customers who thought he shouldn’t have to show ID. He kept getting louder and louder and the teller was saying all sorts of soothing things but still insisting she needed to see his ID. I didn’t like to see the tellers abused so I wandered over behind her station to see if I could help. And that’s when he pulled out the “I’ve been coming here since this branch opened! How could you not know me?” And a devil must have been sitting on my shoulder that day or I had just about reached my limit of hearing that statement so I reached past the teller and flipped over her name plate so it couldn’t be read. Then I asked the customer what her name was. He was completely nonplussed and I said if he had been coming to our branch so much then he must know all the tellers’ names. After all, I said, there are far fewer tellers to have to get to know than there are customers.

      He stood looking at me for a few seconds then looked the teller he’d been dressing down right in the eye. He apologized to her for not knowing her name and could see the point that she might not know who he was either. He pulled out his ID and they proceeded with the transaction. Then before he left he came over to my window and thanked me as well.

  42. Anon Moose*

    Oh yes, parents can be WAAAAY worse than the kids. In college I used to lead camping trips for groups of teenagers handling lifeguarding, guiding, first aid. They would bring along an adult chaperone or two with each group. 80% of the problems were with the adult chaperones. Teens over their parents ANY DAY.

  43. Tara*

    “I was most surprised by how many people are inconsiderate or rude to the staff or other members.”

    This was me too! My parents and other adults I knew were always very polite to staff of any kind, but people, especially when dealing with the kinds of jobs that generally are taken by younger people, can be exceptionally rude! And a bit crazy.

    Years ago, I started working at a photography studio and I was surprised in the opposite direction. It was a more “professional” looking job, even though I was still making minimum wage and it was just one of the kinds that do portraits in little nooks in department stores. It shocked me how differently clients treated me compared to when I worked in retail and fast food. There were still people who were rude when they couldn’t get there way, but in general I was treated much more like an equal and like a person.

  44. Kittymommy*

    I don’t have much too add to the dinner job discussion (I just worked in my mom’s law firm all the time, never got a paycheck), but after this interview and the clogged toilet one I have to say your niece is fantastic!! I love her answers in both.

  45. Maria*

    It’s fascinating how summer jobs can stick with you into adulthood. A colleague of mine worked in a bakery every summer until she graduated college, and she’s virtually carb-free because she can’t stand the smell of bread after being saturated in it for four years.

  46. LeRainDrop*

    I enjoyed reading this interview and especially following the links to read your and your nieces’ responses to prior letters. They clearly are smart girls with good instincts! My absolute favorite part was when 12-year-old M advised the employees to go to their boss, who was always making out with his girlfriend in the office, and ask him, “We were just wondering if you could remember to act professionally so that we do not feel so uncomfortable.” I have to laugh at the imagined scene of asking my boss if he could please “act professionally,” LOL!

  47. Phantom*

    I worked as a lifeguard in high school and college, so this brings back a lot of memories. I worked a several different pools: a YMCA, a swim club, a country club, and a few different apartments. I only worked a few days at the country club, covering for one of my coworkers from the Y. The pay was good, but that was where I encountered the rudest people. One guy gave me a hard time because I wouldn’t stop watching the pool to move a chair for him. I offered to do it when a coworker who had stepped away for a minute got back, but he moved it himself complaining loudly the whole time. The nicest patrons were the folks at an apartment where most residents were retired. They worried about me getting lonely on slow days and liked to bring me cookies. I got some grumbles when I had to enforce the 2 guests per resident rule and someone had a kid and two grandkids visiting, but those sorts of issues were rare. I stayed at that job until I graduated college and needed to find something that paid a little better.

  48. Glouby*

    Yeesh, what if an emergency happened while a customer chose to start an argument with the lifeguard? This young woman is a real class act.

  49. abankyteller*

    Late to the party, but I just wanted to say how much I loved this interview. You’ve got an excellent head on your shoulders, M! I hope if I’m ever in a situation where a high schooler is working for me, that they’re as mature as you are. You’re obviously turning into a wonderful young lady!

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