It is almost midnight. My feet are sore, my hands are calloused, my head is pounding and the smell of The Red Parrot - food and cigarette smoke - is seeping from my body. I have just worked for 12 hours and feel 100 years old, but it is worth it.
At nine years old I started working with my older sister at a laundromat. I folded every piece of laundry with a smile. It may be odd for a nine-year-old to choose to work rather than go to a friend’s house, but I was only thinking of what I was working for. Now I could finally afford Friday night dances, field trips and other things most parents normally pay for.
When I could legally work, I got a job bussing tables at The Red Parrot, an enormous restaurant located on the Atlantic coast. I bussed tables with the same attitude I had at the laundromat, but by 14, my ideals morphed.
“You should start saving for college, if you want to go,” one of my seven sisters wisely explained. It was a turning point - no longer would I save for petty things, but instead, for my future. That first summer’s earnings are now part of my college savings.
That summer I was faced with everything from needing to fend for myself to having to help support my family, but from it all, my job proved the largest stepping stone. It led to my maturity and with it came financial independence and the responsibility of others’ dependence.
Well, it is midnight, just a regular Saturday night, and since that summer I have matured. I have learned how to manage school and work, but to me they are one and the same. I work for what I want, whether an income or an education. My hard work has paid off. At school it has made it possible for me to graduate a year early, and at the Red Parrot I have been promoted from hostess to head hostess, and now waitress and head hostess. Work has become part of a rope that holds my life together. This rope is tied so tightly that I do not have time for much else. I cannot pursue other activities, study for that extra A+ or go out on Saturday nights. Yet, I can buy groceries, help my mother with bills and buy my car. To be frank, working for what I need far outweighs working for what I want.
Working has become one of the most important parts of my life, and I love it. If I need anything, I work for it. Since my parents cannot buy me clothes, give me lunch money or pay for my college education, I will.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.