When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher. My mom told me I couldn’t be a teacher because I would be poor. I was horrified, so I resolved to stop romanticizing myself as Ms. Honey (that's a Roald Dahl reference for the noobs) and find another career choice. I thought being a counselor would be awesome because psychology was the only thing that interested me.
In college, one of the requirements for graduation was a civic duty class. We had to find a volunteer job that was related to our field of study that would help us figure out what we wanted to do in the real world while serving the community at the same time. It took me no time to figure out that it was impossible to find a volunteer position at an esteemed institution because the waiting list went around the block like a dirty trick. A couple weeks in, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer for a “possible” call back, so I sucked it up and signed up for a position at the YMCA in the Tenderloin.
I was initially a tutor in the computer lab. The kids came in after school and were allowed to play online until 4pm, which was when they had to start on their homework. Every week, I came in and sat in my corner and fearfully asked the kids to log off MySpace and pull out their homework, and they always said the same thing – We don’t have homework. Maybe I should have been more assertive, but when you’re in a room full of 13-year-old boys who were twice your size with facial bruises, you just meekly nod in agreement. I complained to my supervisor and he told me that I couldn’t do anything about it, but it was at least better than being on the streets. I quietly continue to baby sit them for a few more weeks before I asked the director to transfer me.
I ended up playing scrabble with grannies who were former prostitutes and immigrants, and it was great! I learned so many new things from them, but honestly, they didn’t need me, and at times I felt that they were trying to entertain me. I went back to the director and told her that I wanted volunteer with the kids in a way that was meaningful, and that’s how I ended up cooking for them.
I was a shit cook, but I’ve seen my Popo cook enough times to know that you could saute anything with onions and garlic and it would be delicious. For the first time the kids acknowledged me and I think one of them even used my real name! And who doesn’t like to hear that my “shit smells and taste hella gooood.” But by then, I only had a couple more weeks left, and when my last day came, I was thrilled that I didn’t have to step foot in there anymore. I realized that I couldn’t make a positive impact in these children’s lives because their basic needs were not being met. Honestly, who cares about homework when you have to worry about where you’re going to sleep that night or where your next meal is going to come from.
This changed how I felt about my career choice and I knew that I didn’t have the strength or patience to be any kind of a counselor. I quietly graduated and found a job in research pushing paper. I’m 26 now, and still don’t know what to do with my life.