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At 16 You Think You Have a Hard Life?
The other night at the table, our teenage son told us that school was not like when we went to school, and we just weren’t able to understand the kind of pressures they were under today today. I’ve heard this story from just about every kid in the last year about how hard their lives are, how much harder they have to work than us, and they’d trade their lives with us in a heartbeat. eye.
Want to swap places? With me? Oh, you little fools, you have no idea. If you want to know what adult life is like, if you want to know more about the stress and hard work and pain that your body is really capable of withstanding, let me tell you about my life and see if you still want Trade:
I went to school at a time when society hadn’t become so PC and forgiving that it let kids sleep in class. If ~I had slept, or even tried, it would have been in the office with me. Rant at the teachers? Better to wear the padded jeans because they still had corporal punishment when I was in elementary school, and they hit HARD.
Our generation was at the forefront of the drug problem in schools, and it was our generation that scoffed at natural thinking stuff like pot and started cooking up some really nasty synthetic stuff. To this day, I’m still amazed that I almost made it to the end of high school before I got sucked into that crowd because it was all around me, everywhere.
I spent 2 years in college getting my life beat on a daily basis. There really isn’t any form of physical or mental humiliation that I haven’t experienced in those two years, and that fact alone is largely responsible for my very long wick when it comes to holding back my rage. , and my extreme disrespect for anyone who feels they should dress, act and be like everyone else.
I learned that it takes courage to stand out and be different, and very few people have that.
I started working when I was 15. (Actually, around 13, if you’re going to mow yards once in a while.) I didn’t have a huge allowance handed out to me. I didn’t expect my parents to pay for every little thing I wanted. They couldn’t afford it, and even if they could, they wouldn’t. My parents wanted me to learn to respect what it took to earn a dollar and to experience the satisfaction of spending it well. It’s one of the lessons I’m most grateful for in my life: I’ve earned everything I have, and I’m proud of it.
If I wanted something, I had to work for it and get it myself. I wanted a car and a nice guitar, so I cleaned bathrooms and stocked store shelves until I could pay for them myself. And to this day, I still have the guitar.
Since that first job, I have spent 18 years working non-stop. No summer holidays, no winter and spring holidays. When I was not at school, I worked. When I graduated from high school, I got my first full-time job in a week and a half, digging trenches and big, stinky, muddy swamp waterholes here in Florida, at most summer hot.
It set the tone for my professional career until I reached my mid-thirties: a long, unbroken series of horrible, unpleasant jobs. If the work wasn’t physically gruesome (like when I caught chemically-induced pneumonia in New York after inhaling acid fumes all day in a facility with no ventilation), it was mental torture.
But, I had to work. You don’t work, you don’t eat. I was never more than a week away from losing everything. So if I was sick, I worked. If there was overtime to do, I took it. Just when I finally started getting caught, I got married.
Let me just say for the record that so far I thought I had conquered it all. Physically, mentally, I had everything covered. I felt like life could throw anything at me, and I could take it because I had already seen the worst.
You have NO IDEA what real life is like until you have kids. No way.
Suddenly, it is no longer just me that I take, but my wife and my children. Before, if I found myself in a horrible job, I could simply quit.
I discovered in those early years in New York that I could feed myself for an entire week on a pack of $0.88 hot dogs (on sale due to expiration date) and a pack of 0 $.50 fresh hot dog buns. I didn’t do this for fun; after the rent was paid, there were countless weeks where i had less than 20 dollars to live on, and well over half that amount i needed for the train and the bus so i could get to the work. (Did I hear you say, “What about a car?” If your grocery budget for the week is around $7, you can’t afford a car. Period.)
But starving (I weighed 152, soaked at the time, and am 1.80m tall) and going without taught me that I COULD go without, if I had to. So if the job was bad enough, I could leave. But with a family, you can’t do that. Children are expensive and they don’t understand the concept of rationing food when it’s gone. When you have a group of other people who depend on you for survival, your options suddenly change.
When you find yourself working a horrible job with a boss who hates you, and you know, you KNOW he’s just looking for an excuse to fire you, but you need that money, so you hang on, man, you you hang on. Suck it in, get away, whatever you gotta do, but you do the work because you have a family. There is no recoil on this responsibility.
When I couldn’t get overtime, I worked a second job. Everything I could get for money. Yes, I shopped at Publix. I worked for the Police Benevolent Society, begging for donations. I sold vinyl siding over the phone. I did what had to be done.
After too many years of constantly working to keep the lights on and the food on the table, I decided to go to college to get a better paying job.
Again, I thought I had seen the worst that life could throw at me. I can juggle, baby, I can juggle. Throw it away, I can handle it. Lesson: Never say “It can’t get any worse than this…” It can, and it will.
I found myself working 50 hours a week (remember, I still needed overtime just to pay the bills) as a mechanic in a sweltering factory with no air conditioning, going to school 1/2 time (if you do less than 1/2 time then you don’t qualify for a student loan. I had to maintain it.), do intense homework hours and keep doing what I can around the house. I had, if I was lucky, 3-4 hours of sleep.
I did this for 4 and a half years.
I am now finally at the point where I am making decent money, but like everything else that is relative. Everything is much more expensive these days, teenagers are ~horribly~ expensive (if you don’t think so, you’ve never paid for a 14-year-old girl’s shopping, or a 14-year-old boy’s car insurance). 16), and even now I’m getting by.
Today I get up at 4am and work a 10 hour day. I still don’t have a summer, winter or spring vacation. I haven’t had one since I was 16.
I have a vacation, but it’s almost always used to do some work around the house (as I will be doing with my vacation this month). I’ve had a total of 4 vacations (each just a week long) that I can remember in my entire adult life where I actually WENT ON VACATION and didn’t work.
I come home, and my wife and I are cooking dinner. We clean up after dinner, pick up trash (teenagers think they’re adults, but they’re really nothing more than demanding 8-year-old whiners in bigger bodies) around the house, pay the bills and let’s do the shopping.
If we’re lucky, we might have an hour to relax and do nothing for anyone else.
Weekends mean more work: shopping, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms and the hundred other tasks that go into running a home.
So kids, this is my story. Maybe this will help you understand why I laugh and say “You have no idea!” when you talk about how hard life is right now. One day you will understand the frustration of trying to explain this to your own teenager who already thinks he understands everything. It’s like trying to explain nuclear fission to a 5-year-old: he’s just not equipped to understand yet.
So yeah, I’m going to trade all of that. I’ll be happy to sleep until 6:30 am, go to school where I can sleep a little more on my desk without fear of repercussions. I come home after only 7 1/2 hours at school and play video games or hang out with my friends all day until it’s time to sleep again. I’ll let you feed and clean up after me, and take care of the mess I leave behind. Plus, you’ll drive me wherever I want to go, and I don’t even have to pay for it. And the best part is, I don’t even have to thank you for all that. After all, you owe me something.
So yes… I will trade lives with you. Where do I register???
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