Our summer staff are all in place, and the daily row of extra large frappucino/slurpee/iced coffee cups with straws is on the staff shelf to prove it. Well, actually, they’re running around like eager puppies in a ball pit, but that’s why we bring them back every year. We have a crew of part-time high school and college students who join us during school breaks on a rotating schedule, but when summer arrives, those who aren’t abroad (those lucky kinder) are on staff and on deck, ready to mop up paint after stories and crafts, demonstrate their alphabetizing prowess in the picture books, and reassure middle schoolers to “go ahead and skip Algebra 1 for geometry as a freshman, but get your PE credits in the summer – trust me.”
Because I opened the store when my own children were small, we’ve always had “kids” on staff, and rely on students behind the counter and in the stock room during June, July and August. The burst of energy that hits in late May when college employees finish finals and head home is a welcome one, both to our adult staff members looking for a more flexible summertime schedule to meet the needs of their own families, and to the store owner who has (once again) over-optimistically filled the summer event calendar. All three of my older children did stints as employees, and our youngest, a newly minted 16-year-old (with a driving permit, bless her heart) reported for work last week. As a business owner, it seemed just a benefit of working motherhood that I could send one of my own to the library with a case or two of books for an author signing, or send a train table off for delivery in the back of a kid’s car, and then have them pick up a gallon of milk and some dog food on the way home. Not only were my crew always assured of a part-time job, but they headed off into the world with a clear understanding of the daily list of tasks it takes to keep a business open and the rent paid – something I wish I’d known before I signed my first lease. As my children brought their friends in after school to help break down boxes and fill out applications, the 4 kids group grew to… well, 40 plus students that we’ve welcomed back over various summers and Thanksgiving breaks, some times a little taller, often with a different major than last season, but always enthusiastic about the new wrapping paper and ready to raid the ARC shelves in the stock room.
Other than the obvious lessons of early employment like punctuality and reliability, and the need to sometimes solve problems without clear direction or authority, I have been thinking about the ways our youngest staff members have grown up as booksellers. Watching a teenager notice that an elderly customer might need help to the car, or a chair in which to sit while she peruses a stack of books is almost better than finding that someone has organized the packing slip file or put all the clothes back on the Calico Critters for the umpteenth time this week. Listening to a college student who just recently finished a semester of physics and advanced math discuss the age-old quandary of Superman vs. Batman with a five-year-old is evidence enough that our future world is in safe hands, and hearing a recent high school grad talk about “books your daughter should read, REALLY” to the mom of an eighth grader has more credibility than I will ever muster. Watching these young staffers cajole tired toddlers, deftly slide “surprises” behind the register for parents to carry out in stapled bags, and still sing along with the princesses on the store background music makes us all feel like the magic is real. Real, too, are the conversations and the advice they give each other as they navigate all the transitions of young adulthood. We’ve watched staffers arrange college visits to see summer co-workers, share apartments as they left home, and celebrate grad school and engagements. We’ve listened (quietly) as they took each other out after work to talk through the breakups, the arguments with parents, and the life choices that only a peer can understand. It’s hard not to think of all these kids as “mine” (especially since I seem to be the designated adult in all of their lives that introduces the concept of mopping – a sadly lost art, it seems) but I am grateful to be part of their summers. And our store will never be without (at least) 4 kids.