When I was 6 years old, my parents started allowing me to go down the street and around the corner to my friend’s house by myself. I had a Strawberry Shortcake digital watch and my parents would tell me what time to be home and expect that I would look at that watch often enough to note the passing of time and thus be able to return home on time.
I understood the watch to be more of a fashion accessory than a tool…
I frequently came home late.
I don’t remember specifically, but my guess is that I was often late coming home for dinner, which was a major crime in my house.
So one afternoon, I asked my dad if I could go to my friend’s house, and he said “Yes, but be home by 6:00. And if you aren’t home at exactly 6:00, then I’m going to come down there and find you and then bring you home and lock you in the basement forever.”
My dad was a funny guy.
No really, he was a very funny guy. He was always making jokes and being silly and by the ripe old age of 6, I knew that very little of what he said was to be taken literally.
(My mom was the disciplinarian.)
So on this day, I laughed at my dad’s funny joke, perfectly secure in the knowledge that he had no real plans to relocate my bedroom, or to install a lock on the basement door, and set off to my friend’s house.
Around 6:15 he showed up at my friend’s house and I happily assumed he’d come to keep me company on my walk home.
When I came out on the porch where he was waiting he said “Why are you still here? Why didn’t you come home at 6 like I told you to?” He wasn’t angry so much as bewildered. I wasn’t the kid who flagrantly ignored my parents -that was my little brother.
“I didn’t know I was supposed to,” I said.
“But I told you, 6:00, and I explained that this was your last chance to not be late before we stopped letting you come here by yourself.” That’s when it dawned on me that there had been real information mixed in with his jokes. It was a shocking revelation.
“Daddy,” I said “Sometimes I don’t know when you’re being serious and when you’re kidding.”
“Oh,” my dad said. “Well, I guess I can see how that could happen. So from now on, when you aren’t sure you ask, and when its important I’ll make sure you know, ok?”
I agreed and we had a lovely walk back home wherein I also confessed that I didn’t know how to know when it was time to come home, and then learned that Strawberry Shortcake could be more than an accessory.
When my parents went to my third grade parent/teacher conference they were told that I had a very wry sense of humor.
I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean it as a positive thing. I’m pretty sure she thought she’d found a gentle way of saying I was a pain in the ass.
She had no way of knowing that her words would make my dad burst with pride. I’m pretty sure that of my entire academic career, that was my dad’s proudest moment. Which isn’t to say that he and my mom both weren’t totally proud when I made honor roll in high school, Deans List in college, or earned a Master’s Degree. But those achievements were no less than they had come to expect. Both of my parents are very intelligent and put heavy emphasis on education, doing all the things parents are supposed to do to support their children in school – dedicated supervised homework time, joining PTA, giving me answers on my math homework etc etc. But they couldn’t be sure I’d develop a good sense of humor (here good = witty, sarcastic and ironic) despite the constant exposure, until they had outside confirmation.
I think that my sense of humor has become one of my best known and appreciated personality traits, and in general has served me well in my life. Probably better than my education when you consider my popularity in storytelling, blogging, and social invitations, compared to my career path…
So…yesterday I had my one year review for this mindless job that I’ve had for, god help me, an entire year. I had to do a self eval answering questions about my professional goals and development, and I was actually expected to take it seriously.
It took every once of my self-control, and the supervision of a co-worker, for me to avoid writing “I HAVE A MASTERS DEGREE AND I’M A RECEPTIONIST. CLEARLY MY PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT GOALS HAVE GONE A BIT ASKEW.” Instead I found a balance between being realistic and playing the game:
Q: What is the most interesting part of your job?
A: I’m a receptionist. And while I love my job, nothing is interesting about it. (This is pretty true – I do enjoy my job. It’s not hard or stressful, and leaves me time to blog and write and surf the internet a lot. What’s not to love? But I didn’t think that “Huffington Post” would have been acceptable as the most interesting part of my job.)
Q: Where do you want to be in a year?
A: I wish I had an answer for this question.
During the official review meeting where we discussed my self eval, he was fine with those answers. I also threw in some “real” answers to make it look like I at least gave a tiny crap about my job since I’d like to keep it at for a while now that I’ve been rejected by every grad school I applied to.
He had only one real point of feedback in terms of areas for improvement. His exact quote?
“Sometimes it’s not clear if you’re being serious or sarcastic.”
I said “On the phone? With staff?” Because I thought I did a pretty good job of hiding my personality at work, and by personality I mean sense of humor.
He said “Yes.”
I said “I’ve suspected for a while that I’ve lost the ability to sound sincere, even when I totally am.”
He looked at me for a moment, probably trying to decide if I was being sarcastic. (I wasn’t, seriously.) Finally he just gave a shrug and said “Well, just…do what you can.”
I fear this might be a losing battle, given how many years of positive reinforcement I’ve had for my sense of humor.
But I’ll do what I can…