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My first real job was during my sophomore year in high school as a lifeguard at the Nomahegan swim and tennis club, the place where I had spent all of my summers up until then lounging and playing games with my friends. Everyone told me how important my job was and how grown up I was. I was about to be responsible for the lives of all the people who dared dip their big toe into the pool. I could be the difference between life and death for any kid who wandered into the deep end and forgot to blow his bubbles and kick his feet. And, I would get a tan while doing all of that; I was about to be a big deal. My first day on the job I met my boss, he gave me my whistle and suit, I changed, slid on my sunglasses, checked myself out in the mirror, and knew I was ready. I got up on stand with my head held high and began to scan the pool just like the Red Cross taught me to. About an hour later, after watching the same five kids play the movie game in the same spot I realized it was going to be a much longer summer than I was mentally prepared for.

On my first break I got to meet some of my co-workers. A lot of them were kids from my school, most of them older and already worn down by many years spent lifeguarding. It was the first day of the summer and they were already complaining about the members, the heat, and worst of all, the “extra” duties of the lifeguards. As they explained to me that we also had to help vacuum the pool, clean the bathrooms, and take out the garbage at the end of every day, I began to dread the summer ahead. My boss wasn’t any better. If anything he complained even more on that first day. The members were the focus of most of this complaining and I soon learned why. Along with saving lives, I was also responsible for the toys kids left behind; the towels they invariably forgot at the end of the day; the mozzarella sticks and french fries that littered the tables all around the pool. I was responsible for entertaining kids while not on stand and watching them while they were in the water because their parents were too busy chatting at the edge of the pool. My lifeguarding gig soon became a babysitting gig for which I had to pay taxes.

I work at the pool every day that summer and yet, the next summer I signed up to be a lifeguard again. Along with the hours spent sweating on stand and yelling at all the kids for running, I also crushed my coworkers in four-square, spent hours doing arts and crafts, and ordered way too much with my employee discount at the snack bar. The complaining of my boss and my coworkers that first day was simply banter to pass the time and although most of it held true, we also talked about how funny Patience, the little girl who sang show tunes, was and Andrew, the six year old ping pong prodigy. The kids at the pool hang on every word the lifeguards say and follow us around. I soon realized that I felt grown up and was able to tolerate my job not because of how responsible I was being by saving lives (which I’ve actually never had to do), nor how cool I looked with my suit and tan, but instead because of how much these little kids looked up to me. It didn’t matter if I messed up at my job or acted like a kid sometimes with them, they thought I was the coolest thing ever because I wasn’t in elementary school and because I had my own money. I realized that even though the actual work was horrible, the feeling of having a job and having people look up to you is enough.

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