Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Taking Risks and Upgrading a Little Too Fast, Maybe…

Editor’s Note: Today I am at a workshop for Writing Matters, an innovative program that provides teachers with powerful new ways to improve student outcomes in writing. We were asked to write a memory snapshot. So, I share with you below, a peak into an embarrassing memory of the pre Innovative Educator as a teenager.

My parents raised me to know that as soon as I was legally old enough to work I would need to look for a job. In Las Vegas I was able to work at the age of 16 where I began work at a doctor’s office. Not coincidentally this is exactly what my parents had hoped for since they also raised me to believe I wanted to be a doctor (sorry it didn’t work out mom). While working for Dr. Hoffman I had the opportunity to do all sorts of things from weighing patients, to bringing Dr. Hoffman patient files, to even doing things like holding the metal tray for him to take his doctor equipment from.

Dr. Hoffman also had me do errands for him. One day he needed his car washed. I was soooo excited. I was only 16-years-old and I was getting a chance to drive as they say on The Price is Right, “a brand new car!” My current car was a used, beat up Pontiac Sunbird that cost less than $1000. I was now making an upgrade to a new long, sleek 1985 Mercedes Benz 500 Series Sedan that was really expensive. I was sooooo proud to be able to drive around my town in this new model fit for a Doctor.

I got the car washed and drove back to the office. Dr. Hoffman trusted me with his car. I felt very special. I was dreaming about all the errands I would run in the Mercedes. I bet I could even borrow the car if Dr. Hoffman went out of town. Maybe drive it to school. "I could definitely get used to this,” I thought.

When I went to park the car in the garage I realized that the space I had simply backed out of was REALLY tight. There was a huge cement pole on one side of the space and the corner I had to drive around was sharp! Really sharp. I made a few attempts to no avail. I couldn’t line the car up right. I was getting nervous. Suddenly I noticed a couple people in the garage. I felt like they were all starring at me. My palms started getting sweaty. I went from feeling so proud to be in this expensive adult car to feeling like a dumb kid who didn’t know how to park.

Ugh. I had to do this. After pulling in and out for what seemed like forever, I thought about what my mom had always told me about the best way to remove a Band-Aid. Maybe the same thing applied here. Don’t think about it too much. Just do it quickly and maybe that will work. So I decided to just back up again, gather up what little bit of self-esteem I had left and pull right into the spot. Guess what??? Just like the rip of a band-aid coming off a wound, the next sound I heard was, “Scccrrrraaaaaappe!!!!” Oh my gawd! The door scraped up against the pole. I quickly looked in my rear view mirror hoping no one heard or saw. I didn’t know what to do. I wished there was an undo button in life (though I don’t think those had been invented yet…even for computers).

I was so upset and embarrassed. I was just hoping I could delete the people in the parking lot because I couldn’t bear to have them speak to me. I wanted to just shut down then and there, but alas, that was not an available option. As I sat alone in the car I wondered how I could possibly go back into the office admitting what I had done. I couldn’t and I didn’t know what to do. So, I got out of his car and downgraded back into my clucker and did the hard drive to my mom’s office.

She had a client. I told her secretary that this was an emergency! I had to speak with her. My mom asked the client to excuse her for a few minutes. My mom looked at her usually stoic, rather pain-in-the-butt kid and as our eyes met, I suddenly broke down in tears and told her what I had done. She suggested I go back to work and talk to Dr. Hoffman about what had happened. “No! I can’t. I’m too embarrassed,” I cried. “Please mom. Help.”

An accomplished accountant, my mother had already processed the facts and numbers before picking up the phone. “Ahem, Dr. Hoffman. This is Joyce Nielsen, Lisa’s mother. First, I really don’t think it is safe or appropriate for you to be giving a teenager the responsibility of driving a brand new car, but you’re the boss. Second, I hate to tell you this, but there’s been a crash. My teenager hit the door of your car on a pole in your parking lot.” I heard Dr. Hoffman responding. He didn’t sound like he had short circuited on the other end of the phone, more like he was taking it all in and trying to process what had happened. I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, which was good. He wasn’t screaming. After all it wasn’t that bad I guess. I mean there was a way to restore the vehicle and no one was hurt, right?

So, my mom said, “If you agree with me that this might not be the best decision, I propose that we assess the damage and you each split the cost for repair. If you disagree, let me know what you think is fair.” My mom hung up and shared, that Dr. Hoffman agreed with her proposal. She said he wasn’t angry. Accidents happen. He was happy I was taking responsibility for what had happened (well kind of) and that he thought this was fair and I should come back to work.

Still, I was sooo embarrassed. I didn’t think I could ever go back to the office. But I did. I tried to stay composed and I did at first until Dr. Hoffman said he would like to see me in his office. I broke down again ashamed, embarrassed, and let down that I wasn’t able to handle the upgrade. I asked him to keep this private. I’m not sure if he did, but I never spoke about it to anyone. Dr. Hoffman deducted a small portion (about 10%) of each paycheck to be used toward the $500 dollar damage I owed him. Eventually it became easier and easier to look Dr. Hoffman in the eye. I still know Dr. Hoffman today, in fact last year he came to my 40th birthday party. And, while today I can look him in the eye, I still never talk about the day I was unable to handle the upgrade.

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