This Thursday, April 27, is Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day, an initiative created in 2003 by the Ms. Foundation for Women, designed, according to its website, “to expand opportunities for girls and boys, expose them to what adults in their lives do during the work day, show them the value of their education, and give them an opportunity to share how they envision their future.” Last year, more for an experiment than anything else, I took my son, who was nine, to work. He was primarily game because it meant a day off from school, and I was primarily game because it was a good excuse for a long lunch.
When I was a little girl I would have loved to have gone to work with my dad. He was a polymer chemist for American Cyanamid. He actually helped invent things in a lab with test tubes and stuff. He helped develop Formica, car paint (which provided real bennies for me as he used to bring home unpainted toy Tonka trucks), ingredients used in Nina Ricci perfume (which also provided bennies — sample vials of perfume) and glow-in-the-dark light sticks (more freebies). He also closed his office door every single day for 20 minutes after lunch and took a power nap. Not a bad work life, I thought. Invent stuff. Take a nap. Invent some more stuff. But Take Your Child to Work Day didn’t exist back then, and all I knew of “work” was that you left the house at 7:30 a.m, briefcase in hand, and came back in the front door at dinnertime.
Here at U.S. 1 last year we received all sorts of interesting press releases from companies whose PR departments were milking Take Your Child to Work Day for all it was worth. Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital was planning “a fun-filled, educational program” including tours of the radiology and cardiology units, a display of equipment from the Mobile Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and the presentation of a mock OR, in which children would have the opportunity to “operate” on a life-size model. The children of employees at Traffic Planning and Design in Pottstown, PA, would be able to learn about “measuring and mitigating environment noise in a presentation of noise studies” as well as “plant a tree and other vegetation indigenous to the area.”
But what really grabbed my attention — how could it not, with the friendly account executives at Ketchum PR behind it — was Johnson & Johnson’s commemoration of the 85th anniversary of the Band-Aid. The Skillman facility was hosting a Mobile Museum — a virtual tour down memory lane to see cherished artifacts from every decade of the beloved Band-Aid, including original tins and commercials featuring John Travolta, Brooke Shields, and Teri Garr; a traveling wound care education center, “where parents and children alike can learn how to properly clean, treat, and protect minor cuts and scrapes;” a boo-boo station for treating children’s favorite doll or teddy bear, games, etc., and of course a giant cake.
It was an irresistible invitation. I figured my son and I could spend the morning at Johnson & Johnson, get a hell of a lot of free Spiderman and Scooby-Doo Band-Aids, have a long lunch, then spend the afternoon in my office making a mock newspaper — something tangible that my son could bring into school the next day. Had I had a son earlier in my career, first as a PR executive and then as a nonfiction book editor, I never would have brought him to work because 99 percent of what I did was to a child’s eyes excruciatingly boring. I talked a lot on the phone, wrote a lot of memos, and went to a lot of meetings where I pretended to pay attention but was really just trying to remember if I had all the ingredients for chicken cacciatore in the fridge.
I finally have a job where I not only don’t have to fake it, I produce something tangible every week — a newspaper. I actually thought ahead and before the day I brought my son to work I had my husband, a photographer, burn some photos he had taken of Mackenzie’s best friend, Petros, at his birthday party, on a CD. After Mackenzie and I had had our fill of Band-Aid history and learned that the “Stuck on You” Band-Aid Brand jingle was written by Barry Manilow and debuted in 1975 and that nearly one in five Americans wore Band-Aids to get attention as a child, we had a long lunch then we sat down to work. Yes, work.
I had Mackenzie write two newspaper stories. Actually he dictated while I typed them on the computer. First he told the tale of Petros’ birthday party, and for the other story he talked about his favorite computer game called Age of Empires (they say, write what you know). Then I opened up a page from the previous week’s paper in Quark, deleted the real stories, keeping a few of the ads on the page, then taught Mackenzie how to load his stories and photos of Petros’ party onto the page. He wrote the headlines and the captions, and then I showed him how to size the photos and copyfit the story so everything fit exactly into the space available. Then we printed out the page and the look on Mackenzie’s face was priceless — he had made a newspaper darn near all by himself. We printed out an extra copy and mailed it to Petros, and that’s where Mackenzie learned his biggest lesson of all, the one that fills the average worker with fear and loathing — how to operate the postage meter.
For me the most important thing was that at the end of the day I knew Mackenzie knew what I do at work everyday. I’m a working mother for a lot of reasons and on that day those reasons were more than validated: I work so that my son can see that women can use their brains for a lot of different things, not just how to sort laundry; that they can contribute their smarts and creativity to the world we live in; and that they can contribute financially to making a family and household work, because I believe it’s not fair for just one parent to carry all the financial burden, and because I believe there’s virtually no difference between what a man and a woman can do professionally.
At the dinner table Mackenzie routinely asks my husband and me in turn, “So, how was your day?” and we recount stories of what we did that day — the good, bad, and the ugly, what problems came up, how we solved or didn’t solve them, what we accomplished, as well as what we found annoying or rewarding. Mackenzie has been with his father on photo shoots and sees him retouching photos on his laptop — he knows what his father’s work is; now he has seen my work life.
That night, as I tuck Mackenzie into bed, I ask him, “What was your favorite part of today?” And he says, matter-of-factly, as if I really should already know the answer, “The Band-Aid cake.” I dig deeper, determined to feel that this day has been a seminal one in my son’s real life education. I ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He says, “An inventor.” I think to myself, I doubt Take Your Child to Work Day had a thing to do with that aspiration; the genes win out — he’s going to invent things, just like his grandfather did.