jayellebee's Blog

August 10, 2011

Give Me Guidance

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 5:06 pm

     Do schools still make kids take aptitude tests when they’re way too young to have any idea what they want to be when they grow up?  Sometime in junior high school, my classmates and I had to spend a requisite number of hours logged in at the library combing through the files illuminating our possible career options.    Doctor, lawyer, indian chief . . . .  

     My aptitude test (administered under the homeroom teacher’s watchful eye in the school cafeteria) indicated I tended to be more masculine than feminine in my academic strengths, meaning I did well in math and science.  I considered this result insulting and worked to ignore the suggested career paths.  After all, everyone knew girls grew up to be teachers, nurses, and/or mothers back then.

     The physiology class I took as a senior opened my eyes.  The subject matter was fascinating.  Finally, a class with real-life applications!  I explored options and decided I wanted to be a physical therapist.  Career day found me by at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, a baby’s wail from where I was born, following a PT on her rounds.   

     So determined was I in my pursuit of this career path, I buried the red flags popping up around me like Orville Reddenbacher’s prolific corn.  For instance, this woman needed to cause pain to her patients during their rehab sessions.  I didn’t want to hurt anyone!  And, that awful hospital smell that I remembered so clearly from my short-lived stint as a Candy Striper.  Yuck.

     During freshman orientation at Cal, I joined a small group of coeds for a counseling session to learn about which majors could lead to the physical therapy graduate program at UCSF.   Physiology was my obvious choice, but students couldn’t enroll in their first class in that department until they successfully completed seven quarters of lower division chemistry.  Count them:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7!  I obediently signed up for Chem 1A.  Then 1B.  Not too bad.  But when I met Chem 1C, ten horrendous weeks trying to discover the identity of unknowns left me grateful to have squeaked through with a D. 

     Oh, my.  Time for plan B.  Guess who bowed to her mother’s wishes, became a teacher . . . and loved it.   I refer to teaching as my first life as an adult.  Teaching gave way to becoming a mother/school volunteer.  The emptying nest pushed me into Ken’s dental office part-time and then full-time.  These second and third lives as an adult were equally as enjoyable as the first.  Retirement and writing haven’t been half bad, either.  But did I ever see this as the life I would lead?  No way.

     Today, I took a bedspread too large to fit in my home washer and dryer to the local laundromat.  The facility was empty save for the guy charged with guarding the wall-mounted change-maker.  The gentleman, appearing to be in his late 50s, came out from behind his counter to instruct me in the use of Big Bertha, the queen machine capable of cleansing three loads of tighty-whities simultaneously.   Quarters go here.  Soap there.  Remember to close the door.

     I ran a quick errand, returning in time to see the digital read-out flash, “Done.”  A woman my age had arrived in my absence and was chatting with the attendant.  As I passed them, carrying my soggy bedding, the man picked up a stuffed Woody doll (of “Toy Story” movie fame).  Waving the foam-filled arm, he greeted me in a falsetto voice.  I stuffed my spread into an oversized dryer as the two people sharing my space discussed a young hippy woman – their word, not mine – walking by the front windows.  They laughed over her sheer, white dress which didn’t begin to conceal her bright pink unmentionables. 

     I’ve climbed half way inside the dryer, trying to insure my load won’t roll into an undryable ball, and am thinking how lucky I am to have my own washer and dryer at home.  But I can hear my temporary room mates having a great time commenting on the folks outside in the breathless summer heat.   Four quarters later, I’m sucked into their people watching, helping to contrive stories about who’s who, where they’re going, and why.

     By the time my bedspread is dry, I’m almost sorry I have to leave.  The man in charge drops his balding head to one side and gives me this parting shot: “Two olives are sitting on a table.  One rolls off and splats on the floor.  His friend leans over the edge of the table and calls down, ‘Are you all right?’  The one on the floor replies, ‘Olive.'”  I giggle most of the way home.

     My question is, did this man’s aptitude test indicate he should work at the laundromat?  Had someone told him this is what he’d be doing at age 50+ back when he was in school, would he have believed?   And yet, he seemed to be enjoying his day.

     I know a young man who is caught in the abyss of confusion.  His challenging college curriculum and the fickle finger of fate have not led him where he thought he would be by this age.  Now he is striving to divine which path his life should take.  Should he return to school, hoping to re-invent himself by the time the economy rights itself?  Or, should he accept a job at Starbucks and hunker down, waiting for the next bit of bad news to befall him?  

     Life is hard.  Harder for some than others.  And the future is not ours to see.  I hope the young man will find the inner strength to choose a direction, knowing in all likelihood this path will probably not turn out as he plans either.  Not to say his life will turn out badly, just differently.  The best laid plans, and all that.  I hope the young man will gather himself, say “Olive,” and find enjoyment in the small surprises that are ahead.



  1. Great piece Joanne. I can’t believe that in all our walks and conversations, we never spoke about your PT aspirations. Sounds like you are mighty happy with the road taken and I think it was a great one.

    Comment by nina bucchere — August 16, 2011 @ 1:04 pm | Reply

  2. Such a lovely stroll down Memory Lane, yours and mine. Beautifully written, Joanne.

    Comment by Jean G — September 2, 2011 @ 1:04 pm | Reply

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