When I was a senior in high school, I had a job that lasted exactly one day. It was one of the most challenging jobs I ever had. The job was delivering flowers for Mothers Day. My mom, knowing that I was always looking for opportunities to earn extra pocket change, connected me with an acquaintance who owned a flower shop. The proprietor, whose business was just beginning to bloom, needed extra help getting beaucoup bouquets to their intended recipients.
The job description: Drive to flower shop; load family station wagon with lovely, fragrant flora; deliver goods to grateful, tearful moms; drive back for a new pick-up; repeat process. What could be easier?
Well, for an extremely direction-challenged driver like me, I can compile quite an extended list of easier tasks: photographing unicorns, crawling while on stilts, counting grains of sand, just to name a few.
I know what you’re thinking. How difficult can it be to find one’s way around Omaha, Nebraska? Well let’s just say that I always believed my parents painted our house bright yellow so that I could always find my way back home.
The idea of getting lost in one’s hometown was reason enough to decline the job. However, for this high school kid, the notion having money to waste on Peter Frampton albums and pet rocks proved to be too enticing. I accepted the offer.
The big day arrived. I arrived at the shop in time to watch my mom’s friend put the finishing touches on beautiful flower arrangements. The arrangements were placed in numbered boxes that corresponded to a list of addresses. I carefully placed the boxes in my station wagon. My boss lovingly waved goodbye to her works of natural art like a parent sending her child off on the bus the first day of school. Little did she know that, like that parent, she too would be seeing her “children” again before the end of the day.
The weather was sunny and hot. The car had no air conditioning. The flowers were counting on me to get them to their new owners before they fainted. In the days before Map Quest or global tracking systems, a driver had to trust his AAA road map to steer him in the right direction. Unfortunately, not even Hansel and Gretel’s carefully laid out bread crumbs could have helped me.
My first stop was near Boys Town, the nation’s most famous home for orphaned young adults. By the time I arrived in the vicinity of the delivery, I was sure that I would be the facility’s newest resident after my parents disowned me for messing up on the job.
I was lost. I was hot. The flowers were hot. If flowers could talk, they would have begged for water. I began to panic. What to do? I couldn’t call my parents or the shop owner. That would be professing my ineptitude. I actually considered calling it quits and walking to Iowa.
There was only one solution. I pulled into a McDonalds and ordered an ice cold drink to cool me down and to water the plants. Then I called Mike Wasserman. Mike, my best friend, would be able to steer me in the right direction. I even considered, in best Tom Sawyer tradition, inviting Mike to help me complete the job. Only Mike was off playing golf. He was not the only one teed-off. I was mad at myself for accepting an impossible task.
My next stop was a service station. It’s said that grown men are too proud to ask for directions. Technically, I was still a teenager—so I asked. Minutes later I was standing in front of an appreciative mom, handing her a bundle of daisies and daffodils.
I used the service station strategy for the next few deliveries. While I was proud of my problem solving skills, I was also keenly aware of the fact that I was woefully behind schedule. If the remaining bouquets were not delivered soon, their recipients would be presented with petrified plants. I ended up calling the flower shop to share my predicament. My mom’s friend kindly instructed me to return to the store immediately. She would have another driver finish my rounds.
I spent the remainder of the day helping her clean the store. I returned home feeling tired, defeated, and minimally richer.
The following week my mom mentioned that her florist friend was very appreciative of my assistance. I could hardly believe my ears. How could one find any merit in what I perceived to have been a dismal performance? But, the more I contemplated the compliment, the more I felt comfortable accepting it. I had indeed attempted to do a job that I knew would be challenging. I had had the smarts to problem solve when the going got tough. And, I knew when to ask for help when all else failed. Better yet, I still wasn’t a resident of Boys Town.
I share this story to emphasize the point that all we can ever ask of students, as they move through school, is to accept new challenges and to try their best. When we allow them to problem solve their way through predicaments, they gain the confidence to cope with similar or even more difficult challenges that arise. When students persevere on arduous jobs, they learn that they indeed possess the skills necessary to succeed in life. Children know they always have the safety net of a parent, teacher or friend to fall back on, if needed.
In this month of growth, promise and optimism, students can reflect upon and celebrate all they have achieved during the school year. They should have a sense of wonder and awe at all the new tasks they have tried, tackled and triumphed over. They can eagerly look forward to the new responsibilities and opportunities that await them, confident that they will be successful.
As we approach the final weeks of the school year, we can all take pride in our students’ growth. We have tended our garden well. We have planted seeds of knowledge, opportunity, and skills that will flourish in the coming years. And, unlike one direction- challenged high school student, I am confident that in the future our children will have what it takes to truly deliver the goods.