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Balancing act: Work, life come together at school career day

I had been nervous about this ever since my 8-year-old second-grader brought a note about it home from school a month ago and told me he wanted me to volunteer.
I had been nervous about this ever since my 8-year-old second-grader brought a note about it home from school a month ago and told me he wanted me to volunteer.

My quest for good work-life balance is always challenging, often rewarding and, occasionally, scary.

The latter was the case last week, when I had the opportunity to talk about my job to four groups of children during career day at my son's elementary school.

I had been nervous about this ever since my 8-year-old second-grader brought a note about it home from school a month ago and told me he wanted me to volunteer.

"Sure," I said, as I filled out the form. "Sounds like fun!"

But I was thinking, "AAAAIIIEEEE! How am I going to make my job sound interesting to kids?"

When I asked him later why he wanted me to be part of career day, my son said, "Because I like your job." Following up by asking if he knew what I did at my job, he said he guessed I was a writer.

That was good enough for me. I couldn't imagine saying no to my boy. And anyway, it's not that I don't think my job is interesting.

I love being a writer, editor and manager. While I was a reporter, I had the chance to interview hundreds of different people, and I learned something from every one of them. Crafting newspaper articles based on their stories was always fun. As an editor, I enjoyed helping other writers polish their stories and learn the craft. And as a manager, I have grown in my abilities to work with all kinds of people and help teams achieve long-term goals.

I'm pretty sure I could sell that to a group of adults. But I wasn't sure kids would be able to connect to my job.

I did my best to prepare. I figured I could make the Clark Kent/Superman connection to being a reporter. I decided that showing my name and picture with a recent column in the newspaper might impress them. And for a demo of my work, I opted to quickly interview a class member and make up a three-paragraph story about that child off the top of my head.

Best of all, I procured a big bag of pens from my company's marketing department. My reasoning was that, even if they thought I was a loser with a lame job, the children would love getting free stuff.

Apparently, many other parents and grandparents had the same thought. It looked like almost everyone had something to give away as I shared nervous glances with the other volunteers in the school hallway before the first session.

Needless to say, I didn't want to follow the guy from a local pizza place who brought cinnamon bread sticks to give the kids. (Unless he left some for me.)

During the course of the morning, I gave my 15-minute presentation four times, once each to a class of first graders, fourth graders, third graders and, finally, my son and other second graders.

I'm happy to say it went better than I thought it would. It was a bit difficult to connect to the first-graders, but they liked it when I interviewed one of their peers, and they loved the pens. In the other classes, I felt like I was able to convince the students that writing is important, no matter which career you choose.

Interviewing them was fun, too. I was able to talk to a 10-year-old girl who loves drawing, has nine brothers and sisters and went on vacation to England to visit relatives. I chatted with a 9-year-old boy whose favorite subject is math, likes to play soccer and went to a restaurant in Mexico where they served all-you-can-eat ice cream.

Perhaps my favorite interview subject was the 8-year-old girl who loves writing and telling stories. She told me that her favorite family vacation was a trip to Montana. I asked what she liked about it, and she told me she couldn't remember, because she was only 1 year old at the time.

That's great stuff.

The students in my son's class all wrote thank-you notes that he brought home for me. Sure, they mostly loved the free pens, but several of them were highly complimentary of me.

"Your (sic) the amazingest writter (sic) ever," wrote one student.

"You are so cool. You are the best writer ever. Your (sic) so amazing!" wrote another.

My plan is to keep these notes with me at all times and read them anytime I need an ego boost.

I asked my son whether he enjoyed career day, and he said he loved it. In addition to my presentation, he could remember that his class was visited by a police officer and a civil engineer. He said his favorite presentation was the one from the engineer, who explained how ancient Egyptians leveled the ground on which they built the pyramids.

"I want to be an engineer when I grow up," he said, "because it would be fun to make stuff, and I'm really good at making things. ... I've made stuff out of extra Legos I've had."

I'm thrilled with his decision to pursue a career in engineering, although there's a good chance he'll change his mind by the time he's heading to college. He enjoys writing, so I'm sure he'll work on his communication skills regardless of the career he chooses.

And, according to him, I may have inspired some other budding writers with my presentation.

"After you left, everybody wanted to be a writer," my son said. "They said that my dad is awesome."

He then gave me a smile and said he liked career day "because the civil engineer came and taught us about being a civil engineer. And because you came."

Thanks, son, for teaching me how fun this particular intersection of work and life could be. I didn't need to be afraid, after all.

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