Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Career Planning

The drawbridge to Fire Island...home to a bridge operator
who had no idea he was, momentarily, a rock star.

So this aspiration of Ethan's to become a drawbridge operator one day is still going strong.

You know kids. One day one wants to be a scientist, the next a movie star, and a firefighter a few days after that. A while ago Anna wanted to be a (and I quote) "A dolphin trainer who gets to listen to Taylor Swift all day in my ear buds." Now she's moved on to...I'm not sure what, this week.

Ethan has now wanted to be a drawbridge operator for at least a year. This followed his two-year long dream of fixing power lines. He still loves power and electricity, mind you. Just the other day he saw a large power substation and exclaimed, "Mamma, look at all of the electricity! I love it!" But somehow drawbridge operators have caught his attention. I'm not sure, but it may be because he thinks they don't have to do much, and he can be completely alone most of the time. I'm hinging this on his comment about "Wanting to be a drawbridge operator and eat a pizza inside the booth." Every day.

I really don't get where this drawbridge interest came from, because it's not like we see drawbridges all of the time. Or hardly ever. We don't live right near the ocean. We drive by one (in the distance) several times a year. We went out of our way to see another in Mystic (bonus that it's a cute town, anyway), but that wasn't even the right kind of drawbridge. Somehow, Ethan has decided that he only really likes drawbridges that open up on both sides into the air, rather than just on one side.

I hate to admit it, but I'm kind of using this drawbridge operator thing to my full advantage. When Ethan began cowering under a blanket recently during a minor thunderstorm (his modus operandi whenever there is the slightest hint of lightning) I decided to get tough. "What's this?" I asked, peeling off the blanket. "We need to start practicing now how to deal with your fear when there's thunder. What's going to happen if there's a thunderstorm when you're a drawbridge operator? What if you go run and hide and you're supposed to lift the bridge up and a boat crashes into it?"

Sometimes I'll tell him he needs to learn how to focus and pay attention, because that's important for drawbridge operators so they don't miss any signals. Or that he needs to keep working hard in school so he can graduate and become a drawbridge operator...

...which led me to Googling drawbridge operators, of course. This is how we roll around here, learning more than we ever thought we'd need to know about a plethora of subjects (cul-de-sacs, church bells, and smoke vs. steam come to mind, a.k.a., obsessions of the past). I learned that drawbridge operators don't make much money. At all. They don't even need a college education. Knowledge of bridges, railroad and other signals, and marine laws is extremely helpful.

I actually found a drawbridge operator who blogs. I went to check it out, but none of the posts that I came across mentioned his actual job, so I was bummed.

There were also a few interesting Q&As out there ("Are drawbridge operators able to use the bathroom during their shift?" "Do people ever call you a troll?"). More questions I wouldn't have thought to ask. Ever.

The other day we took an impromptu trip from Connecticut to Fire Island in New York and had to cross a drawbridge to get there. Waiting in a line of traffic, we saw the bridge rise in the distance. "Is it the right kind of drawbridge?" I asked Ethan anxiously. "Yes!" he answered excitedly. As we inched closer we all went looking for the little man in the booth. "There he is!" someone shouted as we passed by, craning our necks to get a better glimpse. If only he knew.

I know we shouldn't really be ramping up the talk about drawbridge operating as any kind of career. The kid is only seven. He doesn't really need to be thinking about this kind of stuff. Only -- I can see it. I can see Ethan, happy as a clam in his little booth, watching the gates rise and fall with intense focus. Eating his pizza. Keeping an eye out for signals and pushing buttons.

There's a balance here, when he gets older and things get more serious. I know the kid is incredibly smart and has a ton of potential. I think, with the right set-up, he could go to college. We should encourage him to aim high, I know that. But there's also what brings him joy. Maybe it won't be drawbridge operating. But perhaps it won't be completely conventional, either. We've got to remember that.

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