Right around the time I began teaching, 1993 or so, I got a nice surprise in April. There was to be a “National Take Your Daughters” to work day, the goal of which was to encourage parents to share their careers with their daughters, ostensibly to get them thinking about and gaining a view into what the working world was like. It began as an initiative by Gloria Steinem and the Ms. Foundation to close the gender gap in the workplace. Today, that’s been expanded to include sons and daughters, but at first it was just aimed at girls.
Being the progressive and pragmatic person I was, however (and not looking forward to having a day with ONLY 8th grade boys,) I also encouraged boys to go to work with their parents – especially their mothers. If their mothers were stay-at-home moms, so much the better. Leading up to the day, though, I pleaded with the SAHMs to make sure if their kids were to stay home with them, they were to DO THE WORK with their mothers. This was NOT to be a day off for lounging and watching television. Let me tell you – those moms really came through. I had more than a few kids coming back the next day a little dazed and EXTREMELY grateful to be spending the day in school.
It recently occurred to me, though, that in my world, “Take Your Daughter To Work” Day began many years before 1993.
When I was five-years-old, and my family back moved to Brooklyn, my dad secured a job teaching music at The High School of Music and Art in Harlem. Once a year or so, throughout my elementary school years, I got to play hooky from my own school, and my dad would take me to Music & Art with him, usually sometime around my birthday.
On these days, he’d poke his head into my room at the ungodly hour of 5:30-ish a.m., and make sure I was awake. I’d get up, get dressed, and have to be very quiet so I didn’t wake my sleeping mom and sister. My dad and I spoke to each other in whispers until we were outside the apartment building and walking to the train. This probably felt pretty mundane to him, but to me it was totally an adventure and a privilege. Leaving the house before the sun came up? Before anyone else was awake? It felt borderline conspiratorial, and I loved it.
We’d climb the steps to the Kings Highway train station, hop on the D train and if I wasn’t fully awake at that point, I was once we were aboard. The sound and movement of the train would wake the dead. Plenty of people were snoozing at that hour, but I was too excited to sleep. We’d get off at 59th Street, and my dad would hustle me up steps and through tunnels and down steps again until we were on the platform waiting for the 1 train. First stop, 125th Street. Second stop, 135th Street. We’d get off the train, climb up from the underground station, and there it was.
See those steps in the image at the top of this post? Over one hundred of them. Ten flights of steps before we even entered the building. Which, by the way, looked on the inside like this:
Yes, that was the auditorium, baby. But it was also one of my dad’s classrooms during the day. I hung out with him (or in the back, rather, while he worked) watching him teach these awesome, supremely talented kids music theory, music history, and musical theater. He taught chorus, conducted orchestra, the whole shebang. Who WOULDN’T love watching dozens of uber-talented and charismatic teenagers rehearse Jesus Christ Superstar or “Company? Is it any wonder I grew up wanting to be a teacher?
I was introduced to his awesome and hilarious colleagues, spent time talking to the school security guard Grady, and OMG, Archie the elevator operator! This building was an absolute castle, and the elevator required an actual person to operate it. Just like the old days! It had the folding gate that had to open before the elevator door could open, and that awesome lever that drove the thing, which sometimes he would even let me use!
I explored the inner sanctums of teacher-world, like the elevator, the teacher’s lounge, and the teacher’s cafeteria! But the best, the absolute best part was the kids. As much as they loved my dad, they loved small people, too. Especially small people who were the offspring of their favorite teachers. They’d shuffle across the hall when they saw us, squealing,
“AAAAA-OOOOOOH, MISTUH LEEERRRTSSSSSSSZMIN!!!!! IZZATCHYUH DOOOOO-WUHTUH?????” (Translation: “Oh, Mr. Lirtzman! Is that your daughter?”)
They’d fawn and play with my hair and say, “She’s so CUUUUUTTTEEEEE!!!!” and some of them would get very serious and put their hand on my shoulder and say,
“Youh fahthuh izz duh BEST TSSSEECHUH EVAH!” (Translation: “Your father is the best teacher ever!”) And then they’d take the stage and sing Verdi like they belonged in the Metropolitan Opera House. In fact, after they graduated, I’m sure some of them actually did.
I love thinking about the times I spent with my dad at Music & Art, and they got even more fun when my mom began teaching there, too, in 1979. On the days I got to visit, I’d be in the back of my mom’s class, my dad would walk in and they would kiss hello (on the lips!) and thirty-seven 15-year-olds screamed,
“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!” and I’d just laugh because I was used to it, though I probably sunk down in my seat a little. My dad would yell at them, “Aw, what do YOU know? You should BE so lucky!” and he’d walk out of theroom and my mom would keep teaching like nothing happened.
What I love even more, though, is the idea that in taking me to work with him when I was young, my dad was actually a couple of decades AHEAD of Gloria Steinem when it came to showing girls what their parents did for a living, and what they could be when they grew up.
Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work also appears in Catonsville Patch, Kveller, and has been featured in the Community Spotlight section of Daily Kos under the username “Horque.” Her writing has also landed in the “Winner’s Circle” on Midlife Collage twice. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites.
Images courtesy Aliza Worthington