“Ice Cream, Anyone?”

Written By: Susan  Walker-Spring

There are milestones in every child’s development, from walking, to first words, to pedaling a bicycle, to school readiness. Along the way we parents reach complementary milestones of our own, from feeding properly, to handling tantrums, on through managing the panic (ours) of driving lessons and consoling the heartbreak (theirs) of first love, to name just a few. The most recent milestone reached in our household involves employment; specifically, summer employment.

My eldest child has always met milestones head-on. She is the ‘go-getter’ of our family, the organizer; the one most likely to order first at a restaurant to make sure the process proceeds properly. So it should not have surprised me when she declared shortly after her 14th birthday, “I am getting a job this summer.” Working papers in hand, Gabby presented herself to the ice cream shop on the wharf in Sag Harbor on a sunny June day. Hesitating near the ‘we’re hiring’ sign for only a moment, she resolutely walked up to the counter and stated, “I’m looking for a summer job. Are you still hiring?” Two weeks later, she donned a navy blue ‘Big Olaf’ t-shirt, packed a salad for dinner, and entered the working world.

She comes from a family of ice cream scoopers. My father’s first job was at a Carvel up the island in Moriches, a short walk from his family’s screen and awning business. Growing up, my brothers and I would howl with laughter as he told stories about the good old days, when he and his co-workers would pretend to toss an ice cream cone back and forth to each other to the amazement of waiting customers. “Back then,” he would say, “a small cone was 10 cents, and a large, a real splurge, was 25 cents.” I must have been inspired, because when it was time for me to get that first summer job, I applied at Carvel also- the same building where my father scooped ice cream nearly 30 years earlier. Things had changed, of course, the small cone was now $1.25 and the large a bank-breaking $2.50, but the overall objective of the job remained the same: serve ice cream, make correct change, smile at the customer, and, when things were slow, eat some of the product. The nice thing about ice cream is, no matter how much you ingest, you never get sick of its cool creamy goodness. Eat as much as I want? Twist my arm. And, since keeping tubs of ice cream cool in 90-degree weather necessitates air conditioning, working at an ice cream store just might be the perfect summer job.

My daughter agrees. The child who a few short years ago bravely entered school on her first day of kindergarten now regales us with work stories of her own. There was the man who purchased $80 worth of ice cream for his family and gave a $20 tip (thank you, sir, whoever you are!), the customer who would not get off his cell phone so she could take his order, the co-workers who maneuver across the sticky, waffle cone-encrusted floor with her, the line of customers stretching out the door and down the sidewalk on a hot July night. Gabby is learning perseverance (“I scooped for six hours straight and my arm is killing me mom!”), commitment (“My friends are going to the beach today and I really want to go but I’m working”), and customer service (‘Yes it’s taking you forever to choose and you’ve changed your mind six times but I’m still smiling at you!’). She is learning courtesy (“I know you like to be in bed by nine Mom but can you please pick me up from work at midnight?”), negotiation (“Tim switched shifts with me so I can go to the beach after all!”) and fortitude (“We were so busy I didn’t even get to think about dinner!”). As for me, I’m grappling with this ‘letting go’ step in the parenting process, drinking caffeinated coffee in the evening in an effort to stay awake until quitting time, and trying to remember that I now need to check someone else’s work schedule before I plan a family outing. There are fringe benefits though: not only can Gabby eat her fill for free, family gets ice cream at half price- and I can tell you the cost of a small cone is NOT $1.25 any longer. The result? We eat ice cream four or five times per week; each of us has become a connoisseur of the flavors Big Olaf has to offer. I have a personal favorite (kiddie waffle cone, mint chocolate chip yogurt on the bottom, chocolate lover’s ice cream on top) which I order from Gabby by simply saying, “my usual”. Life, this summer, is tasty.

Of course, she’s going to move on from this position. Summer is nearly over and the beginning of High School looms ahead of her. My father certainly didn’t stay an ice cream scooper for life; he joined his family business, charming customers from his ultimate position as sole proprietor until his retirement at age 62. My occupation involves ice cream in only a tangential manner, discussing favorite flavors with patients and cautioning against overindulgence during dietary counseling. Lessons learned from that milestone first venture into employment still apply, though. Do your job well. Be kind to those around you. And, take time to enjoy yourself along the way.

Ice cream, anyone?