I guess my 15-year-old friend Jernae is spending the summer at our house. I say “I guess” because there was never any formal agreement between her mother and me that Jernae would be hanging out here. But just after her eighth grade classes in San Francis co ended last week, she arrived at our front door hauling an alarmingly large suitcase that contained enough clothes for an army (an army consisting of skinny girls dressed in very tight pants and midriff-baring shirts).
Her long-term visit is OK with me because I enjoy her company and because there has always been this arrangement between us. Jernae shows up and I spend money and a lot of time saying no to suggestions that range from “let’s go rock climbing” to “buy me a cell phone, will you please.”
But this summer is different. She’s old enough to get a job. Not necessarily one that pays, but a job that includes responsibilities, such as a starting time, a formal lunch break, and a boss who tells her what to do.
She’s been hired by the City of E meryville Recreation Department as a “leader in training,” LIT for short. It’s a non-paying position designed to provide young people with work experience and leadership skills. She gets to wear a staff T-shirt and a name badge every day.
The rec depar tment, housed in a double-wide on San Pablo Avenue, is a short walk from my home. Jernae was a camper there for several summers so she knows many of the employees: Chicken Juice, Spider, Cupcake, and Pebbles, to name a few. Despite the odd nicknames, i t’s an extremely wholesome place with a staff dedicated to the 5- to 16-year-old camp participants. Although its location leaves a lot to be desired in terms of serenity (the building sits a block from Oak’s Card Room, two blocks from Black & White Market, and within walking distance of Home Depot), a myriad of well-planned activities await each camper, from swimming at the Emery Pool, to trips to the Oakland Zoo, Lawrence Hall of Science, Tilden Park, Iceland, and more.
I observed Jernae’s self-esteem soar as I overheard her talking on the telephone to her buddies, bragging about her new responsibilities, describing her co-workers and new friends. I breathed a sigh of relief that she wasn’t sitting upstairs staring slack-jawed at the TV screen, or list ening to loud music with questionable lyrics. Although the number of hours logged on my cell phone has been disconcerting, I remember when I was 15, wasting embarrassingly long hours laying on a lime green shag carpet, talking on a pink Princess telephone, spinning albums by Chad & Jeremy and the lyrically-impaired Herman’s Hermits.
Among the many plusses of Jernae’s employment is that she won’t be wearing to work her favorite self-decorated, low-rider bell bottoms. The words “Little Hustlas” are hand-p rinted vertically on each pant leg and the name of her school is scrawled across the back side in permanent ink. She also won’t have time to use my Internet connection, pursuing the dubious activities of her hip hop heroes. Instead, her immediate concern is deciding on an appropriate handle for herself that fits in with everyone’s m.o. at the rec center. Among her choices are Little Princess, Suga’ Baby and Lil’ Mamma. I’m voting for Suga’ Baby, although Little Princess is definitely better than Little Hustlas.
I never had a nickname when I was a kid. It could have made a big difference to my fragile ego if I’d been called Little Darlin’, Cookie or Precious. But now it’s too late, and besides, it’s not in my genes or psyche. I don’t think anybody’s gonna call me Big Mamma anytime soon.
For more information on programs provided by the Emeryville Recreation Department, call 596-3782 or log on to www.ci.emeryville.ca.us.