When we were growing up, my mother always threatened us with a succession of increasingly bizarre career choices if we didn’t study hard enough.
“Do you want to end up sweeping the streets? Is that what you want?” she asked my brother Jack when he came home with a red F for Music Theory.
To which my sister, Michelle, who never met a button she didn’t want to push when it came to our mother, replied, “So what are you saying? All the street sweepers in Singapore are failed musicians?”
To which my mother, who never met any smart comment from her children she didn’t shoot down with the precision of a heat-seeking nuclear missile, replied, “You got a C-plus for Biology! You really think Harvard Medical School is going to accept you? Keep this up, and you’re going to end up an accountant!”
In the world according to my mother, being an accountant was way up there with being a dentist. To her, if you were an accountant, it just meant that you weren’t good enough to be a chartered accountant. Or, if you were a dentist, this must have meant you’d failed to become an actual doctor.
Which is why she’s always gone out of her way to stress to complete strangers that her daughter is a chartered accountant.
“Looking at her today, you really couldn’t tell that your mother was once such a hard ass!” Saffy said the other day. We were sitting on our sofa drinking tea and watching two guys abseil-down outside our window, as they painted, one floor at a time, the exterior of our building. “She just seems so mellow.”
“Mellow, my ass,” I told her. “She still hasn’t told any of her friends that I’m no longer a lawyer!”
Saffy’s bosom stopped in mid-heave. “Wait. What?”
I pursed my lips. “Uh huh. Everyone still thinks I work at Ong & Ong! It’s ridiculous! And she tells everyone that Jack is on a retreat working on his symphony!”
Saffy frowned. “Isn’t he a dentist, though?”
I shrugged. “An orthodontist, and a very good one, but Mother says she just can’t imagine why anyone would want to spend their lives looking into someone else’s mouths.”
“Better than being a gynaecologist!” Saffy said. “That’s surely got to be the worst job in the world. I’m a woman and even I get the icks thinking about it!”
“I think doing what these guys are doing is the worst job in the world,” I said, nodding to the painters swaying outside, strapped into their harnesses and, literally, hanging around. “Those harnesses look so painful!”
Amanda later said she’d spoken to one of them that morning, on her way back into the condo. “Apparently, after half an hour, they get quite numb in the crotch!” she reported, adding, “And not in a good way! The harnesses really cut off the blood circulation and it takes a while before they get any feeling back! Peeing isn’t fun, he told me.”
“Their poor girlfriends,” Saffy said, demonstrating, not for the first time, her ability to steer any conversation, even one about occupational health and safety, back towards sex.
The subject of the world’s worst jobs occupied our attention for days. My sister said being a parent is probably top of her list. “Because children are so ungrateful! And I speak from personal experience!”
I sniffed. “Well, I was just talking to Jack and he says that the worst job in the world is the lab guy who examines stool samples!”
Michelle shrieked. “Oh my God! That’s so true! I mean really, talk about a sh** job!”
We fell about in hysterics. After a while, we picked ourselves up, still laughing. “Can you imagine?” Michelle said, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. “Can you imagine if we’d come home from school and told Mother that’s what we’d decided to do with our lives?”
Amanda says she doesn’t know what the big deal is. “It’s no different from picking up dog poo, and we did that three times a day with Pooch, remember?”
“Yeah, but we never bent our heads close to look at it,” Saffy pointed out. “And I know I always held my breath. You couldn’t do that in the lab. You’d pass out!”
“Well, I’m sure it’s not done out in an open-plan office!” Amanda said. “Surely, it’s all in some kind of protective box?”
Saffy was unconvinced. “Yeah, but you’d still have to look at the stuff!”
Sharyn says it’s really weird what single people talk about.