Since the spring of my freshman year, I have worked for the Rothfus family. More specifically, Mrs. Rothfus. Or, to me, Lisa. Lisa was one of my mother’s friends at the private, all-girls high school they attended. Before I got to know Lisa in college, I knew her only as mom’s school friend who visited our house occasionally, the blonde lady mom would go to reunions with, and for her gratuitously detailed Christmas letters mom would pleasantly comment on, then eventually grumble about.
“I don’t really think it’s necessary to inform everyone of your five vacations and every accomplishment your family’s made during every calendar year,” she’d say. “I mean, I care, but not that much.”
Little did I know, those vacations would become a major part of my job.
In the beginning I babysat the two Rothfus boys, Josh (15) and Jake (11) making sure they didn’t burn the house down and knew those Disney Channel stars at that oh-so-realistic performing arts high school were really my age and not actually fourteen. My job evolved to doing assistant-y work for Lisa and helping with any of the numerous things she had going on. And it’s always a lot. She works as a teacher part time at a ‘gifted’ private school, has several private clients as a counselor, coaches or works with several of her boys’ activities, and at any point is planning a family trip or visit to a conference.
Now, I don’t know much about any of this stuff. Basically my job is to Google things. I’m an excellent Googler. If you need something Googled, I’m your girl.
Last year it was my job to plan the Great Rothfus Italian Adventure Extravaganza & Show. They’d already been to France and England the previous summer, so they had to move eastward. As you can probably deduce, travel is the norm for this family. They get to do a lot of things. They are, personality-wise, pretty grounded, but approach things a little differently than my upbringing. Let’s just say Mr. Rothfus, a MIT graduate, sold his business during the dotcom boom and did pretty well. He now runs a venture-capitalist group. They also have a kickass media room with lots of little binky lights and buttons that make absolutely no sense to me.
I feel I should straighten some things out. Now, I didn’t grow up destitute. Far from it – I had a loving childhood with two supportive parents, a roomy house, and assorted pets named things like Princess and Sweetie. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience some of the finer things in life. But I did go to public school. Pregnant-girls-fighting-so-we-have-to-use-pepper-spray-to-break-it-up public school. We went on vacations, sure – but not all the time and not usually in exotic locales. On occasion I do filing and shredding and answer phones for our family business. I know how to clean a toilet. I pick up dog poop. You get the idea.
I knew and had experienced enough that I could understand what they wanted and why they wanted it – the level of luxury, convenience, etc. – but hadn’t ever experienced it to that level or frequency. I was adequately distant from their lifestyle that every once and a while, I’d call my mom from Lisa’s desk in some sort of disbelief. Or maybe it was just envy.
“What’s going on, Mallie?”
“Mom, guess what I’m doing right now.”
“Do you know how much business-class flights are to Italy? Do you?”
“I’m guessing more than you thought.”
“I’m looking at apartments in Rome. In Rome. Just before that I spoke with three different Italians about places in Sorrento. One was obviously at home with his kids or something and one could barely articulate in English so I’ll have to email her and one was telling me about this one place – it’s called Villa Donna Elisa – and how the lady who takes care of it won’t mind a Monday-to-Monday rental because she’s getting older and likes a day off but still is ‘how you say - full of life!’ Who says that in America Mom? Who? No one. That’s who. This place is incredible. It has everything they want – ocean view, walking distance to everything, it’s gorgeous. So yeah. I’m awesome at this. Bam!”
“Hey, can we talk later? I’m with a student right now.”
“Oh, OK. Sure. Bye. Love you.”
My mom’s a pretty good listener.
I can imagine the experience might be something similar to, say, a young, wedding-obsessed yet tragically single woman planning another person’s nuptials. She gets to peruse all the poufy dresses, satin shoes, multi-tiered cakes, exotic venues, party favors, gold-leafed invitations, and little bottles of bubbles to her heart’s desire but won’t herself get to walk down the aisle for a long, long time. Afterward, she’ll get to go through the photo album of the friend’s wedding, but she won’t be in the pictures because she wasn’t invited.
However, I was paid to do all off this. I shouldn’t leave that out, lest you think I was being tortured or used as slave labor.
I can’t say that I didn’t learn a lot. Up to that point, I had never made an international phone call. I’d never made so many purchases that required Euro-to-dollar conversions. I didn’t know that finding a hotel with a/c, wifi, and an elevator during the summer in Italy like asking for gold-plated raisins. If you need to locate a hotel room, apartment, tour guide, plane ticket, restaurant, show, car rental or shuttle ride from the airport I can probably find it, buy it, make the reservation or find someone who can. I now know that the internet is both your best friend and your mortal enemy – it makes all of this so much quicker and easier, but gives you so many choices for everything and anything. The sifting and choosing is most of the work, especially if your employer - not you - has to make the decisions.
But in the end, I can completely admit that it was more fun than annoying. I got to take a virtual tour of the greater Italian peninsula without the hassle of jet lag, language barriers, or actually paying for it. And the Rothfus’s are genuinely nice people.
Well. Got to get starting planning this summer’s trip.