Thursday, February 19, 2015

I Used to Be a Waitress

Last night, I had the dream again.  I was waiting tables and I was in the weeds.

If you have never heard this term or you never worked in food service, allow me to explain. The weeds is a place you know you will visit on the busiest night of the week, but you always hope it will be just a bit more welcoming, a bit less like the place you think you will finally die. It's when the server in the section next to you comes down with the stomach flu at 7:00 on a Saturday night and you take over her tables. It's when you have three orders to take, five drinks to get and a some woman is changing a diaper on the table where you need to drop off sizzling fajitas. It's a place where you feel like you'll never get your breath back, there's a line out the door and an hour long wait for a table, an 18 year old couple just left you $3 on a $70 check and you just got sat with a brand spanking new ten top.  It's the busiest, most multi-tasking place you'll ever be, but it's the only way you'll make money and it sure does make the shift go by faster.

So, here I am, about 11 years after the last time I worked at a restaurant.  I'm a college professor. I have a family. I attribute many of my  multi-tasking skills to Chili's or Outback Steakhouse on a Saturday night (or IHOP on a Sunday morning. Really.  Check that place out the next time you drive by. It's as if pancakes are only served for five minutes and everyone's trying to eat them at the same time). And every now and then, I have the dream.

In the dream, I'm in the weeds and it's all very specific.  I can never remember my employee number to enter into the computer because even in the dream, it's been awhile and my boss always has to look it up.  The dream always take place at Chili's.  The boss is any one of the many I had at the many restaurants where I made rent money, tuition money, drinking money in college. There are variables; last night, for example, the Chili's was in London.  But no matter what, I'm always in the weeds.  I get chips and salsa for the table and when I turn around, it's gone.  I go to the bar to get the drinks for another table and we're out of Jack. The cooks are angry at me for being away for so long and my salads aren't ready. I finish the shift with a piddly amount of money in my pocket, feeling like I've never been so bad at this. Ever.

I'm helpless. And I'm in the weeds.

I'm pretty sure I don't need one of those overpriced dream dictionaries to figure this one out.  I have to hone my multi-tasking skills. I must feel, deep down, like I'm lacking, like I can't handle what's being thrown at me.  But the thing is, I survived those nights. I survived multiple Mother's Days at Outback. (You wouldn't think it, but this is the busiest day of the Outback year. I remember running to the basement to smoke a cigarette after ten hours straight because I just couldn't take it anymore.)  And I did it well, for years.  So, how hard can the rest of this be?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Envisioning the Future

It's hard, right? To look into the future and "see" what it will look like, the way all self help gurus want you to. It's as if you should be able to clearly see yourself doing all of the things you want to do. It should be as sharp as your HDTV and you should believe it immediately. And they're all going to "give you the tools you need" to get there. And you're picturing this svelt, yoga-doing, stylish CEO of  a mom who balances her job and her kid and her husband and her dog and her charitable work perfectly and still finds the time to have brunch with her girlfriend and still finds the money to spend $500 on a pair of shoes that she'll wear once to a wedding to impress the chick her high school boyfriend left her for in 1997 when she was just a schlub writing poetry in a flannel shirt and workman's pants and beat up old Vans. And you're sure as you listen to this self help guru that you can do it. And then three weeks later, the image has become blurry and you need those future shifting glasses back and they're not there because you've finished the book. And then what?

I propose that this woman who's being fantastically created in our imaginations is not real.  Oh sure, she's something to strive for, and don't get me wrong, I will damn well make sure I'm balancing it all at some point, but if you're picking "this woman" who you should be, you may just lose sight of who you are.

Yes, the first step in any self-help regimen is identifying who you are.  And once you do, you're supposed to be able to "fix" whatever is wrong with that you - the you who can never find the time, doesn't make enough money, is just disappointing - and move on from that you, the you who you were before you decided you were unhappy.  There is validity in wanting to change to better your life, and I'm in the process of doing so myself right now. But the other day, I was in the car and an older punk rock song (or really, punk rock opera of sorts - NOFX's The Decline) got me pumped up. I found myself missing those 16 year old Doc Martens and the cursing of the establishment, that soul searing satisfaction you feel when you're sure someone else is to blame for all of the world's problems, and realized that I don't have to be nostalgic for that person. I don't have to lose that person because she doesn't fit the picture of what the gurus and society as a whole expect me to be as a professional woman, a mom, a wife, a human.  I can still have me and change for the better. I just have to change that which I actually want to change, not that which I think others might want me to change.

In my rambling here, I'm trying to say that you should, absolutely, envision your future.  Identify what you want to do that you're not doing already and do it. But don't forget who you are - not who you were.  You can leave parts of yourself that no longer serve you on the road behind the truck, but that which makes you feel, that should hang out somewhere near you, maybe in a box, a trunk, a bag, until you decide it's a great car ride home to listen to some punk rock and take it out again. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Leaving My Daughter With Someone Else - Will She Freak Out?

The question all working parents face: Will my kid freak out if I leave her with someone else?

The nerves that accompany this question are like little germs making their way to a host, quietly spreading their negativity and malice. As if you don't already feel nervous about a million and one things concerning this little human (Does she feel warm? Are those pjs too small on her now? Is she going to choke if I give her a Cheerio?), now you wonder if she'll feel abandoned when you leave her at day care. You ask the woman there not to let her see you walk out the door, you picture all manner of crumbling, red, forlorn, screaming baby face for an hours long stretch while you - gasp! - enjoy your job. You're so selfish, mom. You're so selfish, dad.

The platitudes and advice from others come ferociously.

"It will be good for her."
"She needs to socialize."
"She'll adjust after a couple of days."

All well meaning, and probably true, but does that stop you from irrationally telling yourself that she's going to hate you well beyond her teenage years, not invite you to her wedding and write memoirs about her self-involved, pathetic jerk of a parent? Hell no.

The truth is, you won't know if she'll freak out until you do leave her there, and you can't NOT leave her there if you want to keep your job, and you have to keep your job if you want to buy her pjs that fit and keep her in Cheerios. Just know we all understand, mama (or dada). You're not alone. We're all worried about this scary, gut-wrenching, necessary milestone called The Babysitter.

UPDATE: Tomorrow is the day. Aside from her food, I have all of my little bird's stuff packed up for daycare. I have, intellectually, come to terms with the fact that this is good for her, that she will need to be around other children, that I am lucky to not have to be on-site to teach five days a week, that this is a way for her to learn to interact with others. I totally get it.

But am I still dreading the drop off?  You bet.

UPDATE #2: Dropped her off today and cried after in my car.  How could I not? When I called to check in, I was told she cried the first 20 minutes or so and then was fed and happy for the rest of the time. I guess this is harder for me than it is for her!