What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a flight attendant, a truck driver, a veterinarian and a teacher. None of those things ever came to fruition, but I have never stopped wondering what I could be if I ever grew up.
Sometimes I imagine selling everything to move out to the country and live on a farm. I’d want to have cows and chickens and grow organic food and sell it to people who eat things like wheat grass and chia seeds. I’d have a pasture and a horse, and a big enough yard that Sabbie could run for Frisbees without ripping up our small suburban lawn. The nearest house would be a half mile away, and I’d call them neighbors.
When I told Bubba about this he called me a hippie.
Me: I suppose I would have to stop shaving my legs.
Bubba: I reckon.
Me: Do you think I could keep shaving my pits, or would I have to let that go too?
Bubba: I think that goes along with the gig.
There is always something to discourage me from my big ideas. You can call me a pessimist. I say I’m a realist. A realist with smoothly shaven legs and pits.
Sometimes I get frustrated with a piece of me, either physical, emotional, or intellectual, and I wonder, “Where did that come from?” I’ve long known that I have a tendency toward guilt. Had I been raised Catholic, I might have blamed my religion. I get asked all the time, “What are you, Catholic?” Personally, I think the Catholics have been over-blamed for this, but maybe they’re just an easy target, what with all they probably should feel guilty about.
This morning, after Bubba’s nap, we watched an episode of Vikings — the drama one, not the History Channel one. Afterward, he popped up off the couch declaring he had things to do.
Me: What? What do you need to do?
Bubba: Stuff! I have things to do!
Me: Are you going to clean?
Bubba: Well, for starters, I have to do some laundry.
Me: So nothing I have to feel guilty about not helping with.
Bubba: No. You sit here on the couch a little longer
We do our own laundry. I hate that he eyeball-measures the soap, and uses way to much bleach. I wash my clothes in cold water and sometimes wash cleaning rags in with my towels. That freaks my bubble-boy out. So we avoid an argument and each do our own.
But what is my problem with the guilt? As I sat pondering this, I had a flashback.
I’m playing with my Barbies, making furniture out of towels and empty boxes, because kids back then actually had to use their imagination. My mom pops up off her chair where she’s been reading the newspaper all morning. I hear shuffling and banging and running water. After about (what I can only estimate after all these years) has been about 15 minutes, I go off in search of her.
Me: Mom? Do you want me to do anything?
Mom: No . . . no . . .
After another bit of time, I follow the huffing, puffing, and sighing until I find my mom again.
Me: Are we having company?
Mom: No. Uh-uh.
Me: Why are you cleaning?
Mom: Because it needs to get done.
Me: Do you want help?
Mom: Do you see anything that needs to be clean?
Mom: Well, then, I guess not.
No longer feeling comfortable playing with my toys, I begin to pick them up. When I get everything put away, I go back and tell my mom I cleaned up my toys and ask if there is anything else she wants done.
Mom: Well, you sure know when to ask. I’m all done now.
This is a story we would laugh about in later years, but the residue may not have worn away even yet. I know she was teaching me how to take initiative, and it probably worked for the most part. But to this day I am a person who needs structure and straightforwardness. I’m not sure if the chicken or egg came first there, but for the most part I’d say children need structure.
As a teen, I asked to apply for work, but was not allowed to do so. Their reasoning was that I had everything I needed. I should leave the jobs for kids who actually had to pay for their own clothes, cars, or school lunch. I had a wonderful childhood, and indeed had everything a kid could dream of. This is the space where most people insert the label “spoiled.”
I’ve gone out of my way in my writings not to speak ill of those I love. And I don’t mean to do so here. However, I will say that the single best thing they could have done for me is to let me get a job when I asked about it. I think it might have changed the course of my life. But then I feel guilty about wishing things might have turned out differently. Of course I do.
I grew up in a home that spoke of business around the kitchen table. It was well-known that my parents valued honest hard work. Their identities were very wrapped up in their business and the reward it gave them. Yet, they were blind to the fact that they were denying me the same reward. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I felt truly needed. It’s no wonder I went on to have three more after the first. I thrived on the responsibility. I became very involved in my children’s school, and in Scouting. In effect, they were the job I never had. I’m not sure if they would say that was a good thing or a bad thing. Most likely some of both.
By the time I was old enough to get a job — and by that I mean my kids were becoming more independent — I sampled several different environments. I was a cashier, a teacher’s assistant, and a server for a caterer. I quickly learned what I had missed. With the support of my family, I started a full-time career, and learned I am every bit the workaholic that my dad was. I get my identity from good honest work. I value people with a good work ethic. I am passionate about service to others.
So maybe I learned guilt at my mother’s knee. Maybe I’m naturally a person who feels guilty sitting while others are actively employed. Or perhaps I should just repent and join the Catholics. Maybe what makes us US is something we will never truly figure out.
As I keep telling my kids, you can’t blame everything on your parents.
I am a cat with nine lives. I’ve lived a few of them, and can’t wait to see what the rest bring. One of them lasted for sixteen years, and in it I was a stay-at-home mom. I am very proud of it, and wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. Except I did.
Let me acknowledge that every stay-at-home parent has a different story just like every cashier, or doctor, or educator has a different story. My experience was that before I was a SAHM, I hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to establish myself in the world. I was young, had only worked with my mother in a retail store she owned, and had only been married for two years. I was twenty-four when I became pregnant with my first of four children, which were born (give or take a few months) every two years.
My husband was a police officer. He was my window to the world. His world was dangerous, cynical, and narrow. I was very thankful to have him to protect me from the big, scary world he told me about. We were lucky that he made a nice living, but to run a household for six of us on the one income, I needed to be resourceful. I cooked from scratch, sewed, planned and budgetted. One day that just wasn’t enough to make ends meet.
When I decided to dabble in the workplace about twelve years ago, I took a 3-month seasonal position as a cashier. After that there was a weekend catering gig, an educational assistant, and a magazine vendor changer-outer — not my official title, but that’s a descriptive as I can get. Then one day I saw a sign for the Barnes and Noble being built into the mall. I just about jumped right out the window of the car.
Barnes and Noble was the place I went when I managed to eke out a night away from the kids. It’s the one place I could justify buying new things. I huffed new-book smell straight from the bag, and hid the receipts until the canceled checks arrived in the mail (remember that?).
I worked for that store even before the books arrived. We dusted and cleaned and then stacked boxes upon boxes in heaps seven feet tall! It was magical and exciting. Then one day they told there were placing me in the café. I know it was due to my catering experience, but I didn’t even drink coffee.
Within a year I rose from the lead to the café manager. I loved my job, but even more than that, I loved the people — both the customers and the staff. They came from every walk of life. There were old women with pink crocheted hats. There were businessmen in suits and ties. There were young people with piercings and tattoos. There were gay people and goth people and mean people and pretty people.
And do you know what? None of them were as scary as I was led to believe. The world was a friendly place. And not only did I like the world, I realized the world liked me! I found I had a knack for making people happy. Changing each person’s day in a positive way became my goal, for those who visited and those who showed up to work.
These days I work for a food bank. We distribute food to agencies who feed people who are hungry. For five years I’ve worked in our Agency Services Department, helping agencies get what they need.
The walls are thin, and a department called Food Rescue inhabited the other side of my wall for many years. They had a lot of fun. Sometimes they laughed so hard, I had to plug one of my ears to hear my customer on the phone. They were the cool kids. The ones with the quick wit and keen sense of humor. They came and went, often out of the office for days, on covert missions the likes of which we knew not.
One day I decided it was time to learn more about this great place that employed me. I ventured out on a ride-along with a couple of Food Rescue staff. I hadn’t planned to fall in love, but I did. Head over heels, birds singing, heart-pounding love. Within a year I managed to land the position I wanted. I will be executing covert, dangerous food-rescuing missions in hard-to-reach places. I imagine there will be a cape and super powers involved, although there has been no mention of them yet.
The relationship I established with the world brought me to this place — this yearning to make it smile, to brighten a corner wherever it is, a genuine appreciation for humanity. I’m obviously still in the honeymoon phase, and I’m not sure I’m a cool kid yet, but I have a good feeling about this.
In January I job-shadowed a co-worker in another department. It was mostly an informational journey, finding out more about what they do in that corner of the organization. I hadn’t meant to fall in love. As those who stray are often overheard saying, it just happened.
When the job opening posted, I submitted my résumé, with a carefully crafted cover letter, to the HR department. Then I waited.
The first two interviews were lined up over three weeks later. A Friday. They would be held early, before the workday surrendered to the weekend. At the time the appointment was set, no one expected a snow storm.
Thursday the flakes fell all day. By lunch the back roads were risky. The HR department called. No one who didn’t have to was coming in the next day, much less early. My first appointment was rescheduled for the afternoon. Soon I was messaged by the hiring manager. Could I reschedule? Yes, of course . . . doesn’t my résumé say that one of my strengths is flexibility? Given the choice, I chose Friday afternoon over Monday. Weekends are meant to relax, not fibrillate.
It was all worked out. I would dress for the interview in the morning, wearing snow boots and carrying my dress shoes in a bag. Returning home on my break as usual, I’d eat a light and healthy lunch, freshen up, and arrive back at work looking crisp and eager.
That evening, I gunned it up the drive to keep from lodging halfway. Bubba met me at the back door. He had gunned his car too, but his power steering pump whined. Something gave and he lost the ease of his wheel. He made it in, but the car was crippled. He would have to take mine in the morning.
Okay! So just another change of plans, right? Deep breath and forge ahead.
Friday morning I dressed in my professional best. My makeup and hair in place, nails groomed, brows plucked, Bubba warmed the car. A trip home to freshen up midday would be impossible. It was important I felt confident and unruffled before I left in the morning.
The last thing I did before I went out the back door was to grab my purse in the front room. Looking out the window, I saw the young woman across the street spinning her wheels. The plows that cleared the streets overnight left a dense berm of snow at the bottom of each driveway. My young neighbor made the poor choice to try and run her vehicle over the drift.
Now, it occurred to me that if we backed out just right, we could keep our car in reverse and back down the hill until we found a clear area to turn around. However, it would require us to drive, albeit backwards, right by her while she was stuck in the snow.
“Shoot!” I exclaimed. Okay, I didn’t say shoot, but you get the idea. I was starting to lose my cool.
I watched her tires spin a few more times without any encouragement from the car. There was nothing to do except the right thing. I marched past Bubba in my boots, well-coiffed hair, and lipstick. I trod through the snow to the garage. Plucking the lightest shovel off the wall, I strutted past the woman now on her phone in the street. I began to excavate the incapacitated car at a feverish rate.
Before long, Bubba and a passing motorist had joined my endeavor. The car was soon dislodged, many thanks were exchanged and we headed back to our own warm automobile.
Sweaty, wet, rumpled, my meltdown arrived violently. Deep breaths turned into hyperventilation as I tried to keep tears from rinsing away my mascara.
By the time Bubba dropped me off at work, I had regained some small amount of composure. The place was a ghost town. The desks of my two office mates sat empty for the next hour. The only callers were canceling orders. The call from HR shouldn’t have surprised me.
Neither interview would take place that day. A small voice in my head mocked my meltdown from earlier. Next week would be a better time for interviews. Surely everything that could go wrong already had.