be a better human, books, family, giving, kindness, lists, reading, talking

Mothers, loving and liking them

In all my stages of employment (retailing, teaching, nannying, librarianing) I have worked with lots of mothers, and on some catering occasions, sometimes even worked with my own. I’m surrounded by them. Many of my friends are having their first or second babies, even more social media acquaintances. Maybe it is my biological clock waking up, but I’ve tuned in closer lately to how these women relate to and talk about their children: some combination of everyday responsibility, joy, exhaustion, stress and devotion. I like (and love a few of) these women, and I love hearing about their relationships with their kids through their eyes. Whether the objects of discussion are infants, tweens or twenty-somethings, their stories give me perspective on how at any given age I got along with my own fantastic momma.

So far the only nuggets of info I’ve shared about my mom are:

  1. She has told me for years to write a blog (and book).
  2. She nags me to take care of myself, which is sometimes annoying, but this happens because she cares about me, her firstborn and only daughter.
  3. She puts her unread hand-me-over books from her BFF Kathy on my bookshelf that she is babysitting for me quasi-indefinitely.

These are all true! But they are hardly the whole picture.

First off, though I do advocate reading all the books you own and display, bookshelves are a convenient place to rest them before you get to them. Mom does read books, but I have to physically put the book into her hands; I used to just tell her titles that moved me and that I thought she’d like, but she would lose the envelopes she wrote them on. I suggested she use the library. Then one August I visited to find a book with a NEW! MARCH! sticker and calculated that encouraging her to check out library books was doing a disservice to the library. When I librarian-ed her (ie. asking in a panicked tone, “what if someone else was waiting for it?” and guilting with “they probably had to assume it was lost and replace it!”) she took it back to its home. As a “senior” (in numbers only), she learned from that experience that she doesn’t have to pay ANY fines or replacement fees! And they let her keep the book, to boot!

She runs a little backlog of books I now buy for her. (I learned from the 100-page library book I checked out for her with my card and its ongoing 18 renewals and started buying them.) Prone to savoring books (or just getting through a few pages before getting too sleepy to continue), it takes her a long time to finish one book. This both drives me nuts because I want to talk about the books with her, and also epitomizes intentional consuming of the content. She may have a great time taking the book slowly, where I may have devoured it and moved on. (Or, she may forget what she read the last night and proceed to spend a fortnight on one chapter. Anyone’s guess.)

And despite the backlog, I continue gifting her books. (Viva las bookstores!) I know that when I have a profound connection to a story or concept or retelling of real life events, that she will respond to it also. The books I choose for her generally resonate with us on a personal level, topics ranging from a young person who experienced loss and how he carried on (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer–my mom claimed changed her life) to a nonfictional chaotic family that produces strong women (The Glass Castle and Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls–ditto), to an adult and his mother talking through life events he was too young to understand when they happened (The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper & Gloria Vanderbilt–seriously, start it already, Mom!)

I love being able to talk to my mom through the books we read in common. I love when she loves a book as much as or more than I do. I also love when we both dislike the same book (our first “official” mother-daughter book club selection H is For Hawk was more like D is for Dud/B is for Boring/O is for Overrated). Our shared opinions and similar sources for inspiration reinforce that I am something like her–even though sometimes that is not ideal, as in the case of this list that I have to recreate from memory because I wrote it out on a sticky note and lost the sticky note.

List of books I think Mom will like*

*and you might too!

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (fiction)
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (fiction, bit of a mystery!)
  • What Unites Us by Dan Rather & Elliot Kirschner (memoir/USA)
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (memoir)
  • Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders (politics, USA)
  • A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren (politics, USA)
  • The book I’m purchasing for her, so it will remain undisclosed until she receives it

At any rate, my brother and I are super lucky to both love and like our mom. We are fans of hers not only because she cooks like I read: a variety of genres, super well, and all the time. Mostly, we are fans because she is supportive, sweet and loves us a lot. I wish she would read more, and she wishes I would cook more, so each of us should probably listen to the other and balance our book time:food prep time ratios. We don’t have a ton of traditions as a three-person family, but the approximately two that we have are perfect: banana cream pie for my brother’s birthday (and my gluten intolerance means I now get just the bananas and custard, aka the best part) and wrapping our secular presents on Christmas morning, five to fifteen minutes before exchanging and unwrapping them.

Though our in-person Mother’s Day celebration has to wait until the end of the month when I’m home, I hope her sons (biological and fur) treat her extra well this weekend. Being a mom is a big job, and it seems like it doesn’t get any easier with age, so, kudos to my mom, all the moms I know (and don’t). We kids, young or grown, may fight you on a number of things, you may always embarrass us, but we love you!

gf

bookstores, coworkers, librarians, talking

(That) Kind of A Manager

My current position is not perfect. However, in the interest of complaining less (which is good for you!) and focusing on positivity instead of negativity, I thought I would address my favorite part of my job, as well as celebrating some quality people who have shaped who I am in the workplace.

I supervise student employees. They are mine to boss around — er, I mean, assign/delegate tasks — though I do not schedule them or serve as their go-to contact. I am there to answer their questions, back them up with patron-related problems, and I ask them for help with tasks. They (mostly) oblige good-naturedly. Building relationships with young people has always been one of my favorites, and it influenced my choice to major in Education, to pursue student teaching a second time despite a disastrous first try, to nanny, and to work as a teacher-librarian. Of course, my college students are very different than the toddlers I used to babysit (namely in their affinity for curse words and their showing up with visible “love bites”), but deep down I just like being around people and often younger people are more open to talking and connecting with someone they don’t know well.

I loved training the newbies: showing them the ropes and fielding their questions when new situations pop up. One student at the beginning of the year was so stunned at how old some of our materials are because they had been published the same year his grandma had been born. It was sweet to see his awe at how the information within had existed as long as his grandma, and to see him think about how the book’s field of study had likely changed.

Even more than the work-related conversations, I love hearing them talk about what’s going on in their real lives: work, school, family. I love urging them, seniors or otherwise, to seek out resources that the University offers that they either don’t know about or have the motivation to utilize (here’s looking at you, Career Services :). I love listening to the Sunday girls speak in Spanglish with each other and get excited that I can understand roughly 75%. I am impressed when other students speak in fluent Hindi because it sounds so complicated, but they, bilingual, have been using it since birth. They are pre-med, nursing, engineering, or bio majors and I know I never had to study that hard in college (high school, maybe).

Whereas some students keep entirely to themselves, glued to their laptops or phones their whole shifts, the students who talk to me are my favorites. They tell me about their roommates wanting the heat up way too high, their conferences in Pittsburgh (the buildings are all brick–too much of the same color!), their public speaking assignments, faraway summer internships they’ve lined up (rent is insanely high in CA! Owning real estate and letting money roll in is such a goal!), their minors–majors stress them out, but their minors are fun passion projects like theatre, which involves set building/design and props in particular, creativity in general. The kids have wild stories — one girl humbly told me her family store was robbed over the summer, that she and her dad were held at gunpoint. She smiled and said “it was scary” but that the police caught the perpetrator shortly afterward, and did not appear shaken in the least.

And last week, during my last hour of work before a pre-announced snow day, I asked the young adults working what they were doing on their day off, and they asked me the same. My plan was to watch Coco, and hearing that, one student LIT UP. She is not one of my warm-and-fuzzy students, but she could not stop smiling about my watching it. This 20-year-old told me about how she loves the soundtrack and listens to it sometimes, and she warned me I would cry. (She was completely right.) The four of us then had a fifteen-minute conversation about “kid” movies, babysitting and its merits, and I shared my lone horror story from the single time I ever accepted a job substitute teaching kindergarten. (ONCE WAS ENOUGH. Props to all the kindergarten teachers.) I left for home that night happy for the day off, but happier to share so much dialogue, such a connection with someone young enough that I could have babysat over a movie I hadn’t even watched yet.

[THEN I watched it, and holy moly, I cannot recommend it enough. Seriously, so beautiful. Stop everything and go request it from the library. I’ll wait here!

…Great, glad you took care of that. You too will soon be able to share in the magic.]

More than anything, though, I was happy that I get to be kind of, sort of a manager, because I get to work with some cool young people. I’m that kind of manager: real with them. I go easy on them when they are cramming for an upcoming exam. I ask them questions about their family trips to visit relatives in Colombia, and I pack and label the outgoing mail alongside them because they don’t like doing it (but I do!). I try to calm their course-related anxiety and encourage them to get enough sleep every chance I get.

The best managers I’ve had have been calm, kind and available. One such person is one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, whom I watched many a customer verbally abuse at the bookstore, for any number of reasons (probably related to coupons and their applicability). Through it all, no matter how rude someone was to him, he did not take it personally, nor get nasty in response. Instead, he calmly tried to reach an acceptable solution for the customer. I never saw his hair on fire (metaphorically or literally)–even though he was the manager in charge of the schedule, he maintained one of the most easygoing, goofy attitudes complete with a smile. Working with him was relaxed and productive. When I was dumped by my first love and someone in the store tried to immediately set me up with her brother, I fled to the staff room and cried hysterically to this man until he got me laughing and ready to face the floor (if not the dating scene) again. His wife, son and daughter are lucky humans! He still texts me to check in on my birthday & remains part of my support network when it comes time to apply for new jobs. Though I never observed him outwardly showing discontent, eventually, he wanted a better schedule/higher pay, and probably a job where no one screams at him, so he no longer works in retail. But when he was in it, he was the best at accommodating schedule requests and just overall being a great guy. J, you rock!

While I was awed by J’s (and almost all of my bookstore family’s) ability to remain calm under attack, I had to experience discipline from the master some years later. My supervisor in my grad school position was professional in ways I had never known. This was the first workplace other than nannying where the roster of day-to-day contacts stayed consistent. Blessed with the privilege of a non-public workplace, this woman showed me the power of introverts. Her quiet in meetings did not signal a lack of engagement, nor lack of opinion, but she chose when, how, and to whom to express herself in a deliberate matter that best served the purposes of the team. Considering that I am often physically unable to withhold my opinions, seeing her at work was enlightening and provided me with a model for how to comport myself diplomatically in a work environment. She trusted me with projects, some from the ground up (and to only minor, occasional disappointment) and to select candidates to interview for her future graduate assistants. A private person in many ways different from myself, she and I nevertheless bonded over projects, laughs and a mutual appreciation for handwritten letters. During my time working for her, we both suffered losses: she, her beloved father and I, a significant relationship. Rather than the awkwardness that can pollute the workplace post-sad event, we took care of each other. Our respective vulnerabilities did not derail work, and we gently built each other up, one poke-of-my-head-through-her-door at a time. TT, you taught me that it is not weak to take care of yourself, that an office can be a family, and that balance between work and family is possible without sacrificing dedication to either! You serve as my benchmark for how I should carry myself at work. You rule, lady! I hope this makes it into your smile file 🙂

It is strange to me that the people with whom you spend 8+ hours each day are not your chosen inner circle of friends and family. They are a bunch of randos, and today I’m thankful for my time with these two pleasant people, a lifesaver of a current colleague (seriously, H! Mister Rogers stamps!?! Such a thoughtful gift) and my sweet students.

I’m lucky to have to be around the people I do.