28 08 2009

After my oh-so-exciting consultation with my new doctor, I took the baby sitter home.  Driving back through town I realized that it was nearly 2:30 and I hadn’t had anything to eat since six a.m., so I drove through a Hardee’s drive-thru and got a mushroom swiss burger, curly fries and a coke.  Driving home, those curly fries brought back so many memories!

I worked at Hardee’s during my first year away from home.  I especially liked working opening shift.  My alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. (or 0-dark-thirty as my boyfriend used to say).  I would sort of fall into the shower and into my clothes before my body had time to protest.  The walk to work was the best part of my day.  Every day I saw the sun come up.  I heard the birds wake up.  The sky was deep blue pearling to gray.  Campus was impossibly quiet.  A few lone cars hissed softly by.  One man in his pajamas would wave, out in the yard walking his dog.

In the restaurant, the biscuit lady was making biscuits in a big plastic bowl.  She kneaded the lard into the flour mixture with her hands, pressing and leaning rythmically and talking to one of the prep cooks.  No one moved fast in the morning.  I made tea and coffee, pouring pots of hot tea and sugar mix into the dispenser and filling it with water.  The floors were damp and squeaky with a new mopping.  The manager walked around muttering to himself and making last minute changes on the time sheets.

At a quarter to six I opened my register.  On the best days I had the drive-thru.  Working drive-thru is more difficult because everyone is in a hurry and if things don’t go well, you’re to blame.  But it’s also more challenging.  I loved it.  Days flew by when I was on window.  I adjusted the headset over my visor and clipped the speaker button to my belt, and opened the window to breathe in the morning.

The first hour was usually truckers.  Truckers and yard men are extraordinarily polite.  Business men look at you like you’re a bug and don’t even stop talking on their cell phones long enough to say thank you, but truckers like a friendly face and a nice smile with their biscuits.  They always had something nice to say to me.

I think the worst thing I ever did while working with Hardee’s I did to two yard men.  They ordered a big lunch, probably for their whole crew, and paid me with a fifty.  When you’re working window, you’re not just preparing one order, you’re preparing five or six.  You have the tickets laid out on the counter, you put in the special orders, make sure the fries aren’t running out, pull the drinks and set them by the right tickets, lay out napkins and straws, take money, check the fries, bag an order, serve an order, take money and take a new order, make a milk shake, take more money, make change, bag an order, give extra ketchup, take another order…  It can get very confusing.  On this particular day we were impossibly slammed, not only in the drive-thru, but also in the dining room so no one was free to help me.  When I handed the lawn guys their order and said, “Have a nice day!” they just stared at me.    “What?” I asked.  “What about our change?” the driver asked politely, “I paid with a fifty and you haven’t given me my change.”

I froze in panic.  I stared at my drawer.  With the clock ticking and people piling up in line I could not, for the life of me, remember if I had handed out their change or not.  I thought I had.  I could almost remember it.  It was a lot of money, nearly $30.  If they were bluffing me (and people did all the time) the discrepancy would come out of my check and I would automatically be put on probation for losing an amount greater than $2.  I was horror struck.  “I gave you your change,” I said weakly.  “No you didn’t,” the man said very positively.  The shift manager came over to find out why nothing was moving.  The shift manager, a thin, bitter woman who had worked there for God only knows how long, hated me.  “Give the man his money,” she snapped.  “I swear I paid him!” I cried.

The big man, the boss, was a tall, gentle black man who was always very polite and kind to me.  He came out of the dinky little office when he heard voices raised.  He looked at me very seriously and said, “Did you give them their change?”  I burst into tears and said, “I don’t know!  I can’t remember!”  Those two guys in the truck had to pull over in the parking lot and wait while my register was closed down, the totals printed, and my entire drawer counted out.  Another girl pulled her drawer and took my place while I was counting my money under the eagle eyes of the owner.  It came out exactly their thirty-something dollars over.  I was completely humiliated, but the owner only patted my shoulder and took the money out to the men.  He never said another thing about it.

I had another run-in with the shift manager not long afterward.  There was a particularly charming old woman who was one of my favorite customers.  She came in frequently, and I always loved to have her in my line because she was so cheerful.  She liked a bit of a chat while she was ordering, and she always ordered the same thing: a plain cheeseburger with a small fry and a senior drink.  One day, as she stood studying the menu, pink-cheeked, adorable, and clutching her big green umbrella, she said, “I think I want to try something new today.”  This was an Event of Some Importance.  I stood ready to suit her slightest whim.   “Oh, I wish I could see them before I order them,” she fretted, “What if I buy it and don’t like it?”  It was essential, I knew, not to waste this meal.  This was not a question of throwing something out and re-ordering if it didn’t suit.  There was only one chance of getting it right, or the meal would be lost until tomorrow.  Maybe it was her only meal of the day; I had no way of knowing.

“I could let you see,” I offered.  “Could you?” she gasped.  “Sure!”  Angela, hero of the Hardee’s franchise, cavalierly grabbed a small delux burger from the waiting line-up and opened the foil wrapper so she could see.  I honestly thought I had touched the burger only with the paper.  She looked at it and was pleased, but she wasn’t quite sure whether she wanted that one or another one, so I re-wrapped the sandwich and put it back in line.  Immediately the shift manager swooped down on me and grabbed it.  She held it up like a dead rat and yelled back at the kitchen guys, “Look at this!  Angela just WASTED this burger.”  She dinged the bell and left it sitting on the special order ledge, then glared at me like I’d swiped sixty bucks from my register.

“How did I waste it?” I protested, “I never touched it.”  “Yes, you did,” she hissed, “I SAW you.”  I didn’t touch it, I argued, more loudly.  I was turning beet red in front of my customer.  She shook her head sadly, miserable that her pitiful little desires had been the source of this scene.  The shift manager pushed her face right up against mine, her black eyes gleaming, and she put every ounce of cruelty into her words that she possibly could, “Oh, I would like to SLAP YOUR FACE OFF,” she spat, then whirled and marched into the back.

“Oh, I am sorry.  I am so sorry,” my lady pleaded.  “It’s not your fault,” I said, wiping the tears from my eyes, “but I didn’t touch it, did I?”  “No, of course not!” she said firmly.  She bought one of the new burgers and went off to enjoy it, her back held straight and her umbrella clutched firmly under her arm.  Through the whole shift the manager went around hissing, “Wasted!” at my back and talking (loudly) to the other girls about how deceitful I was and how I lied about everything and how much she hated me.  By the end of the shift, I had had it.  I went to the boss and told him I quit.

The manager’s office was just barely large enough for a steel teacher’s desk and a chair in it.  There were dot matrix print outs all over the walls with our shifts and profit numbers and other random information mounted all over the walls with push-pins stuck straight into the drywall.  The owner had to unfold himself to get up from his desk without banging the chair into the wall.  But he did.  He got up immediately and pulled me back into the cooler room, which was where anyone went for a quite talk.  The lettuce, althought interested, never repeated anything it heard.  “Now, what’s the problem,” he asked seriously.  I poured out the torrid story of the “wasted” hamburger and told him that I had only put it back to keep it warm, I really thought she would buy it, I never touched it with my hands, etc.  He listened for a while, then said, “The problem is, they resent you.”

“What?”  I was completely knocked off balance.  “Yes,” he insisted, “They resent you because you get more hours than they do.  You’re reliable, you’re on time, you don’t miss work, and so you get more hours than they do.  Don’t quit.”  “Ok,” I breathed, nearly breathless to find out that this man gave me extra hours and hard shifts because he liked my work.  “And don’t worry about the manager, I’ll talk to her,” he promised.  Which he did, but she still hated me, and I don’t think it was because of how many hours I worked, either.  With her, it was always something personal.  The owner’s approval draped around my shoulders like an iron shield, though,  and there wasn’t much she could do about it except whisper, “wasted” once in a while when no one else was around.

Her hissed insinuations were even harder to take because, when I went home that night and calmed down, I remembered that I had touched the burger with my hands.  I was wrong.  She was right.


My list

27 08 2009

My sister forwarded me a list of rules to live by.  They inspired me to make my own list.  So this is my list of things to do to drag my self-esteem up out of the gutter and start being a happier, more cheerful person.  I realize that, to the outside observer, some of these may seem selfish.  Well, it is possible to be out of balance by being unselfish, too.  If you’re addicted to people pleasing, maybe the only thing to do is to declare independence and be people-displeasing for a while.  At least  until I get the hang of being my own person again.

1) Life is too short to spend listening to people who make me feel bad about myself. If I’m going to develop some self esteem, I need to separate (for a time at least) from people that make me feel like a rotten, horrible person. I’ve spent too many years trying to make everyone like me. It’s time to start liking myself.

2) I am ok, I am sane, I am grateful, I am thoughtful, I am loving, and I am in control of myself and my life. I’m going to keep repeating this until I believe it.

3) Once I really start to believe that I am a good person, maybe my mother won’t be able to upset me so much. I’ve got to stop letting her judgement of me make me doubt myself, my motives, or my sanity. I really do love her. I would like to have a relationship with her. I have forgiven her for the past. If I can start believing in myself, maybe we’ll be ok even if she never changes the way she acts towards me.

4) I’m not going looking for any more friends. Sort of like guys. When I was dating, I didn’t go looking for guys, because I much prefer to deal with men who adore me instead of the other way around. I’ve tried too hard to “be a friend” to people, hoping they would be a friend to me. I’m going to try to start just enjoying my life alone, with my husband and kids, and trust that God will bring some good friends into my life. People I don’t have to chase and serve and appease and agree with all the time. Somehow, my dear sister learned how to make women friends better than I did. I’m still learning. Hopefully if I can learn to be satisfied with my life, people will be attracted to me, and even if they aren’t, I’ll still be happy, right?

5) I am going to stop trying to “save” people. I am not a super hero.

6) I am going to take the advice of the stewardess and put my own air mask on first. I cannot be a good wife, mother, sister, friend, or daughter until I start taking care of myself first. I can’t take care of everybody else and then get upset if they don’t appreciate me properly. I don’t need the whole pie, but I do think I need to serve myself a bigger slice.  (Incidentally, I wish my mother could learn this lesson, too.)

7) I am going to stop being afraid that I’m turning into my mom or my grandma. Somehow. And stop being afraid of being alone. Or of failing. Or of having our house broke into by psychotic killer sex fiends. Or that God is going to punish me if I don’t do the right things. Or that Neal will die early and leave me to raise the kids alone with no job skills. Heck, I’m just going to try and stop being afraid in general. Deep breaths.

8) I am going to stop judging myself by how much I weigh. Or how my house looks. Or how my kids behave. Or how much I accomplish. Like my wise sister said, I have to stop making so many comparisons and “flunking” myself in all of them. Life is not graded. I am not going to fail at it, no matter what I do.

9) I am going to stop lying to make other people happy.  I like to be pleasant and keep the peace, but I am letting myself be trampled too often, under the impression that it is the “Christian” thing to do.  I am tired of trying to keep my family and friends happy with me by faking being something other than what I am.  If people don’t like what I think, it’s a free country (for the moment).  They can disagree (politely), leave the room, or even move to Idaho if they want.  I have a right to my opinion, and I have a right not to be yelled at, mocked, or insulted because of it.  If they want to exercise their freedom to say insulting things, maybe I’ll try moving to Idaho.  I hear property is cheap up there.

10) I’m going to post this list on the wall of my room and read it until it sticks.  If you like it, feel free to borrow it, or make your own list.  If you do, send me a link!

My Resume

16 08 2009

I’ve been looking up old friends on Facebook, which has been a lot of fun.  The only difficulty comes when they ask, “So what have you been doing for the last eighteen years?”


Surely I must have done something!  Let me think.  I had four kids.  Yeah.  Oh- and I cleaned a lot.

What a great summary of the profit of nearly two decades!  I have friends who started their own company, an ex-roomate who became an international real estate princess, an old boyfriend “in publishing,” several friends with great-sounding jobs like “Principal of an exclusive fine arts school,” “Head Coach,” or “Software Guru.”

Me?  I’m the queen of all I survey: a sink full of dishes, a hamper full of clothes, and a yard full of kids that could, frankly, use a bath.


I must do something to buck up my spirits.  After all, my life can’t have been as boring as all that, or all my friends would fall asleep when I talk to them.  What have I been doing for the last 20 years?

Well, I went to college at the USC honors college in Columbia.  I met my first husband, took a trip to England and France back-packing around and staying in youth hostels.  I didn’t write a book about it, for which the world should be grateful.  For four years I had a great time in academia, reading literature of all kinds, writing 50-page papers, learning French, exploring science, and taking drawing classes.

In my free time I worked at a real estate office, eventually moving from receptionist to personal assistant.  I did exciting things like typing and drawing ad material for post cards.  I graduated Suma cum Laude and got married in the same month.  Sadly, the marriage only lasted a couple of weeks, though we drug the dead body around trying to revivify it for several more months before separating.

In the next year, I went back to school to become a nurse, met my current husband, got pregnant, finished my second year of my RN degree and finalized my divorce.  With an on-going talent for multi-tasking I remarried and had my baby in the same month.

After this my history becomes blurry, not so much because nothing happened as much as because I didn’t get a full night’s sleep at any point in the next ten years.  I left nursing school when my husband got a new job in another city.  We moved seven times in three years.  We lived in Canada for about nine months, I remember that.  Donal grew like an over-fertilized weed.  We had a second baby in a home-birth, a daughter, who continues to delight us both.  I continued to live to sleep.  Neal came and went on consulting jobs.  My conciousness kind of came and went, too.  We spent some of our leisure time playing around in the SCA.  Neal made himself a suit of armor, I sewed dresses for me and cute clothes for the kids.  I read a lot of library books while I sat on the porch and watched the children play in the sand box.  We finally paid off our school debts.  I struggled with depression, and Neal took care of me.

At some point my nerves and my health broke.  Neal moved me in with his parents so I could have some help with the kids and care while he was consulting.  I eventually took a small apartment in the same town with them, and Neal continued to fly home when he could.  Finally, he found a job that didn’t require travelling, and we moved to Wilmington.

In the next eight years, we bought two houses and had two more children.  I received Christ, we joined a church, I joined a homeschooling group and began schooling my children.  I spent two years writing a humor column for a local Christian news monthly.  We grew a garden, kept chickens, and adopted some cats.  I served on the board of the homeschool group for about four years.  We took a couple vacations, celebrated a lot of birthday parties, made some friends, and renovated our house.  I can remember that it all seemed like a good idea at the time, but I was still only semi-concious through most of it.

Finally, Neal lost his job in the middle of the renovation.  Unable to find work in Wilmington, we scurried to finish & sell the house, and moved here.  We’ve been here nearly two years.  All of my children are finally sleeping through the night.  Most of them are potty-trained.  We continue to homeschool.  I’m trying to paint the house.  I spend most of my time trying to balance the budget and balance our diet.  I teach.  I research learning methods.  I do a little painting, a little writing.  I try to be a good and loving friend, but sometimes I let important things slip.  I still read a lot of library books.

I guess this year has been a watershed year for me.  I’ve been homeschooling for eight years.  I have fifteen to go.  We’ve had our last child (I’m pretty sure- adoption’s still an option).  One of my best friends died last month in a freak accident, I’ve been having some health problems, and the question of mortality is nibbling on the edges of my mind.  I’m nearly 40.  When I was eighteen people used to say I “had a lot of potential.”  Now they say I have four kids.

I really can’t think of anything to say when people ask what I’ve been up to for the last eighteen years except that I’ve had four kids.  I’m afraid those two statements are going to be bracketed on my gravestone: “She had potential and she had four kids.”  The summary of my life.

I still feel, vaguely, that something wonderful is supposed to happen to me between the time that I was born and the time that I will die.  I think a lot of people would be happy with what I have: a home, a husband, a church, a family.  But I keep peering around corners hoping for the suprise, the rainbow, the sudden, unexpected, glittering wonder that will make all the other stuff look ordinary.  The culmination.  The prize at the bottom of the box.  The pinnacle.  The moment when I know who I am and why I am here, that moment in which I know that I know that I know that I fulfilled God’s calling on my life.

Is it irrational to look for something like that?  Or are the every day wonders all I will get?  I’ve had quite a few of those- wild cherries off a tree on a dawn walk, baby kisses, lilies from my husband, perfect sunsets, walks in the snow, birthday surprises, and tearful hugs.  Maybe this is all anyone gets.  Maybe the quote is true: “There are no extraordinary things, only ordinary things done with extraordinary love.”

But something in me just won’t stop hoping.  Maybe in the next 36 years, maybe there will be something wonderful…