My Aha! Moment

A year ago I attended the Illinois Reading Conference per the request of one of my professors. I was the only non-education major. I was at least 3 years younger than the other 1,000 attendants. I felt totally out of place. I think it was one of the first moments where I realized that I was reaching adulthood, a world where people work and attend important events and pull their lives together to be workers and wives (or husbands). I was terrified. I wasn't ready.

I've felt that same feeling several times since then. 

I felt it when I was standing in the airport alone, about to leave for my semester abroad. I felt it when I came back from studying abroad and realized that I was four months away from living on my own and I had no money, no job, no car, no place to live, and no plans for my career. I felt it when I turned in my last paper on my last day of college. I've felt it in little spurts of fear since I graduated and realized that some of my peers have their careers already. They not only have a plan of action, but they have follow-through.

Thursday of last week my boss asked me to attend a breakfast this morning for a literacy conference on campus. My assignment was to attend and write a feature on it in the next issue of our quarterly publication.

An easy enough assignment, and one I was delighted to do. Upon arrival, I was terrified. What is this event for again? I had a distinct feeling of being the only person in a room of over 200 that had no idea what was going on.

I realized I couldn't skip out on the assignment. I couldn't sit in the back of the room unnoticed... I could ask questions, though. I could admit that I didn't know what was going on. So I did.

God could not have stuck me in a more perfect scenario than this breakfast on this morning, I've realized. I finally had an "Aha!" moment, even if it took me awhile. Did you know that the word "commencement" is synonymous for "beginning?" My college commencement was not an end; it was the beginning of something- an era, a period, a chapter of my life, my adulthood. (Am I being too philosophical for you yet?)

I thought that the beginning of adulthood would be the end of I-don't-know-what's-going on-hood. I was wrong. I think that having the confidence and the determination to make yourself one among a roomful of people who do know what's going on is a step, however small, toward being an adult.


I'm a Dime-a-Dozen.

When I'm not working at my restaurant I am working for the Communications Department for the Advancement Office at Judson University. I acquired the position in early January when I had just returned from studying abroad and was beginning to panic about graduating without any experience in my field. Thankfully, I still have my position here. I get to use my degree (however sporadically) to write for Judson's quarterly publication as well as several other office projects.

I came in this morning lamenting having to work at all because I wanted to sleep in and I wanted to enjoy the nice day and I wanted to complete my own list of to-do's. It was in the midst of my ungratefulness when I checked my email and found 11 messages from CareerBuilder.com waiting for me. Apparently, I qualify for several burgeoning marketing companies despite my lack of financial, marketing and business knowledge or experience. Yay.

It would be easy for me to get discouraged right now. I can choose between telemarketing or the food industry right now while the media and journalism industries tighten their payrolls and ignore my resume.
I'm not discouraged, though. The truth is that while I know what I want, I'm not 100 percent sure that it is best for me. I don't know where I'll be in a year or five or ten. I only know that I right now I have two jobs: one that pays my bills and sometimes drives me crazy, and one that is slowly but surely honing my skills for something greater.

I'm recognizing that the "Go to college and you'll get the job you want!" line that our parents fed us is only partially true. They forgot to mention that industries are competitive, and that you and your degree are a dime a dozen without hard work and a lot of blind faith.


Please Sedate Your Child... or Leave the Restaurant.

I work part-time as a hostess for a popular, up-scale breakfast restaurant. Most days, I sincerely enjoy my job. Unlike the soulless retail jobs I worked for years, hostessing is an opportunity to connect with people the people I serve. I like to satisfy patrons with a sunny window-seat on an early morning, with a smile and a cheery "have a wonderful day."

Sometimes, people make my job difficult. I take it with a smile and a grain of salt as often as I can. Due to the prices, location, and atmosphere of the restaurant, we attract hoitie-toities in droves. I glance at the women's 3 1/2 carat diamonds and sigh, but as long as they are nice and leave my waitresses a decent tip, I don't resent them.

Today, a hoitie-toitie and her family came in for breakfast, Ralph Lauren-clad toddlers in tow. I sat their party of 9 in the middle of the restaurant per their request and left them to dine in happiness. Not 10 minutes later, hoitie-toitie's two-year-old began screaming at the top of her lungs. It was worse than the loudest microphone going haywire in the smallest auditorium. The little angel's face turned plum purple in her anger, and her screams reverberated through the restaurant for all to hear. The bustle of activity halted and as everyone dropped their utensils, menus and conversations to plug the ears against the noise. Hoitie-toitie clapped her hand over little angel's face, and to our relief she stopped. After a few minutes, she began squalling again.

When patrons began ordering their food to go in order to escape the noise, my manager approached the woman and asked her to remove her child from the dining area because she was "annoying the customers and no one wants to be around it." That is when the real screaming began. Hoitie-toitie and her family stormed out of the restaurant mid-meal (they did pay their bill, thank goodness).

Hours later, having seated many happy and day-redeeming diners since the incident, we were dismayed to see hoitie-toitie walk back in the door. She slapped a thick, white envelope on the counter and asked for the owner. Our owner is currently in Greece mourning the death of his father, who passed early this week. My manager came to meet her at the register. Hoitie-toitie had apparently returned for round two of the argument and informed us that the thick,white envelope enclosed a copy of a letter she had sent to the Daily Herald expressing the nature of her visit to our restaurant today. She ended her monologue by explaining that while her angel may have been unruly this morning, she takes her brood out to eat all the time, and in similar situations other waiters and managers have brought the child candy or crayons or toys to distract her, and how hard would it have been for my manager to do the same instead of insulting her family and ruining their outing?

My manager nodded and apologized and promised to inform our owner of the incident, and the woman left with a domineering smile.

What I wish I could have said, were it not for my job, is this:
It is not anyone else's job to entertain, distract, discipline, or sedate your child. Our restaurant seats over 200 people, and on this Sunday morning, like most, it was filled to its capacity with people who were there to enjoy a quiet morning with their family and friends, full of good food and good conversation. YOU ruined it for them. If anyone had a right to complain at my manager, it was the other diners and not you. I agree that my manager should have used a more courteous and respectful choice of words, but she is trying to run a business.
Today, I was once again struck with the realization of how satisfaction-driven our society is. We complain for booths instead of tables, window seats instead of aisle seats, a new cup of coffee because this one tastes old, and we expect a restaurant full of people to shut-up and deal while our child screams for 45 minutes.

It is an age-old complaint. "We're too consumer-driven. We're too picky. There are starving people in China who would love a meal, let alone the best seat in the house."

I do my job. I treat each patron, wealthy or scraping-by, equally. Everyone deserves a delicious breakfast and kind service. I try not to question it too often, but their are people and circumstances that make me wonder: Should the customer always be right? 

When do we have the right to say, "Please take your bad parenting and your atrocious, self-indulgent attitude somewhere else?"