January is half-way over and though the wreaths and stockings have been neatly put away, there's one more thing left to say good-bye to regarding the holiday season (btw, I'm totally not judging you if you have yet to untangle those Christmas lights or finish off the last of the fruitcake...take your time!) I'm saying good-bye to my seasonal job at the mall. While I'm technically employed through the end of the month, the hours have been waning and I have all but scrap-booked my name-tag for good.
Taking on a part-time job in the midst of Christmas chaos and caring for my two little darling girls has been quite the feat. I'm happy to say it was a wonderful experience, I'm glad I did it, and I wouldn't mind taking on the challenge again if the opportunity/need presented itself. It was a clean, pleasant, friendly place to work, and I'm delighted to report that if you are ever in need of a mall gig, Williams-Sonoma is a great place to be employed (especially if you dream of French cooking or buddying up with Ina Garten and Julia Child in a time-warped-Iron-Chef foodie challenge...yes, I do dream about this)!
It also taught me a few key things I was wondering about myself:
1. I could still get a job. Always good to keep the resumé a little fresh. With a shaky economy, I always like to know I could "get back out there" if need be.
2. It is possible to be friendly no matter what. Regardless of my feelings, my stresses, my achey feet or my attitude, I can shake it off and step up to the plate and help someone find that All-Clad omelet skillet on sale with a smile on my face. Sometimes this "faking it" was just what I needed to make it through the day.
3. I love cooking. Turns out, I really really do. I love cooking. I love the gear, the dinnerware, the setting, the scents, the accomplishment, the learning curve, the intimidation, the limitless opportunity to always make something a bit more pretentious with a sliver of this or a pinch of that. I love the creativity of it, the challenge and confusion, and I love to eat wonderfully delicious things off lovingly displayed plates. It makes me smile just thinking about it.
4. I can get huge doses of accomplishing the smallest tasks. Working isn't all smiling and counting change. I took out the trash, scrubbed dishes (since they do cooking demos there were always plenty of dirty dishes), handed out samples, straightened linens, and dealt with some rather unsavory customers at times. But, being bottom-rank as seasonal help didn't mean I was any less useful, and I felt this immensely when I saw something that just needed to be done. I tried to be the one who would volunteer for the "yucky jobs" or step up when everyone else tried to look distracted the moment a manager would ask "Who wants to [fill in the blank with said yucky job]?" I would do it! And, as short-lived as the task was, I would end up feeling really great that I just DID it, got it done, and now could go smile at customers again.
5. I could leave my girls and not feel guilty.
And there you have it, the BIGGIE. Certainly, I didn't exactly take this job to get away from the girls. It wasn't like I was getting "me time" while I was taking out the trash or straightening linens. Then again, it wasn't exactly like I wasn't either. I'll explain.
I first took this job to earn extra money, plain and simple. It seemed reasonable and conveniently short-term, and so, a lot of the wonderfullness that I reaped from this experience was wholeheartedly founded on the fact that, from the beginning, I knew it was a temporary situation. So, when I say I was able to smile while taking out the trash, it's not hard to imagine doing so when I knew I wouldn't have to do it forever. That being said, I still struggle with smiling when I come home and do the dishes or whatever. The difference being, I don't get paid in my own home, and it isn't temporary. And yet, it would make my life so much more lovely if I just faked that smile sometimes (just like I do with those ornery customers) and forced myself to look at the moments of my day as a fleeting moment (which, they really are).
All this to say, leaving my nest and flying off to the mall for a few hours each week gave me the departure I needed to deal with my own expectations of myself - and not someone else's. (Certainly, my manager and fellow employees had certain expectations, but none of those went beyond my own expectations, so they were basically cancelled out. Does that make sense?)
When I'm at home, even though it is "my territory" I get flooded with meeting the needs of my children first. I want to serve them well and they place extraordinary expectations on me because, in reality, I'm their entire world day-in and day-out. When I'm home alone with them, they turn to me for ALL their needs, and it is my job/privilege to meet and exceed those at any cost: unconditional love, limitless time, reasonable finances, irrational amounts of patience, the fleeting promise of continual health and wellness. As a parent, I do my absolute best to provide all I can for my babies, given the resources (and sometimes that includes coffee or napping) that I'm given. I love it. LOVE it. But, never was I more acutely reminded of the strenuous toll this job takes on my being than when I left it for a few moments a week.
I stepped into a world where I didn't know everything (okay, I never actually know everything, but my three-year-old and 18-month-old certainly come to me expecting answers, so you see what I mean). I stepped into a place where I wasn't in charge, I didn't make the rules, and I didn't even decide when or how I spent my time. It was sort of refreshing! And, all I was left with was just focusing on being whoever I wanted to be, given my exclusive opportunity to respond as optimistically as I could to the circumstance at hand.
I got out of the house. I interacted with adults. I smiled and was kind and helpful. I accomplished something small, got rewarded for it, and left with a sense of pride. I was reminded of who I am when no one knows the world I usually live in, and that's a very unique thing. It's not common in my everyday life to hang out with people I don't know - or with people who don't know anything about me. It was nice to just interact for a moment with strangers, hoping to affect their day in a positive way, and then take that same positive encounter into my next moment. It seems simple, but it doesn't happen very often in the life of a stay-at-home-mom who generally finds herself singing Elmo songs out loud and talking on the phone with her friend about whose-pile-of-laundry-is-worse-than-whose.
Most importantly, having these moments outside of the home helped me recognize the importance of scheduling time away for myself. I'm terrible at this. Unless I'm making myself useful (which, I was as I worked) I have a really hard time justifying letting my husband take the reigns for a few hours and wholly entrusting the care of our daughters to his attention so I can simply "get away". And, KUDOS to my hubby for filling in the babysitting-blanks and taking terrific care of our girls while I brought home a little extra cash. It wasn't easy for either of us, but the opportunity gave him a chance to get some exclusive time with our girls, and it forced me to be grateful I have a parenting partner who is so amazingly kid-savvy. (P.S. Husbands out there: There is nothing we wives find sexier than a doting father.)
When it's on the calendar that I have a work shift coming up, I make it happen. My husband makes it happen. We team up and make it work and are both the better for it. Now that my paycheck won't be coming in, is it still possible for me to find the time and make sure I schedule something simply so my mind can get out of the house and interact with the outside world for a few hours each week???
I think it's worth a shot. I think I need to try it. I think I just need to put something on the calendar, react to it as if it is an obligation the same as any other job, and establish it in my heart that it is a worthwhile cause for the greater good of my well-being. The best thing about it is, it doesn't have to be temporary. I have the power to muster a smile, be helpful to myself, and make it part of my regular schedule. This is one change I hope I don't lose just because I don't wear a name tag when I do it. It may take some force and encouragement from my family to send-me-away from time to time, but as I fulfill that obligation to myself, I think everyone will see the benefit of it.
It's time to put the U back in schedule. C'mon, mamas, put something on the calendar just for yourself! (And don't forget to tell me what you do and how it goes!!!)