Waitressing and Parenting are Basically the Same Thing

I was a server for two-and-a-half years post college graduation. Immediately following that, I became a mother. Few things in life have prepared me for parenthood like my stint in the service industry. Just like raising kids, waiting tables was hard, humbling work.

I don’t want to give the name of the restaurant where I worked away, but it may or may not have rhymed with TGI Shmidays. Frankly, the similarities between serving and parenting are a little too spot-on.

In the weeds

There is a term that restaurant staff use to describe their situation when they are really, really busy – it’s called being ‘in the weeds.’ It’s been over five years since I have waited tables, but I still have nightmares about this scenario. All six of your tables need refills, the kid at table 20 just spilled his drink, table 21’s food was ordered 25 minutes ago and they are giving you the stink eye, table 22 has a gift card to use and the machine to validate it is broken down, and table 23 has just informed you that someone at their table has a birthday which means that you have to make their free sundae and lead a troop of fellow servers while you belt out a solo in the middle of a crowded restaurant on a Saturday night. Fun times are had by all. Did I mention that this stroke-inducing stress will only render you approximately $12 in tips?

TGIF

I have just walked in the door from work and find that my kids have barely napped. I quickly change my clothes, assess the fridge for dinner, defrost some meat, sit down for five seconds, immediately receive a request for a sippy cup refill, fill the cup, sit back down, smell a poopy diaper, change the diaper, get the defrosted meat, brown the meat, pick up a fussing kid, cook with one kid on my hip and another one at my legs, avoid burning everyone, set the food down on the table, pray for our meal, a kid puts too much food in his mouth and barfs, clean up the barf, get the other kid more to eat, now everyone needs drink refills, sit down to take my first bite and it’s cold. Guess what – I’m back in the weeds.

86 That

The first week or two of serving, I kept hearing people say, “86 spinach dip!” “86 Jack Daniels sauce!” “86 broccoli cheese soup!”

I had no idea what they were talking about.

It turns out, when you ‘86’ something, it means you are all out of it. I used to love it when guests would come in and ask for something right off the bat, which, of course, would be the one thing that you were completely out of. Then they would complain the rest of the time and continue to ask for that one item for the duration of their dining experience. What did they want me to say? “Now that I’ve handed you your check, I just wanted you to know that I’ve been messing with you this whole time and we’ve had macaroni and cheese bites all along!!! Muahahaha.

I’m trolling for tips, people. I want those mac-n-cheese bites as badly as you do.

I don’t know that I have been able to eat more the three vanilla yogurts in my own home in the past three years. We are always out of it. It is no sooner unpacked from the grocery store before it is flying out of the refrigerator. I was putting the laundry away the other day, came downstairs and found that my son had slammed two yogurts while I was upstairs. Obviously, they were the last two yogurts we had. For the rest of the night, that same son continued to ask for more yogurt. Why didn’t we have any? Where did it go? I’m sorry, did you black out while you housed all of the yogurt that we had? You know that it is all gone and no, I do not know how to make yogurt. I checked the fridge one last time and found that we did have one more yogurt – it was strawberry. Wailing ensued. It.must.be.VANILLA! 86 that.

Bite your tongue

Sure, I remembered the nice customers and the once that tipped well. Ideally, they would be both nice and great tippers. BUT, the jerky jerk guests were imprinted on my brain. I would see them walk in the door, see the hostess grab the menus, see her start to head toward my section, see her set them down at my table and then walk away. Things just got real.

Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of things that a server has no control over. It would drive me nuts when a guest would say, “this will reflect in your tip…” Oh, really??? At least with them, you knew not to expect a decent tip. The ones that really got me were the guests who ran me around for an hour and fifteen minutes and then would leave NO TIP AT ALL on the table. Just because our titles literally mean that we are servants, does not mean that we are less than or are not working insanely hard. Servers remember you and they remember how you treated them. I can’t even count the amount of times I had to just walk away to keep myself from saying something mean in return to a rude guest.

I have to admit, there have been times when I have been drawn into a verbal ‘negotiation’ with my kids. When frustrations are high, it’s so easy to do. If it’s not a negotiation, then my sarcastic nature will rear it’s ugly head. When my kid wakes up from a nap and promises to behave better than he did that morning, I have to bite my tongue. I want to tell him that he better behave because he was being a real poophead earlier and I can’t take much more of it. Instead, I just give him a hug and we move on. Most of the time, I can remember that I am the adult and they just learned how to use the toilet, so maybe arguing with them is not the most productive thing that I could do. Many days (like getting stiffed on a tip), there seems to be nothing to show for all of the work, but you just show up, keep your mouth shut, and do it anyway.

Leftovers

Whenever a meal was ordered incorrectly or there was an extra meal for any reason at all, my co-workers and I would jump on that freebie like no other. I would take my meal to the back of the restaurant in a dark corner and shovel that food into my mouth as fast as I could. Inevitably, I would burn my entire mouth and get extreme indigestion, but it was totally worth it. I couldn’t afford to spend my tips on Cajun Chicken and Shrimp Pasta even with my discount. So a treat like that was hard to come by.

I cannot tell you how often I don’t get to eat a real dinner. I’m usually too tired to cook and if I do make a home-cooked meal, the kids are suddenly not hungry. Most of the time, I just make them something then eat their scraps over the sink like some sort of rat while I clean the dishes. It takes me back to the good ol’ days of hiding out in that dark corner at work in between checking on my tables.

Last Call 

The restaurant where I worked was across the street from the host hotel for our town’s minor league baseball team. All the visiting teams stayed there and would often come over to eat lunch and then dinner after the game. I can’t complain too much because there were times when I got free tickets to the games, but when it is 11:45pm and you close at 12, you did not want to see 26 hungry ball players walk across the parking lot. I would just be honest with them and say, “Look, you are all more than welcome here. But, if you order a well done steak I cannot guarantee what may or may not happen to it.”

Bedtime is the new last call.  There is something about it that makes my kids request more things than they did the rest of the day combined. They need water, they need their blankies, they are suddenly interested in reading books, they need songs to be sung, they need you to do a River dance, they need their backs rubbed, and just when you think you are done, they will get out of bed and come downstairs to ask for something else. Bedtime is my cardio routine.

Humility 

Right before I finally got a job that launched my career, a frequent guest of mine came to the restaurant and asked why I continued to serve when I was educated.  Basically, he was insinuating that I was too good to work there. I stopped for a moment and responded truthfully. Other than the fact that there were no jobs to be found, I told him, “When I first started as a server, I believed that I was too good for this job. But nothing has taught me more about humility and grace than serving others. No one is ever too good to serve.”  See what I did there??  Pretty deep for someone who was ‘just’ a server.

There were many days when I was waitressing that I felt like the worst version of myself.  I was bitter and angry that this was how I had to make a living and I was frustrated with the way people treated me.  Motherhood is much the same.  I will lay my head down at night and feel as if I did nothing right throughout the course of the day and I am constantly surprised (and disappointed) by my reactions to things both large and small.  But I pray, ask for forgiveness, and my slate is cleaned.

Parenting is one big sacrifice. You serve others daily, often with little appreciation. It is all about humility, perseverance, and more grace than you can even imagine. But it will teach you more about yourself and what you are capable of than any other job this world has to offer.  I cannot conceive of a life without my kids.  They have shown me what an incredible blessing it is to be able to serve others.

Plus, both experiences have given me enough stories to write a book.

Juggling a Balanced Life: The Food

the food

I just found out what kale was about two years ago and I have not been impressed. I could maybe choke it down if I drenched it in ranch, but correct me if I’m wrong; I believe that defeats the purpose. I’m not exactly whipping up kale smoothies as I happily bounce out of bed each morning. Perhaps I would, if I could figure out how to happily bounce out of bed.   I’m not making homemade kale chips and no amount of convincing will make me believe that they ‘taste just like Lays.’ Kale chips would be the only chips that could make me stop after just eating one.

Hummus?  There is a reason it was recalled – it’s nasty.

Avocado?  Green mush.

Quinoa?  I have been pronouncing it so wrong that I didn’t even know what people were referring to when it was said correctly.  So, I’m not going to eat it.

I do subscribe to the ‘everything in moderation’ theory, but sometimes that moderation leads to full-blown liberty to enjoy every crumb of junk I can find. Every now and then I need to rein things in again. When I start to feel sluggish and lazy and that’s when I know that my food intake needs a reboot. But what’s a girl to do?

After my first child, I could not get rid of the last ten pounds. Not to mention, I had been at my heaviest weight ever when I got pregnant, so I had about twenty pounds that needed to come off. Enter Weight Watchers. I knew if I paid for the program that I would be more likely to follow it.

The first week on Weight Watchers, I wanted to eat my own arm because I was so hungry. The great thing about their point system is that, at least at the time, most fruits and vegetables were worth zero points. That means that you can eat as much of them as you want each day. But, when you are used to chowing down on a foot long Philly Cheese-steak sub from Subway and then inhaling both of the cookies that came with your combo, a raw carrot just isn’t going to cut it.  I doubt this is the Subway diet Jared was on when he lost all of his weight.

It took me some time to adjust, but once I got it down, the weight came off and I really enjoyed the Weight Watchers program. Eventually I stopped paying for it and continued to follow the guidelines on my own. Then I got pregnant again and rediscovered Taco Bell.

Honestly, I didn’t eat as poorly throughout my second pregnancy as I did my first. Also, I have found that it’s not the pregnancies that get me so much as the few months following the pregnancy. I have no time to think about food or cooking so I reach for whatever is easiest to shove into my mouth. Usually that is Chips Ahoy cookies (chewy style) and leftover mac-n-cheese (heavily processed style). When I was nursing, I could get away with this crap. Then suddenly, the baby is celebrating his first birthday, the milk has dried up and those calories aren’t burning themselves anymore. Yet, I am still slamming all of the junk like it’s my J-O-B.

About six months after I stopped nursing, I stepped on the scale and saw that I was seven pounds heavier than when Jett was only five months old. Whaaaat!? I had a routine physical coming up and the doctor asked me about it (of course). She insisted that I have my thyroid checked. I told her that I was just making poor decisions, but that wasn’t enough. It took a $158 lab bill and a negative result to prove that I was slacking off. Insult to injury.

Recently, I have been attempting to clean up my diet….again. Someone had given me a sample of this ‘all natural’ appetite suppressant. All I had to do was add it to my water and I would magically not feel hungry all day.

First of all, I noticed that it said ‘ground spinach’ on the packet. That should have tipped me off right there. As I was dumping it into my water, I immediately wondered if someone hadn’t just gone to my yard right after the grass had been cut and packaged up the extra grass clippings and were now selling it to innocent people. While mixing the grass in my cup, the water turned to mud. The grass would not dissolve and I even added it to 20 oz of water and not the suggested 4 or 8 oz. I would like to see someone use only 4 oz of water and try to choke this stuff down. It was brutal. I took two sips and dumped it. I should have taken a picture of the grassy mud mess, but I wanted it out of my sight. Get thee behind me, Satan! I can see why it would be effective, though – lost my appetite for quite some time after just two sips. I probably wouldn’t have eaten for days if I could have chugged the whole glass. (side note: NOT condoning eating disorders!)

Next, I attempted a healthier option of my morning granola bar. This thing was packaged bark. Apparently all I have to do is go out to my backyard and gnaw on a tree and chew on some grass and suddenly I will be healthier. Also, I can attest to this bar tasting like bark because I tried some bark when I was a kid. So you can trust that I am speaking from experience.

I find it difficult to balance healthy eating in the real world. I rarely buy junk food at the grocery store – like chips and cookies – but we do have our fair share of processed foods. We also love the Dollar Menu or Right Price menu at local fast food chains. After a long day at work, the words ‘quick and easy’ describing what is for dinner sound like music to my ears. Making better choices when it comes to food will be a life-long process because it is a lifestyle. In order for good choices to become effective, good choices must be habitual.

My saving grace is the fact that I do like fruits and veggies. I love salads, too – just not salads made with kale. It’s almost Farmer’s Market season and I am beyond excited to get some fresh food into my system. The older I get, I realize that I am finally not as concerned with how I look, but how I feel. I am confident with my body and am grateful for all that it is capable of doing. That being said, I need to take care of it and feed it well. I don’t want to be a stick – I want to have energy! The more energy I have, the more I enjoy my life.  When I think of food fueling my body in these terms, it is much easier for me to make good choices.

If I want to keep my life balanced, food definitely needs to be a part of the equation.  Stay tuned as I prepare to sarcastically discuss staying balanced in terms of clothes and exercise.