Sunday, July 27, 2008

Today's Special: Life Lessons

Although July has been a blessedly restful month for me at the café, it has not been without its dramas.  The “I want hours, no I don’t” scenario has continued to play out with several of my longer tenured employees.  Fortunately, I am over-staffed at the moment, so when they decide to crap out on me at the last minute, I either have so many people on the schedule that we won’t miss the miscreant, or there are plenty of people available to call to cover a shift.  For a short time, that fact alone seemed to have caused the old staff to get religion.  Knowing that there were others available and willing to step in when they flaked out gave them a little something to think about.  Sadly, that seems to be wearing off, now, and they are back to their old ways. 

Cook in Training No. 1 continues to be the star of this particular show.  Back in June, after graduating from her high school completion class, she left me a long, impassioned note about how she was now available to work any hours, wanted to work forty hours and, in fact, needed the hours/money in order to pay her bills.  And then she requested a week’s vacation.

After her return about four weeks ago, I took her at her word and started giving her as many hours as I could send her way.  None of my girls works a forty-hour schedule, not even the good and faithful “D,” who is the closest thing I have to a manager.  Hours of operation and the timing of rush hours, coupled with the fact that these guys seem to burn out if I give them any more than 35 hours a week, have dictated this policy.  So Cook No. 1 got between 30 and 40 hours on the next three schedules.  Essentially, she got exactly what she asked for, within my ability to grant it.

By the end of the first week of her new schedule, Cook No. 1 was already draggin’ her wagon.  All we heard when she showed up for work was how tired she was, and she was the first one to raise her hand if the need arose to send someone home early.  Odd behavior for someone who needed the money so badly, but I figured perhaps it would take a few weeks for her to get used to working so many hours.  (This in itself is crazy to me…when I was her age, I was working 45 to 50 hours with one day off a week.  AND I was young and in love, and future husband and I still seemed to have time to have a life and advance our relationship.  Yes, I know, this smacks of  “I walked to school uphill both ways in the snow when I was your age…”)

Long story short, after three weeks of working what passes for full-time these days, young Cook had apparently had her fill.  She went home sick two days in a row the fourth week.  But found time to research and register for some school program for which she will begin classes August 11.  And left me a note about how she was sorry, but she needed to go back to school and would only be available to work Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays after school started.  Was I surprised?  Not really.  Was I disappointed?  Not really.  I knew in my heart that young Cook did not want what she was asking me for. 

In another life, I would have been proud to fill the role of mentor in her life.  She’s a smart, talented girl, and if she wasinclined, she could have become an important part of our team.  Working at the café could have been a valuable learning experience for her, instead of a constant tug-of-war between her issues and her desire to rise above them.  It’s been obvious for some time that the issues  were winning. 

At least someone has turned this into a learning experience:  ME.  I’ve learned something about these young girls who have grown up in single-parent households, the kind of young women who, for good or ill, constitute a large percentage of the labor pool available to me.  These girls have one huge handicap:  young, irresponsible Gen-X mothers.  Who have raised their daughters, especially the older ones,  mostly as free day-care for younger siblings, and handy shoulders upon which to unload their messed-up parents’ dramas.  There's more of a co-dependent relationship going on here than a parent/child relationship.  More often than not, the daughter has had to take on the role of the adult.

In the olden days, our drive to become autonomous human beings caused us to lash out against the traditional authority figures in our lives: our parents.  They got the brunt of our teenage angst—that torturous time of life when adulthood is both the prize and the punishment toward which we are hurtling hell bent for leather.  But for these girls—who are essentially parentless, and were royally gypped when it came to childhood—that angst, that “Here, give me a hand…no, don’t touch me” stuff needs to find another outlet.  So folks like teachers and, unfortunately, bosses, get smacked in the face with it.

Yet that in itself  wouldn’t be enough to deter me.  I mean, I get it.  I understand that, as a business owner, I’m set up to play the “Evil Boss” role in people’s lives.  And I have been largely successful in combating that stereotype.  But these goofy mothers throw up yet another roadblock for me:   They viciously defend their title of “mother,” and they are extremely threatened by the existence of another competent woman taking any kind of role in their daughters’ lives.  In short, the mothers hate me (no, they don’t know me personally, but they hate the idea of me…) and are not shy about letting their daughters know it in no uncertain terms.

I’ve made it a personal policy to be available to help and mentor any employee who should so desire, but I’m not trying to BE anyone's mother (though heaven knows many of these girls could use one…) If I can contribute to a young person’s long-term welfare, I am happy to do it.  In fact, it’s one of the rewards of the job.  But I’m not about to play tug-of-war with some deranged parent for the affections of her daughter.  That’s sad for me…but it’s a disaster for these young girls. 

I wish things could be different. 


  1. I wish things could be different too Lisa.  I read this with interest because I think that those women in my daughter's lives who are different than me provide valuable lessons for my daughters.  I think that other women/mother figures/aunts/evil bosses and plain-ole good bosses offer them different views and ways and gee ... it's a really good thing.

    I think one of the reasons these mother's may not like you is you take their daughter's away from the nest ... and golly ... you allow them to think and make decisions on their own ... and well, that's uncomfortable for their moms.

    Not me ... I welcome the intervention.  Some days.  ;)

  2. Not everybody's cut out for food service but, everybody has to eat three meals a day and we haven't figured out how to outsource preparing lunch to Bombay. It may not be glamorous but there's nothing more basic than the making, baking and sharing of bread.

    As for the moms? They may be afraid of losing their safety net.

    Take care of yourself, please.


  3. The work ethic seems to have all but disappeared.  I see it where I work, and I hear about it from my friend Sherri, who has her own business, different from yours but with very similar complaints.  My 4 kids are grown, and happily, all of them seem to have a decent work ethic and as for "allowing" other adults into their lives as friends/mentors, etc...except for the army recruiter who came after Chris aggressively when he was in high school, and who lied to him and mislead him (and whom I ended up facing down in his recruiting office one long Saturday afternoon, a situation about which I have no regrets)...except for that guy, I've pretty much always figured the more decent adults who can influence my kids, the better for all of us.  When Chris started working as a locksmith, I was relieved to realize he would give credence to things his very strict boss said ("Call if you're going to be late, dammit!  Better yet, DON'T be late!") whereas he tended to ignore those same sentiments as nagging, coming from his mother.  There is nothing like a good boss and a good job to straighten out a young person and get them on track.  I have seen it happen so many times...hang in there.  There have got to be other parents who know that, and appreciate it too.