When I was in the final stages of my pregnancy with Wee Cee, I remember thinking that I hadn’t felt so tired since I had worked a swing shift on Mother’s Day at a restaurant in Chicago. Little did I know that I would be reliving some of the best and worst moments from my employment there once I pushed our bag of sugar from my loins. But I am grateful I waited tables prior to having a baby because the lessons I gleaned from schlepping around crates of wine and crumbing people’s tables have a lot more carryover into my current position as mom to a four-month-old than I could have guessed.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Always anticipate the next step. Waiting tables requires you to always be thinking about what someone will need next and providing it to them before they know it’s a need. Before you even bring them the salt lick they ordered, refill the water pitcher and have it standing by. Babies are the exact same. Not in their salt consumption. Eww. They are the exact same in that if you can think ahead a few steps, your day will be a lot easier and they will be a lot happier. The days Miss C cries the least are the days that I am most on my game about offering her what she needs before she even knows she wants it.
Of course, there are are days when anticipating all likely contingencies doesn’t make a difference at all. And on those days you remember…
2. You just can’t make some people happy. Everyone has bad days, and sometimes those bad days coincide with a visit to your restaurant. There’s not a lot you can do to mitigate ornery customers, and you certainly shouldn’t take it personally when they treat you poorly. Babies are the ultimate tough customers. There are days when they wake up dead-set on hating the world. You do everything you can to make sure they have what they need, but you get no thanks whatsoever. By the end of the day, they will have essentially stiffed you of your tip when they insist on crying through the night rather than sleeping like they had the entire week before. But you learn to deal with it because the amazing moments you have with them make up for the days when they leave you $0.01 on a $150 bill.
3. Fall into a pattern. A couple weeks ago, it occurred to me that Wee Cee had, seemingly overnight, just gotten easier to deal with. The big trick of it was that it hadn’t happened overnight; it had happened over the course of weeks and months. She had gotten used to this whole living-outside-the-womb thing and created a pattern of life (with help from B and me, of course). Much like waiting tables, where the more you do it, the better you get at it, I had learned to read her cues and fallen into a predictable routine, which she thrives on. When you’re waiting tables, people know when you have no idea what you’re doing and get annoyed. Same same with babies.
4. Put on a show. When I waited tables, I often had customers who were dying to engage me. They wanted to talk food, cut up with me, and form a bond with me over the two hour span I had them in my section. Although these kinds of tables for sure required more work, they were a million times more fun, not to mention better tippers. When I finally allowed myself to lose my self-consciousness around these perfect strangers and just have fun with them, my job became more rewarding. Kinda like singing “Baby Beluga” 900 times in a row. I may feel like an idiot doing it at first, but a baby’s happiness is extremely contagious. If you get a rise out of them by doing a ridiculous dance, you tend to keep doing it.
5. Just get dirty. If you’ve ever lived with someone who works in a restaurant, you know immediately when they’re home. They smell like BO mixed with onions and garlic with a dash of ammonia thrown in for good measure. It’s nasty, and it gets even worse on laundry day when they haul out all their work clothes and make a big soup of it in the washing machine. The nastiness of working in a restaurant was the only thing that could have prepared me for laundering cloth diapers and being spit up on while I’m in the middle of breastfeeding C. The latter is a special breed of vile. Having partially-curdled milk regurgitated upon your exposed boob and knowing that it will be hours (perhaps days?) before you get the chance to shower is the most humbling and disgusting feeling I’ve ever experienced. But the baby culture shock would have been worse had I never gone through full garbage cans trying to locate expensive cutlery I had accidentally tossed in and didn’t want taken out of my paycheck.
6. Don’t be a hater. Prior to working in a restaurant, I was never a jerky customer. Still, I had very little appreciation for the amount of hard work that goes into waiting tables, so the first time I went out after I had been working at Quince for awhile, I watched my servers with new admiration. Same with parenting. My life is now a list of “used to’s.” I used to think it was lame to put your baby’s picture as your profile pic on Facebook. I used to think parents had no real reason to bemoan their lack of sleep, as they basically brought it on themselves. Now I get it. I’m in the trenches, and it’s hard.
And last but not least:
7. Just fold it. I worked at a fancy-schmancy restaurant where we had to fold the napkins, Really fold them. I’m not talking about this:
I’m talking about this:
And if I hadn’t had the practice folding roughly 30,000 napkins when I worked there, I couldn’t stand a chance against folding pre-fold diapers.
I miss my times in the restaurant, but all I have to do now to relive them is look out on the porch at C’s diapers drying on the rack. Ever since B mentioned that they kind of look like chickens roasting on a rotisserie, that’s all I can see.