Update: I found this written down in my notes app. It appeared, untitled, when I opened Pages for the first time on my Mac today. I searched my site to see if I'd ever published it and I can't find it, so it must have been lost. My toddler is now a kindergartener. The future baby is now a toddler, about to embark on his own potty training journey. I edited it today. But just a bit. I wanted to leave it as the notes I'd written three years ago. Have I really not written that much since? Yes. So, as I move slowly towards writing again, this old hobby--love--nemesis?--that pulls me back again and again, I will start with these notes on waiting since we've all been waiting and waiting and waiting lately.
“Pull ups, please! Lion Guard!”
“Sure thing,” I say.
A few minutes later I’m running with my toddler to our bathroom, and I’m not sure who is more excited for her to sit on the potty.
Waiting. I’m standing over her, but I am not allowed to actually look at her. Arms crossed. Standing. Waiting.
I think of past positions I've held that were rooted in waiting. Bored. Wishing I was reading. Or sleeping.
My first university part-time job was in second year. I’d had summer jobs before but nothing while in school. I got a seasonal position as a Walmart cashier over the Christmas holidays. I can still feel the blue vest as I tugged it on, feeling alien in my clothes with such a familiar talisman of sweet deals. I wore a red long sleeve underneath and I think it made my CSM, Chris, angry. CSM’s wore red. Cashiers wore blue. Shrug. I was unaffected. I was ironic. I was nineteen.
Weeknights were spent mostly waiting. If no one came to your cash, you had to “red line”, which was standing at the end of your aisle maintaining a welcoming smile to entice customers to your line. I hated it because I had spent most of my life hoping no one would notice me. I waited. Arms crossed. Bored. I thought about how I wished I was reading. Or sleeping. Or drinking.
I used to try to beat the cash machine and calculate how much change to return in order to keep my mind from wandering. I wanted to stay ensconced in the academic world. I wanted to read books and write stories for a living and I didn't know then that I needed more than that. I hated that after four hours I only had an extra $20. Still, it was enough to buy a week’s worth of groceries. A night out. I needed the work. I needed the education. So, I waited.
“Here’s your change: sixty-eight cents.”
“Wow, you did that before the machine!” said no one ever. They didn’t know how bad I was at mental math until this job.
“I’m done!” says my two year old.
I turn to look. Hesitant but hopeful. Nothing. I’ve never been so disappointed to not see poop.
Two minutes later she’s squatting in the kitchen pooping in her Lion Guard pull-up while I prepare her lunch.
“Why didn’t you poop on the potty?”
“No! I poop in the kitchen!” she says. At two, she is completely exasperated by the things I don’t know.
Diaper changed and I’m perched on a kitchen stool reading, waiting for her to finish plastering her face with peanut butter. I think of all the times I've spent perched on a stool waiting for someone to finish eating.
My second part time job in university was a few months later. Walmart didn’t hire me back after my seasonal Christmas gig. The HR guy told me I hadn’t been recommended by my CSM, Chris. On my way out the other CSM, a kind woman not much older than I, told me she’d recommended me but Chris was adamant. It’s okay, I assured her. I wasn’t that disappointed but I did have to search for another job. I can’t remember the nice CSM's name. Funny. Just the begrudging Chris. I even remember his last name, but not a conversation we had.
I gave myself a month before my Walmart earnings started to wane and I needed to look for my next job. I focussed on my studies. I read books. I checked out Napster. I chatted with friends on ICQ. But, funds dwindled, and so my mom drove the hour to my university apartment in her little purple two-door Hyundai. I sat in the front seat in the only pants that didn’t look like cargo pants, my resumes and cover letters expertly written with all my over-confident English student words.
I took the first job I applied for. I went in to a hotel to drop off a resume and before I knew it I was in the owner’s office for an interview. I was not ready but exuded the confidence of a nineteen year old who needs a job. To eat. And to read books.
I was hired on the spot. Banquet waitress. The owner told me there would be a blouse ready for my first shift. What was my size? I sized up, and I would swim in it. I was small then. No children had yet to inhabit my body. But I didn't know this.
He didn’t tell me the blouse was transparent. He instructed me to wear a knee length skirt "above the knee with nude stockings”. I remember thinking it was odd, a man in his fifties insisting I wear “nude stockings”. Still. I needed the money. He had me at tips.
I returned to my mom’s car. I had been worried about her the entire time I sat in the unexpected interview. This was 2000. I didn’t have a cell phone. I had just gone in to drop a resume but I’d been twenty minutes. My anxiety had me buzzing with worry for my mom. I ran to the car.
She was fine waiting. Reading. Unaffected. Unconcerned. She was fifty.
I got the job! She cheered. Our resume drop off day transformed into finding me the required outfit for the new position. My wardrobe of that time consisted of cords and cargo pants and I’d never worn an “above the knee skirt”. I wasn’t even sure what nude stockings were. We shopped at the mall and found the skirt in a popular clothing store. The same store I’d bought my prom dress from two years before. I would wear that skirt for the next three years at that job.
We headed to Walmart; the former employee returns for a new look! My mom gave me a lesson on stockings and we picked out a few pairs. Chris the CSM was our cashier. I was smug. I was writing the screenplay as we collected the change, calculating the amount before he announced it.
I showed up for my first shift days later wishing I had been told to wear an undershirt for the white blouse. It was used. Worn for years by someone before me. White and already yellowed at the pits. I wore that for three more years. Never issued a new one. Never issued a second one for daily shifts. Washed in the sink each night with my skirt and stockings. I did buy more stockings. Although, not as regularly as I should have, opting instead to fix minor holes with clear nail polish.
The nude stockings had clearly been a goof or intentional—I was never sure—because when I showed up all the girls wore thick black stockings. I left that first shift—mortified and nude for four hours—and headed back to Walmart. Less smug. I bought black stockings and white undershirts. A year or so later when I was a senior banquet waitress I’d rebel and wear blue undershirts, angering the supervisor.
I disliked the job but I was good at it. Quick. I learned to carry a lot of plates at once. No one waited long for water. Methodical. I kept the job for the rest of my university days only quitting when I started my BEd and the demands of the program were too much, the student loan finally approved.
Those waitressing days were spent working hard in short bursts and then waiting. So much waiting. After we served we’d have to wait for the speeches before we could clear a room. Sometimes it was a quick function. Weddings were promising because everyone wanted to dance. We’d get home by ten, early enough to write a paper, read the novel for seminar, or head downtown for a drink. But mostly it was waiting. We would head to the hotel’s darkened breakfast diner, turn on as few lights as possible so that the guests didn’t see us and we’d lug in buckets of cleaned silverware to polish. Stacks of paper napkins. Jugs of hot water. We’d use the paper napkins and dry each piece, polishing. Sitting the in the booths of the breakfast restaurant talking and talking. Everything smelling of food and coffee.
That was one of the only times I’ve spent with a large group of women. Only girls were allowed to serve and the boys were porters. It bothered me but it was still only 2000 and there wasn’t much change I could affect at a family run hotel. The one thing I did do was demand a smoke free break room, and one where all the servers (the girls) could actually sit down and soothe tired feet. Once a customer said: you really shouldn’t smoke on the job. I don’t! I insisted. So they moved us, and all our complaints, to the breakfast diner, a cozy relic of 1970s dining.
And we’d polish and chat and wait. Once the polishing was done we’d go to the vending machines. Make coffee or tea—the only thing we were allowed to eat from the hotel for free. Leftovers we were made to throw in the garbage. Supervised.
And we’d repose in the near dark of the booths. Talking. Always talking. Waiting. But I didn’t always mind. I was keen to get home. Finish an essay. Meet friends out. But once I was there for a year I started inviting many of our friends to work there too, and sometimes it was the only time we had to sit and chat. Laugh. Sometimes I miss it. Not the messy of the food or the demands of the customers or the supervisor I never managed to like, but the group of women. Maybe I put too much anxiety in waiting. Now, I look back and think it is the time I am waiting that I do my thinking.
The camaraderie of the women in my life at that time is something I never thought to cherish until I was on leave with a newborn for the first time. I didn’t know then that what I would need as I grew up would be a group of smart, strong women. I was so fiercely focused on establishing my independence that I didn’t know the loneliness of adulthood. Living alone seemed like a dream. Sometimes I miss those women. Some I can remember clearly. Others have faded. Friends. Sisterhood in the drudgery of part time work for school. I think about those nights in the booths when I am up late. The house quiet but for the whimper of one of my children calling “Mommy”. I think of the laughing. Talking. Waiting. Nothing else to do but think and dream.
One night I remember looking out at the moon. It was a super moon, I am guessing. I don’t think I’d seen one before. Red, so it must have been the harvest moon. October? I still don't know my moons. We stood, a few of us, in that darkened dining room, looking out over the city with the brightness of the moon sitting on top on everything. I think of that night now when I happen to catch another red moon. Blood moon?
“All done!” my toddler beams, peanut butter face mask gleaming. “None left!”
She holds up her plate. I notice the dog finishing off the crusts she’s thrown to the floor. She slides off the stool and starts to play. I clean up her mess, the speeches done, the waiting over, clearing time.
We’ve been alone together all weekend. This is the time before we have another baby, just barely, but for now it is just us. At times it is peaceful. Cuddles and books and laughs and dance parties. But at other times when it is waiting and cleaning and serving I think about all the times in my life that I’ve been waiting and cleaning and serving. The waiting.
“I’m pooping!” She interrupts my nostalgia.
Let’s go! We run to the washroom.
“Don’t look at me!” she roars.
My most demanding customer yet. My most finicky of supervisors. My most happiest of loves.
Again the waiting, typing notes for this story on my phone. I would have loved a smart phone on those nights waiting to clear the banquets, but would we have talked so much together if we’d had texts to answer, essays to write, images to scroll?
Can I look?
“No!” She is disgusted.
So demanding. So independent already.
"I’m pooping, Mama. Look. Look!”
I turn. There it is in the potty. The first time. The look on her face worth all the wait. All the disappointment. All the cleaning and serving and tears, hers and mine. She beams. A little peanut butter still on her forehead. A Cheerio in her hair. Love on full display all over her face.
"I did it, Mama!”
All the joy on that face mirrored one hundred times on mine.
My most satisfied customer. My most valued.
Let’s go. Want to read a book?
That’s my girl.
I hear some singing from my two year old. We are on our morning commute. These short drives to and from work are my favourite conversation moments.
“ABCDEFG!” she sings. “Your turn, Mama!”
This sudden desire for an alphabet lesson is new. If I try to sing it, she usually tells me to stop.
The day before was the first time she’d ever showed interest. I’d tried singing the song on a little early Spring walk. We were enjoying the sun, going to the chicken coop to gather eggs. And this time after her emphatic “no!” I told her that knowing the alphabet was the first step in learning to read.
“Yes, Mama!” She agreed. And this is rare. She’s already decided I’m wrong 99% of the time.
“Did you know Mama also knows her ABCs in Ancient Greek?“
“Yeah, Mama! High five!” She says and holds up a little hand. She is the only person I’ve told this to who has at least pretended to be impressed.
I don’t know if this little chat the day before did anything (clearly it didn’t—but I can pretend), and yet the next day here she is singing, unprompted, the first bit of her ABCs.
Still, I was more surprised when she said, “Your turn, Mama”.
And so I sang the ABCs, in its entirety!
“Whoa!” she exclaimed.
I look back in the mirror, and I can see her little mouth forming an O. Her eyes wide, she opens her mouth and then takes her time with her reply—for emphasis? Or has she already learned condescension?
“Good job, Mama! Wow!”
I decide to take it for genuine awe.
“Thanks, Addy! Your turn!” I laugh.
“ABCDEFG! Tada!” she laughs—a little maniacally.