I had a rare moment to myself. So I did what I usually do when that happens. Yes, you guessed it, friends: I went to my local coffee shop.
Most of the time, I’m at the coffee shop with one or both of my daughters. With my cross-body bag stuffed with coloring books and crayons, and my don’t-know-what-else-to-do-with-it hair in a ponytail, I look the part, to a T, of the cliched “mom in need of caffeine.”
That day, I had my cross-body bag once again, but this time, it contained a book I was reading, “Writing Down the Bones,” a writer’s handbook. I was yet another coffee-shop cliche that day: “hasn’t-given-up-yet writer.”
Sometimes you have to acknowledge the fact that you may have become a cliche (or two). (I acknowledge this fact in my life.)
I knew the lady behind the counter. We said hello, and I asked about her son. Then I joked that I was there without my kids for once. “I even brought a book,” I said.
“Enjoy,” she said. She handed me my coffee. “You deserve it.”
You deserve it—she was kind to say that. I think she even meant it.
Sometimes you have to acknowledge the fact that you may have become a cliche (or two).
I don’t live my life thinking I “deserve” things. Sometimes, this perspective is healthy, and helpful. I consider every good thing in my life a gift. There but for the grace of God—or, luck of the draw—depending on your take of the world. Whatever one’s perception, my “gift mentality” enables me to live each day, pretty much, with gratitude.
Living with gratitude is, for me, invigorating.
On the flip side of that coin… The very definition of “gift” is “something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation” (Merriam-Webster). The matter of money enters the conversation.
That day in the coffee shop, I overheard bits and pieces of the conversation between the two older gentlemen at the table next to mine. One of them mentioned his recent Chinese takeout, and the fortune-cookie fortune that came with it. “That was a good fortune cookie,” he told his friend.
We have lots of fortune-cookie-type quotes related to money. Time is money. A penny saved is a penny earned. No such thing as a free lunch. All of these are off the top of my head—the list goes on.
Many of these adages are true. For example, time is money.
We have lots of fortune-cookie-type quotes related to money.
A while ago, I asked a high-school girl I knew to come over to our house to babysit Grace and Anna. I needed to finish a freelance project, and Stanton was working himself. She came and took care of the girls while I worked; they had fun; at the end, I handed her the cash we had agreed upon earlier.
“Oh, you don’t have to pay me,” she said. “I loved playing with your kids.”
Usually, I’m patient and easygoing. (If you ask my siblings, they’ll probably tell you differently, citing various disputes from childhood that they still remember… 😉 ) In that moment, though, I was a little impatient, a little contentious.
No, I told her. I do have to pay you. What you did—taking care of my children while I worked—was work too.
You deserve it.
She did end up accepting the cash.
The irony in this story is that what I (and my husband) paid her to babysit my (our) daughters, combined with what I (we) paid for previous child care, about amounted to my fee for my freelance project. Some folks may consider this a wash. Others may view it as an investment in the long run of a career.
It all depends on perception, right?
It would have been easy for me to take advantage of this young woman, but I didn’t. I didn’t, partly, because I believe in what I said: Taking care of children while their parent(s) work is work too. And I didn’t take advantage of her because when I was younger, some people exploited me in that way.
In a few professional experiences I had, people in positions of leadership—power—paid me less than we all knew to be fair. Looking back on these experiences now, against the backdrop of current events such as Time’s Up and workplace equity, what is most disheartening to me is that the people who took advantage of me were women themselves.
We can’t advocate for women, publicly—equal economic opportunities, health and safety, overall common-sense fairness—and treat them unfairly, or unkindly, at the same time privately, if and when it benefits us and/or our bottom line. Whether they’re our babysitters at home, our assistants at the office…whatever they are, however they work for us. We especially can’t do this when we’re women ourselves.
I’ve been reading “The Female Persuasion” by Meg Wolitzer, an author I’ve long admired, and she speaks to this pretense in her novel too.
Because you do deserve it—a moment, without feeling guilty. Payment, as agreed upon. Fair pay.
We can’t advocate for women, publicly—equal economic opportunities, health and safety, overall common-sense fairness—and treat them unfairly, or unkindly, at the same time privately, if and when it benefits us and/or our bottom line.
Yesterday, I was reading about the latest political leader to fall from grace, as reported in The New Yorker. What is so horribly ironic about Eric Schneiderman, who allegedly assaulted multiple women, is that he championed #MeToo and #TimesUp in his law-enforcement work and spoke out against sexual harassment.
Very little surprises me anymore, though. My own experiences with abuse of power, as long ago as they happened at this point, showed me that people can represent themselves one way publicly and then behave differently privately. Hypocrisy happens across various lines: political party, sex and gender, class, race, religion, etc., etc.
For example, see also former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, former Oregon Senator Jeff Kruse or any number of politicians in recent months who have resigned due to abusing the power of their office, or flat-out abusing (physically or sexually) people.
I hope, and I’m hopeful, that we’re moving forward to a more honest future.
In the meantime, this is the message I want to pass along to my daughters, to any high-school student who babysits for me again, to anyone who is still growing up: Stand up for yourself. Be a stronger person than I was. And when you earn a position of leadership, treat the people who work for you—the men and women who make you look good, at the office and in your home—treat those people with respect and appreciation.
They deserve it.
You do too.
Photo credit: Pixabay
Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.