August 2008


“Would you like to see the cutest baby in the world?”

Dammit.

The question from my intoxicated bar guest last Saturday night and my annoyed internal response. For the record, I actually really like kids. I’ve done my fair share of babysitting and full time nannying in my never ending quest to pay the bills and for one reason or another, children and I seem to get along. It is, however, an entirely different thing to pretend to be interested in a bunch of pictures of some random baby to whom you have no relation or acquaintance. I mean, come on. Babies are (let’s be honest) kind of strange looking little creatures. I can only “awww” and “how cute!” for so long before my cheeks begin to hurt and little pieces of my soul start slowly dying as I sell them off bit by bit for a bigger tip. But what can I do? I have to say yes or risk offending the nice drunk lady who is about to pay me. So, with forced enthusiasm:

Me: Sure!

NDL: (pulling out her iPhone and beginning to sort through dozens of baby photos) This is the two of us last Sunday…oh! and this is his first real cookie… and this is him giving me a hug… you know, he really does give the best hugs!… and this is him with his Bubby, that’s what we call the blanket I gave him…

Me: (brains oozing out my ears) He seems to be pretty special!

NDL: Oh he is! Well… uhm… you know… he’s… (she trailed off uncomfortably at this point).

Me: Yes?

NDL: Well my son had an affair you know…

PRAISE MERCIFUL ALLAH this just got interesting!!

Me: Oh?

NDL: (pointing to the little boy on her iPhone) Yes, he’s the product of the affair.

Me: Uh… well… at least something special came from the situation…

What the hell ELSE could I say?!

IBG: (enthusiastically) Oh yes! We just adore our new little boy! We can’t imagine life without him!

It’s the word “new” that struck me. They never mentioned their son again and our conversation ended ambiguously in that regard. I got the distinct impression that while they adored their new grandson, they hadn’t forgiven the son for his actions and were instead focusing on their ‘replacement child’.

Instantly, my thoughts began to race. I wondered what that conversation must have been like. “Mom, Dad, I had an affair. She’s pregnant. We’re keeping it.” I wondered what these parents said in response. I wondered about the illicit couple, if they were still together or if the son had tried to reconcile with his wife. I wondered about the wife, what she must have felt having learned of the affair, I presume, at the same time she learned about the child. I wondered about the child who, for the rest of his life, will know that his very existence was formed in secrecy and deceit.

In that one instant I felt sad and confused and indignant and awkward all at once. But mostly, it was just awkward.

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You know how every once in a while you’ll get change at the gas station or grocery store and quickly stuff it into your coat pocket? More often than not you remember to fish it out once you get home. But every once in a while you forget it’s there…and the coats go away into storage in favor of summer clothes and months go by before the first frost of a new winter when you dig the jackets out from the back of your closet. And then it takes a few days before chance and circumstance happen to drive your hands into your coat for warmth and Hey! there’s a $20 I forgot I had! You know the feeling I’m talking about?

That’s kind of what I felt when I stumbled upon this piece in an old file on my hard drive…except I can’t put this story towards rent.

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April 2006

A 13 year old could do my job. Well, one of my jobs at least. Upon completion of my masters degree, I dove headfirst into the real world, eager to find gainful employment in my field of choice. In hindsight, it might have been a good idea to choose a field before seeking said employment. But since I am only 25 and as able to make permanent decisions about my future as I am likely to remember to change the oil in my car, I had to resign myself with whatever I could find to make ends meet. Luckily this task was partially covered by my job as a youth pastor. Now as we all know, ministry is terribly lucrative. You know, will of God, Prayer of Jabez, and all that. Be that as it may, I concluded I would need additional income to support my presently extravagant lifestyle of student loan repayment and ramen noodles. This being so decided, I reluctantly joined the ranks of countless young girls who dream of earning extra cash to buy lip-gloss and Pussycat Dolls CDs: I am a nanny.

And yes, I am aware of the silliness that occurs when you place my name and job title next to each other. Try to stay with me.

One of the benefits of being a nanny, apart from the free ice cream and Chex-Mix, is getting to mess with young minds. The particular family I work for has two such intellects ripe for confusion. The older sibling, a precocious (ok, spoiled) nine year old believes me to be the most beautiful, intelligent, and funny young woman she’s ever met. Clearly, she is very bright. Her brother, being only recently turned seven, is more easily turned by my powers of persuasion. A few weeks ago, over green apple slices and gobs of peanut butter, my young friend asked, “Hey, you know what?”

I love this question because there are a number of ways you could go. One option is to turn it back around with a decided, “Yes, but do YOU know what?” Another is to state various things you do in fact have knowledge of, like the temperature at which water freezes, the distance from the earth to the moon, the number of licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop… On this particular afternoon, I took a slightly different approach.

“Of course,” I said, answering quickly. “I know everything.”

“Come on!”

“Its true.” I nodded my head.

He wrinkled his nose. “Not everything.”

“Yep. Everything.”

At this point in our conversation, the wrinkles on his nose staged a coup and completely overtook the rest of his normally cheery face. Disappointed to the point of extreme agitation that he would not be able to share what he learned in school that day, he looked at me pleadingly through his now-squinty eyes and begged, “Well then can I just tell you anyway?” I agreed that he could.

It’s true a 13 year old might be able to do my job. She could make lunch, help with homework, fold laundry and clean dishes. She might even be able to do a mean lip-sync to Beauty and the Beast’s “Be Our Guest” (though I’d be willing to bet mine is better). But could she ever achieve omniscience? I think not.

It’s true: Dani is an unusual name for a girl. And before you ask, No, it’s not short for Danielle, No, my parents were not planning on naming me Danny had I been a boy, Yes, I actually happen to like my name. Working in a restaurant has made me revisit this same conversation countless times with countless strangers. Why? Because our host staff lets the guest know who their server will be before we get there. As a result, I inevitably encounter one of three different reactions when I approach any table. Either 1), the guests ignore my name and proceed with their order (ideal!), 2) the guests inquire as to the spelling and/or authenticity of my name (is that a nickname?), or 3) the guests inform me that I have already failed to meet their expectations (we thought you were gonna be a boy!).

Once for all, I DON’T CARE!! I don’t care what you thought I was going to be. This is who I am. Deal with it. And while we’re on the subject, why is it ok for you to tell me what you thought I would be? You wouldn’t dare say to a total stranger, “We thought you were going to be white!” or “We thought you were gonna be fat!” or “We thought you would be attractive!” Why tell me you thought I would be a boy? How am I supposed to respond to that? Should I apologize?

“I’m sorry but I don’t actually have a penis, per se. I’ve been thinking about getting one but I just can’t decide which one I’d want. I mean, I’m not really sure what size or shape I’d want, you know, longer or thicker, and then there’s the issue of getting used to something new and I’m not big on change, really. ANYway, would you all like to start off with some Spinach Dip?”

Typically I reign in my smart-ass and mutter something about exceeding their expectations or something else equally cheesy. A few days ago, however, my filter must have slipped a little because the following conversation took place:

Me: Hello, welcome to _____, my name is Dani, I’ll be taking care of you today.

Ignorant Old Woman: Did you say your name was Dani?

M: Yes, ma’am.

IOW: (confused) Dani, huh? Now is that your real name?

M: (mischievously) No, ma’am. It’s my stage name.

IOW: (more confused) Your stage name? Are you in theatre?

M: You could say that… I dance, mostly.

IOW: Oh how wonderful! Harold and I simply love going to shows like that!

M: Do you…

(Later, after I dropped off their check with my “stage” name clearly printed at the top…)

IOW: Look at that! They even printed your stage name right on the ticket!

M: Yes, ma’am. My managers are very supportive of my night job.

IOW: How wonderful for you.

P.S. Her Ignorant Old Husband was giving me funny looks all during their meal. It appeared as though he was trying to figure out what club he might’ve seen me in…and if I’d tell his wife about his extra-curricular sextivities. I love my job.

For the majority of my life, I’ve been a pretty hopeless stick in the mud. This made me extremely popular among the church-going, elderly folk who would always praise my parents on their child-rearing skills: “You have it figured out, you sure do. Such well behaved children you have! How do you do it?” (By calling my brother and I ‘well-behaved’, what they really meant was ‘terrified lumps of goo that didn’t dare upset the delicate balance of parental sanity by engaging in typical childish sedition’. Potato, potahto.) As I grew older, and by older I mean a freshman in college, I finally rebelled. Years of resentment at being the good girl fueled my mutiny as I strongly insisted to my parents that it was ok to go bowling with friends on a friday night and stay out until the ungodly hour of 10pm. I was, after all, a full time student with a full time job and I’ll be damned if I won’t be allowed to waste $10 on used shoes and greasy pizza in the company of my youth group companions! That’s right. I said it. And when Dad said no, I totally acted pissed off and would NOT participate in family devotions that night. Take that, Mr. Man.

I guess the reason I never really went ape-shit as a kid was my good ole protestant sense of guilt. Don’t want to finish your dinner? Stole some nickel candy from the grocery store? Forged your parents’ signature on your test because you couldn’t admit to them that you got a B? God’s kicked people out of heaven for less. Better fess up or you’ll be millennial kindling. As an adult, thankfully, I’ve realized life is more complex than that. There are times when it seems that to do wrong is the only right option.

Take these guys, for instance. They call themselves Guerrilla Gardeners. Basically their passion in life is to sneak around the city at night, armed only with shrubs and shovels, and give a little love to forgotten patches of land. Technically, their behavior is illegal since they do not own the land they are planting neither do they gain permission before they plant. Yet there seems to be something intrinsically right about their illicit hobby. Is it not wrong to neglect and/or abuse the land we live on? Is it not right to care for the powerless, even if the powerless is a patch of dirt? I believe somewhere in my guilt-riddled theological education I heard it said that Good People ought to do the right thing even if it seemed wrong to everyone else. Father Abraham taught us that…though technically he didn’t complete his wrong-headed murder in the name of YHWH cause the ram who lost his way stepped in to save the day but still…it’s the thought that counts. Plus there’s that whole “care for the earth” bit in Genesis that we tend to forget in favor of the “have dominion” translation. But I digress. You should really check these guys out. Kinda makes me wanna grab a shrubbery and start a little rebellion of my own. Who’s with me?!

Three years. That’s how much time your average man spends on the toilet over the course of his lifetime, according to a British survey taken just two years ago. Not surprisingly, ladies tend toward efficiency in this area and only waste (heh) a total of six months in the loo. Perhaps it’s best to put down your Sports’ Illustrated and focus on the task at hand, gents. Besides, we’ve got about 3 years of our lives we need to spend getting ready in the morning and we need that bathroom mirror so hurry it up in there!

The point of that little survey is, I imagine, to encourage people to reflect on how their lives might be different if they spent less time primping, pooping, or procrastinating and focused on the important things. While I don’t usually ponder the amount of time I give to various routines, it occured to me that I’ve spent a good chunk of my life in pancake houses of the international variety. I got my first fix as a teenager with a pathetic social life and a crippling fear of discipline. Sure, dad might be pissed I snuck out to spend time with one of my two friends but hell, the only addictive substances I consumed were bad coffee and maple syrup so as far as the sin scale goes, I’m golden. In college, my need for thick french toast and free WiFi grew to become a regular Saturday morning* habit. True, other coffee houses have competed for my attention, what with their caramel machiattos and espresso charged french roast, but for 3am “i-have-a-25-page-paper-due-in-6-hours-and-i-need-breakfast”, there’s no comparison.

It was in one of these fine establishments that I recently found myself waiting on a ride…for 4 hours…you know who you are. With my second pot of watery coffee in front of me and a serious case of the jitters, I put down my pen (I couldn’t hold on to the damn thing anyway) and struck up a conversation with the local pancake bus boy. I had been writing for some time by then and he asked if I was doing homework.

Me: Nope. I’m done with school.

LPBB: Oh really? That’s great. What do you do, then?

M: I’m a teacher. I teach college English. (So I exaggerated a little. Bite me.)

LPBB: Oh really? That’s great. You look young.

M: I’m older than I look. I’m almost 30. (So I was fishing for a compliment. Again. Bite me.)

LPBB: Oh really? That’s great. Do you like what you do?

M: Yeah, I love it. (So I haven’t taught a day of class yet.  You know what to do.)

LPBB: Oh really? That’s great. It’s important to do what you love. As long as you spend your time doing what you love, that’s all that matters.

That, while piling dirty dishes, half-eaten food, and backwashed drinks into a germy plastic tub to take back to the kitchen for cleaning. At midnight. Having just started his shift.

I wonder how much time I’ll spend over the course of my life bitching to people about how much I hate my job, my hair, my body, my car, etc. Just think what I could do with all that time and energy saved by just being happy with where I am, as I am. I mean, if the midnight bus boy in a run-down, skanky pancake house can stay positive, the least I can do is attempt the same. Maybe then I’d find time to strike up more conversations with random sages in dirty aprons.

*Morning is here defined as the hours immediately following my being woken to the blast of the tornado siren testing. Outsiders will note that these tests are performed every Saturday precisely at noon.