Working at night is not for the faint of heart. It's heartbreaking to miss bedtimes, homework, and football practices. For two years, I watched my baby all day, and when my big kids came home from school, I had to put on the apron and rush out the door to my waitress job.
Sometimes my kids would be mid-story about their day and I would have to leave to clock in before my shift.
I did well for myself in food service, taking home enough money to cover my daughter's expensive competitive gymnastics bills and then some. We have four kids, but I didn't want to say no to my daughter's love of gymnastics; this was the first sport she loved, and she was also good enough to compete. Balancing work and home life was a challenge, though. I had a hard time finding rides for my kids who had to go to practice, and I had to try and switch shifts when my husband couldn't be home to watch them. I felt like there was hardly ever a night that it was easy to leave home and get to work.
One night, on my way into work, my husband called to tell me that our son's turtle died. I cried all the way to work because I couldn't be there to comfort my little guy.
I was never happy to leave their tiny faces. It always weighed on me as I drove away.
While I would have loved to been able to take paid sick leave on those inevitable days that I really needed it, or vacation time, waitresses and other food service workers don't have the option. If you don't work, you don't get paid. I needed to be paid to in turn pay for those gymnastics sessions, grocery bills, and new school clothes.
I was scheduled to work on my birthday one year, which was also, more importantly, the night of my son's first game as starting quarterback. I asked every other server in the restaurant to cover for me, and no one could, or would. I was heartbroken. Thankfully, the manager of our other restaurant sent a server to cover me. I was blown away by her kindness, and still remember the relief I felt when I knew that I wouldn't have to miss such a big moment in my son's life.
And my little gymnast? She often cried when I would set up carpools to and from practice. She wanted my husband or me to take her, and didn't like riding with other girls she didn't know well. I had to explain over and over again that we had no choice. This was the only way to get her where she needed to go when she needed to be there, while I was working to make gymnastics possible for her at all.
Since moving to Pennsylvania, I've been able to stay home with my kids. It's been wonderful, and I'm beyond thankful to be home every night with my babies. But I talk of my time waitressing with pride, because it's not easy waiting on hungry people. I knew this already from being a mommy.
My waitressing experience stays with me: I will forever be a good tipper, and a patient customer, because I know how tough it is to carry hot plates, tolerate rude customers, and balance a difficult schedule with few benefits. I hope you, as well, are good to your server, because after all, she could have been me.
This post is part of BlogHer's Women @ Work editorial series, made possible by AFL-CIO.
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