Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kids in Public

I fully expected a "Mother of the Year" award from the manager at Discount Tire Co after holding a somewhat coherent conversation with the technician and only yelling at the boys once. Instead of turning around to an impressed waiting room on the edge of spontaneous applause, I got chastised by a kindly old man who said I have good kids, and I shouldn't get onto them.

In the moment, I really thought the most loving thing to do was call out Joseph for his behavior -- "Hey! Don't stand on the arm of that chair! You'll fall and break your head open on their nice, clean floor!!" -- but maybe I was just underestimating his innate cherub goodness and power to self-correct. 

What do people want to see of parenting in public? I really never know. I field offense if I leave a wake of broken mayonnaise jars and empty banana peels (insert soundbite: "But I want to eat it NOW!"), or if I repeat stern words and slap a few reaching hands.

And yet, if I'm shopping without the kids, I somehow forget all of this. I see loud, crazy kids with a seemingly unaffected parent, and think, "Her kids are horrible! Why isn't she disciplining them?!" Then I see quiet, well-behaved kids getting punished for a seemingly minor offense, and think: "Her kids are wonderful! Why is she disciplining them?!"

I've adapted a kind of subterfuge public discipline approach (when my glaring, you-know-how-to-behave-in-public-now-do-it look doesn't work). Quick glance around, clear the area of observers, and then slap the hand reaching for the mayonnaise jar.

My friend, Amy, has an uncanny ability to put a positive spin on yelling at your kids. If she were in Discount Tire trying to hold a conversation while a kid was standing on the arm of a chair, she would just pull out a catchy song about how lucky the world is to have chairs for sitting, and the manager would join in to sing along, and then a flash mob would stream into the waiting room waving jazz hands, and then Joe would laugh and sit on his butt, beaming at the opportunity to obey this wonderful woman.  

Discount Tire Co employees gathering to present me with the "Mother of the Year" Award

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Helpful List (On Office Protocol)

Everyone has a worst coworker ever list (even the worst coworker ever: #1 - Colleagues with expectations). For most people, it's probably just a mental tally, and not an all-out color-coded spreadsheet posted in the breakroom, like mine. (Is she joking? She's got to be. I'm so glad I don't work with her...)

So instead of sharing that list, I'd like to share a very useful list I put together for offices everywhere (no doubt easily adapted for all work environments with a loosely-defined "assistant" position).

Please note that reading this list is an implied non-disclosure agreement to not blow my cover as the quiet robot secretary.

Another note, I refer to the admin as a "she". Yes, I know there are guys who work in admin. But gender inclusive language is really annoying to read.

Best Times To Ask The Administrative Assistant To Do Something For You*

Don't Even Bother:

1. Is it the end of the month?

2. Is it the beginning of the month?

3. Is she on her way to another colleague's office?

4. Would it take you less time to do it yourself than to ask her to do it?

5. Is she eating her lunch?

6. What if she's already doing something work-related while eating her lunch?

7. But what if she's almost done with her lunch?

8. Is it after 4:59 PM, does it need to be completed that day, and will you be dropping it on her desk as you leave the office?

Give It A Try (if you can answer each set of questions in the affirmative): 

1. Do you need it done within the next 15 minutes? Have you known about it less than 2 hours?

2. Are you sure it needs to be done? Will you actually notice that it is done? Is the probability absolutely zero that after she completes it you'll realize that it didn't need to be done?

3. Did she make a mistake that needs to be corrected? Check again. Are you sure she made the mistake?

4. Is what you're about to ask her to do someone else's job? Are they suffering a major illness, or did a close friend or family member die? 

5. Will she make it home in time for dinner with her family? Did you consider rush hour traffic for a commute to the suburbs, past LBJ construction? Have you ever made a hungry two-year-old wait on dinner at the end of the day?

Ask Her Anything, Any Time:

1. Do you sign her pay check?

Secrets to Beat the System:

1. Drop off chocolates or wine, either with each request or in bulk at the beginning of each week. (True story: I received a bottle of wine for printing a coworker's business cards and letterhead. When they were delayed in completion, a second bottle of wine moved his request to the top of my list!)

2. Make it an obscure enough request that she has to do it right away.** (True story: I received a phone call from a colleague needing me to find a pirate treasure store on the East Coast and get the owner's personal contact information. I didn't even know what to put in the note to future-me on my To-Do list, so I just did it.)

3. Appeal to her out-of-control OCD impulses.** (True story: I'm a total nerd about spreadsheets. Multiplenitude of data entry? Load me up! And they do.)

4. Make it interesting. (True story: Print a topographical map of Southeast Africa, and find out how to pronounce this name: Nyerere. Thank you, YouTube.)

5. Ask her about her weekend (and then don't walk away before she replies).
*Please note each of these are contingent upon the admin's current workload, and less predictably, her mood.

**Use sparingly.