When I 're-entered' the workforce three months ago, I was looking forward to having some adult interaction and time out of the house that didn't revolve around preschool or elementary school routines, or plain old grocery shopping. Starting on a minimum wage of $9.42 an hour, with part-time shifts, I knew I wouldn't be bringing home riches but told myself it would be a good way of easing back into work again.
The shifts I was hired to do were from 6-10pm, three nights a week, and longer shifts on Saturdays when I was available. This was perfect because it gave J time to get home from work (still a rush for him) and be with the Faery and Miss Pie. My financial contribution to our household would be tiny, but at least my self-esteem would feel a little better about the status quo. Even better, it was within walking distance so tussles over who would get the car on Saturdays weren't an issue.
On my first day - in the deli department of a national supermarket chain - warning bells sounded when several other staff members asked which department I'd be in, and then expressed no surprise, mentioning a high staff turnover in the deli department. High staff turnovers are not usually a good sign, are they?
However, I was determined to make it work. I enjoyed chatting to the other team members as we worked, and hearing various life stories. Likewise with the customers. It was one of the things I enjoyed about my time as a pub wench in London, too. I used to mentally file away little details about characters I met, for that book I planned to write.
On my third day, I was given seven large garbage pails to hose out. Bins that each had a good week's worth of chicken juice, flaked off meat, old cheese and sandwich bar scraps stuck to the inside. I don't need to describe the smell, or vomit factor. On that shift, I realised the job was going to be a little harder to like than I'd anticipated.
Over the next couple of months, though, I gradually got used to the tasks I had to perform on those evening closing shifts. Customer service was only a small part of it, as sales tend to taper off after 8pm. Much of the job was about cleaning the deli and getting it ready for the next day. Pulling apart meat and cheese slicers to clean, washing dishes, discarding the day-old pre-made sandwiches, washing dishes, hosing down large chopping boards, washing dishes, cleaning out the hot soup counter, washing dishes, wiping the greasy fingerprints and spills from the many windows of the display cases, washing dishes, emptying the garbage, washing dishes, and cleaning the floors.
Good times. You don't want to know what the soles of my shoes looked like at the end of each shift, or how my apron smelled. My muscles ached in ways they hadn't in many years.
Do I sound like a princess? I hope not. I certainly never felt that I was too good for the job. I viewed it as honest work, humbling, and a good reminder of how lucky I am - that for many people, this was how they earned a living, and it was their only option.
The strange thing is, even though I wasn't exactly loving it, I was determined to make it work. I've never walked out of a job - I've always finished on good terms, because I was either moving to a new city, or into a new field, professionally.
The customers seemed to dig that I'm Australian (a novelty, compared to my London pub days), and overall feedback from upper management was that they were all super happy with me. "... best new hire in a long time", was one quote.
Then in January, word trickled down to me that the corporate office was changing the evening shift to 5-9pm, instead of 6-10pm. Would I be able to start at 5 instead? And the answer was no, as I'd made it very clear when I was first hired - 6pm was the absolute earliest I could start. J is often in meetings until 5pm, we have no family in town to watch the girls, and a babysitter would cost more than my wages.... so, nope. No can do.
That's when my shifts began to dry up. I was still scheduled for Saturdays, and the occasional weekday 6-10pm shift, once or twice a fortnight. They could never explain to me why those hours were still possible sometimes, but not regularly anymore. Every time I asked, the deli manager (who wrote the schedules) told me her hands were tied and she had to go by what the head office told her for shift times. I went over her, to upper management, and they all gave me the same spiel: they really wanted to keep me on and would do their best to find more hours for me.
I heard that spiel many times over the last month, but nothing changed. My pay period for last week was for a single four-hour shift. After the weekly union fees were deducted, I received fifteen dollars. FIFTEEN dollars for FOUR hours of busting my arse.
I'm not a princess... I'm also not a slave. That amount of money was just plain offensive, and I felt a strong urge to place my fist through a wall (or the deli manager's face) when I saw that pay slip.
With no guarantees of increased hours, I resigned on Saturday, and finished my final shift last night. I have better ways to spend four-hour chunks of my time, and decided that tutoring - even babysitting - would be preferable. I didn't want to have to quit... but I feel better for it. Much better.
The funny thing is that a day after I resigned, I was offered another job. Things have a way of working out okay, don't they?
Once I'd realised they were in no hurry to give me back my initial shifts, I began looking online to see what other local jobs were out there. As luck would have it, another nearby supermarket had a number of vacancies so I put in a general application, thinking anything there would be better anyway. It's a bit of a groovy store, with an emphasis on local produce and higher-end products - a little like Whole Foods. A bit on the posh side, but so much nicer.
I was called in for an interview shortly before I decided to call it quits where I'd been. They loved me, I loved them, and it looks like I'll be working... in their deli. I had to laugh when I was offered the position. The silver lining is that they pay more by the hour, and are keen to give me more hours than the last place. Also exciting - they have a cleaning crew for the deli so that I can just focus on customer service instead of breaking my back. Most importantly, everybody there seems super happy. It's right by the Faery's school, so I've often popped in to grab last minute things for dinner, or coffee and cake after school. I've always liked the atmosphere there, so I have a feeling I'll be much happier.
Wish me luck.