Everything I need to know about parenting I learned as a waitress. Everything? Certainly a lot, let’s think about it. Food is huge in parenting, from the first hour we want to begin breastfeeding, at about 6 months it’s soft foods: which ones first? will they choke? how do I make them like healthy stuff? Then snacks in the stroller, the shopping cart, the car. Which travel cups don’t leak and can be cleaned well but don’t have parts to get lost? Does it have sugar, gluten, fat, dairy? Is it free of artificial colour? Organic? Vegetarian? Will they eat it? If they don't eat, how grumpy is the rest of the day going to be? Food can make or break the day. Luckily I love food, love it. I grow it, farm it, hunt it, shop for it, ferment it, cook, bake, can it. My fridge is quite full of jars of all sorts, and I have seven kinds of vinegar in the pantry. But let me back up.
Many of us worked in the service industry in high school or university, in restaurants, bars, stores, or otherwise. The value of working in customer service is a lifelong gift. Where else do we have such a volume of opportunity to learn by trial and error with the public? I once began a job at a local drugstore on December 18 of my grade 12 year. I already had another job in food service but relished the thought of not smelling like deep fryer at the end of a shift. I thought a real job was one where I didn’t mop the floor at the end of the shift. The bakery-deli was like a second home, and my boss like another mom. She was hard working and expected us to be as well. I always loved working with women as a team, I was proud of the cleanliness of the place and the great food. Anyway, the learning curve of the drugstore job at the Christmas season taught me how to say sorry, a lot. And how to feel embarrassed, like when the teacher I had a crush on came in and I messed up the till. And then I said sorry, again, I’m new. And then another customer came and I had to carry on. Like a new baby, each one is different and we mess up in so many little ways, sorry baby, you’re new, I’m new, lets keep on keeping on.
Through university I worked at a couple different restaurants, some shifts I was a super server and other times I earned the nickname Crash. I spilled a milkshake down a man’s suit jacket once, I used to jump awake often when I suddenly remembered that coffee I never delivered to a table, and I still have a recurring nightmare about my section filling up suddenly and being located a parking lot away from the kitchen and bar. But the time I caught a finger cot under the cheesesteak sandwich before it went to the table, or the lipstick smudge on the cup, I was killing it! What’s a finger cot? It’s a little condom you put on your finger to cover a bandaged cut or burn, to follow food safety guidelines. Can you imagine your supper arriving with that sticking out from under your bun? Oh my, I was laughing in the kitchen because it was so awful. I got to the point that I could meet customers where they were at, like a regular who wants a customized order with substitutions and requests, or the new customer who asks “so what’s good here?”. I brought out labels for the vegetarian to read so she could feel confident about her order, I commiserated with hangry lunch customers, I remembered regulars’ favourite drinks. I also spoke to the dishwasher like a human and got my own mop pail, watched other servers tables if asked, and helped run food. I learned that with a dust pan and a bus tub you can clean up any mess, like a dropped insert of blue cheese dressing or broken full ashtrays. Always at the end of the night, order was restored, dishes done, floors mopped, and tables wiped. Sometimes we had beer while we cashed out and debriefed on the night, especially the busy late ones.
Now when my kids are climbing the counter while I’m cooking, asking about what I’m making and getting snacks out of the fridge instead, or telling me I cut the sandwich wrong, or asking me a zillion questions about everything, it feels so similar. I get hugs and snuggles with books instead of tips. I have four regulars who don’t always want what they had last time. I’ve continued my practice of cleaning up messes I never imagined, from any surface, with a dustpan, which is really just a dainty shovel. Grumpy lunch crowd? Get something on the table quick! I am happy to say I can carry four plates at a time so nobody feels slighted. By the fourth time I was postpartum, I knew to have muffins in the freezer and fruit for snack/breakfast, lunch was leftovers or easy PB or cheese in a wrap for “roll ups”, hearty soups and casseroles were serious nourishment that I could eat one-handed with a large spoon. I still crash on a regular basis, but when I can just get the table and kitchen cleared up and food made, the day is saved!
As a doula in Edmonton and area, I get to bring all this past experience to my work. After my years in the service industry I went on to work in biotechnology, and then while home educating began my doula trainings. I certified as a Lactation Counsellor and as a Childbirth Educator. I love that everything I have done is put to good use in working with pregnant and new families in east central Alberta! I love that I can help expectant families figure out what they might like, because pregnancy and birth can seem like arriving at a new restaurant with no menus. During postpartum it is days and weeks of long shifts with baby, and people continue to need feeding! I have developed a few tips to help you help yourself, and for everyone else in the household! All the best in your pregnancy and parenting journey!
Postpartum Doula tips from a Former Server:
Use the slow times to prep and get ready before the rush, and then take your break. You know it’s coming so create a routine of last things first (whether its cooking for the freezer in late pregnancy or making all the meals for the day during baby's first nap).
Lots of napkins, lots. And baby wipes, paper towels, and washcloths. Receiving blankets can sub for any of these, including as diapers.
Ramekins for condiments, bonus if they are not breakable, to control mess of the whole ketchup or syrup bottle. Will keep you sane if child won’t eat something if the ketchup touches the plum sauce.
Double (or quadruple) everything, one for now the other for the freezer: whole meals or prepped meats/veggies/grains make throwing together meals so much faster.
Cry in the kitchen when you have a really difficult shift.
Servers' aprons rock: pockets for phone, lip balm, keys, you could put a wallet and diaper in there, or for putting the flotsam and jetsam of toddler days in and it doesn’t get in the way of wearing baby!
“Uniforms” for kids and parents: tshirt and jeans, hoodie and leggings (you get the idea) make for easy shopping and getting dressed, yes to 6 black tshirts that don’t show my leaky boobs, and black marker covers the bleach spots!
Shoes on means I’m on duty, if I’m on the couch without shoes it means I'm on break, though likely breastfeeding and reading to the toddler at the same time.
A beer/wine/tea and a hot shower at the end of the day is amazing!
Everybody gets a side duty: daily chores on weekly rotation.
Gross stuff happens, and it CAN be cleaned up probably with a dustpan.
If this meal failed, there’s another one before long!