There comes a time in every person’s life when he realizes that actually, he cannot be whatever he wants to be when he grows up. That some things, either because of personality or intellectual skill or height or predisposition towards motion sickness or lactose-intolerance or fear of bunnies, are simply not realistic or achievable professional goals.
Hooters for example. Husbandio is as unlikely to be hired to wait tables at Hooters as I am to be an astronaut or a Nobel prize-winning chemist. Or a Heisman candidate. Or one of those Geek Squad guys. Or a Hooters waitress.
Sometimes the reality that we cannot be and do anything feels tragic; other times, the various barriers are actually a relief. Would I really want to be a waitress at Hooters? Of course I would! But would I want to be an astronaut, whirling around in space, my face-skin pressed back as we travel at Mach 20, me puking every time there’s any turbulence? Holy schmokes, no way, Josie. Would I want to toodle around helping people with computer issues, 24/7, driving a car that tells the world I am a Geek? Not really. I do that quite fine in my minivan, thank you very much.
So in the end, it’s probably good that I don’t have the brains or the bosoms or the stomach for certain professions.
Recently however, in this, week two of my kids’ holiday break, it occurs to me that having a background as a Customer Service Representative, perhaps even a college degree in Customer Service Representation, would be quite helpful in my parenting.
Yet, just as Hooters or NASA or NFL wouldn’t be good fits for me professionally, I am not exaggerating when I say that I’d likely be sacked within the first ten minutes of my job as a Customer Service Representative.
Especially these days.
As I age, I find I have a harder time keeping my mouth shut, a trait that means instead of remembering to speak in a calm, soothing Customer Service voice, one that makes you, the egregiously wronged, rant-raving customer, feel my sincere sympathy, I’d likely start spouting off about how I don’t have to tolerate such rudeness. That I am a human being after all, one with a decent dose of smarts and pride. And I happen to believe, you angry nutball, that the world would be a nicer place if people (like you) were nicer to strangers (like me).
Then I’d probably start getting all Love Thy Neighborish on you, and if that didn’t work, I’d suggest that perhaps the reason you’re yelling at me about your rice cooker or your Crate and Barrel ramekins or your Pottery Barn Faux-Fur Throw is actually indicative of your dissatisfaction with your profession/marriage/current BMI, and that’s something, perhaps, you might take up with your boss/husbandio/trainer. Better yet, your therapist.
At that point, I’d need to pause for a breath and in doing so, I’d listen either for the sound of being hung up on OR quiet breathing on the other end, and if it was the latter, I’d take it as the green light to get extra un-Customer Servicey.
“You knowwww,” I’d say, as if the thought had just occurred to me at that very moment, “you could just tell me what’s really behind all this anger. I make a pretty good listening ear. But only if that would be helpful to you.”
And because you would, I hope, hear real sincerity coming through the mouthpiece of my headset, you would start telling me about what’s really bothering you. And I’d listen.
You know why? Because strangers, especially the most irritating ones, fascinate me. I like to try to figure them out, to understand why they are what and who they are. And once I can understand why on earth they are so irritating, I tend to like and appreciate them, sometimes quite a lot.
But unfortunately, that’s not what Customer Service Representatives are paid to do.
Thus, I’d be on that phone call, providing free and unlicensed and admittedly off the cuff therapy to a surprisingly lovely person who, as it turns out, has a whole host of issues far larger than her dissatisfaction with her Pottery Barn Faux-Fur Throw. Imagine that!
And that’s when the Director of Customer Service would rush over to my service carrel, yank my phone jack from the wall, and escort me to the door where they send the Representatives who Berate and then Befriend on the company dime.
So no. Me in that role would be a hot mess.
But. Week two of my kids’ holiday break, I have realized that assuming the identity of a Customer Service Representative whilst speaking to my children keeps me from going insane. It also keeps me from yelling at my kiddos, two small non-strangers who might be as interesting and intriguing as strangers if I didn’t spend so much TIME with them.
So I do the voice, this Customer Service Representative voice. An added bonus: when Husbandio is there, going equally crazy with the kids’ whining and their questions and their lamentations about the obvious inequalities in the world, and I do the voice, it makes Husbandio laugh. Which makes me laugh. And I find in most cases, it’s harder to go insane on week two of the kids’ holiday break when I’m laughing with Husbandio.
“Uh oh,” he says, just as the kids are getting really whiny or ungrateful, the opportune time to kick it into high CSR gear. “Kids? Your mother’s just pulled out the The Voice. Heads up.”
This happened just two nights ago in the car on the way home from Bellevue. A 20-minute car ride.
“That’s right, my dear, darling children,” I say in the voice, one that’s really just a suped-up, Joan Holloway-ish rendition of Hal from 2001 A Space Odyssey. Only my voice is 10% less creepy than that of Hal. Maybe 8%.
“I’m using my soothing voice,” I announce. “Which reminds me to be calm. And serene. And grateful that I have two healthy children even though my particular two healthy children have been whining and fighting and poking each other since we got in the car. And if one more person talks about something not being fair or equal, if one more person talks about his or her sibling getting more or being first or playing more Wii, I might just have to incinerate all your toys.”
There’s silence from the back of the minivan. My tone, far more than my words, has gotten their attention as only the voice can.
Of course, they know I am mostly kidding about the toy incineration. Yet still, there’s a tremor in Buddy’s voice. “Like Arnold Schwarzenegger does when his kids leave their toys on the floor?”
“Affirmative, Buddy-Dave,” I croon.
I once mentioned to Buddy and Sweetie (probably in an attempt to prove it can always be worse) that according to Maria Shiver, Arnold requires a tidy home. And, if his kids leave their toys or clothes on the floor, he either tosses them in the trash or BURNS them. I know! It’s delicious and terrible at the same time!
Ever since (and this is a further aside) whenever we’re listening to NPR and there’s a story about Arnold, Buddy and Sweetie shake their sweet little heads wistfully, one of them saying, “That’s the guy who burns his kids’ toys.”
Now, back to the car ride from the other night: “But Mama,” Buddy says, “even my Legos? My Christmas Legos? What about Sweetie’s stuff? If you throw away only my stuff and not her stuff, it won’t be faaaaaaair!”
“Look Buddy-Dave,” I say, my voice as mellow as a stoned jar of warm caramel that’s listening to Miles Davis. “’I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.’”
At that point, I can see Sweetie in the rear view mirror. “Don’t worry, Buddy,” she says, always the one to console and protect her older brother. “If she throws away your Legos, I’ll let you use mine.”
The kids do know I’m kidding. I think they know I’m kidding. But the voice is magical in its power. Or maybe it’s Voice + Arnold that’s the real magic in my briefcase of parenting tactics.
So if you find that in this holiday season, you’re having a bit of trouble appreciating humanity, if you’re a little worn out by crowds and post-holiday blues and the short, dark days, and you happen to happen upon someone who’s a little irritating, might I suggest you create your own Customer Service Representative voice? You don’t even need a background or a degree in Customer Service. Heck, you don’t even need the patient, sympathetic, helpful personality that’s necessary in such an occupation.
Try it, and you’ll see. At the very least it’ll make YOU smile, and as smiling is one of the planet’s most contagious expressions, it just might improve your day. Even the day of another. Best of all, if you’re a parent on week two of your kids’ break, you just might avoid going insane.
Happy New Year, all. Here’s to a merry and peaceful start to 2011. I’d also like to share my huge appreciation to you lovely folks who not only read inside-out underpants but add your clever, witty, charming comments. I am grateful to have you as readers. I really do mean that. Happy 2011!
Finally, Dad: that “I wish I could be a Hooters waitress” thing was just a joke. But I’m sure you knew that.