One of the first jobs I ever had was at a now obscure ice cream store called Carvel. My twin sister, Lys, and I were 15 at the time and diligently trying to save up enough money to buy the “nice” cheerleading jackets with the purple and gold leather sleeves. We managed to buy the plain wool jackets and the rest of our uniforms, but we felt out of place and what a teenager wants most in the world is to stand out in the ways that matter to them like being pretty, desirable, and well-liked. What a teenager doesn’t want is to stand out in any way where they themselves can’t control the narrative.
Being from a poor single mother household wasn’t exactly something we could hide when 99% of our peers had two parents and could more than afford tacky cheerleading jackets. And after the hardship of middle school where we were taunted for not having the right designer labels, Lys and I were even more dedicated to staving off any sideways glances, spiteful jibes, and the not-so-subtle laughter behind our backs.
So, we did what all teenagers do—we got jobs. It was ok at first. Mainly I worked with an older guy named Ravi. He was very patient in showing me how to make all of the items on the menu including this special ice cream whipped cream, which we used to make (the now iconic) cakes like “Cookie Puss” and “Fudgy the Whale. I scrubbed down the counters a lot and made peace with getting blisters on my hands from scooping ice cream for hours at a time. I even managed to quell the terror that crept into my chest every time I saw a roach skitter across the damp floors in the back kitchen. Ah yes, fun times. I also got used to dealing with a harsh manager, named Carol. Lys and I did our best to avoid her if we could. She usually found something wrong with our cake-making performances.
And forget about making change for customers. The register only tallied the total amount due, it didn’t tally how much the customer received back once they handed you cash. Sensitive souls don’t always perform well under pressure and this sensitive soul was no exception. And to add insult to injury, and for reasons unknown to me, we didn’t have a calculator to assist in the change-making-process. Also, in these prehistoric times, credit cards weren’t a thing. Customers brought cash or checks and that was it. I can’t remember if the drawer was ever short because I got the math wrong, but I know I worried it would and Carol would yell at me. In fact, I often saw Carol’s face growing beet red for what seemed like trivial things.
"Who cares if the sponges aren’t perfectly aligned by the sink?," I thought as she chastised Ravi one afternoon. "Ravi had been working at Carvel for years! If he wasn’t living up to her standards what hope did I have?", I mused.
Ravi seemed impervious to Carol’s critiques. He would smile and apologize to her. When she finally left the store, he’d wink at me and go back to looking at his pager. For the record, I thought pagers were so cool back then. It seemed like something someone who had places to be and people to see would have. Of course, I understood the connection to other unsavory activities linked to pagers, but even that seemed exciting and dangerous and well that’s what every 15-year-old girl both covets and fears. In that small ice cream store, I couldn’t have felt more far away from excitement.
Except for one night when I heard our phone ring. It was late. My mother picked up the phone abruptly.
“Hello", she said with irritation.
“No, she’s not available to talk.”
“Who is this?”
“Mhmmm. Yes, Carol. I know who you are. Why are you calling my house at 11:00 at night?”
“Mhmmm. So let me get this straight, one of my girls made some ice cream whip wrong?”
“Well, what do you want them to do about it now?”
“I see. So you thought you’d just ruin all of our nights by telling us this. Let me ask you something, what can my daughters do about this right now at 11’o o'clock at night?” It’s a school night Carol. My children have school tomorrow. Yes, I’ll let them know.
My mother hung up the phone completely incensed.
“Nobody calls my house at 11 at night about some stupid whipped cream. Listen, girls, you're quitting that job. TOMORROW. No one should treat you this way, not at a job, not anywhere.”
I still laugh thinking about that night and especially the next day. I couldn’t believe how firm my mother was about this. She’d always taught us to follow through and to stick to the commitments we made. But somehow the line Carol crossed was completely unforgivable and frankly reprehensible. This gave us courage the next day when we walked into Carvel and put our aprons on the counter. Carol was just about to reprimand us when she saw us carefully handing over our work garb.
“What are you doing? What is this?” her face growing red.
“Ummm. We’re quitting, Carol. Our mom doesn’t want us working here anymore” I answered calmly.
“What? You have to give two weeks notice! This is nuts!”
“I’m sorry, Carol. Our mom wants us to focus on our studies.” I said, grabbing my sister’s hand and walking out of the store and back into the light of the day.
That was the last day of the Carvel job chapter. But the lessons I learned will last a life time.
Years later, my sister and I laughed about it all. At the time, it seemed like the most trivial thing pushed my mother over the proverbial edge. But I came to understand as I matured, that sometimes the principle of something is more important than the thing itself. That day, my mother gave us the gift of saying No. The gift of choice. The power to leave a situation that felt demeaning and wrong. She taught me that sometimes it’s better to walk away than to try to make a wrong situation right.
In this age of The Great Resignation, it can be the most freeing thing in the world to say “Ya, know what? I’m over it. I quit”. I know this feeling all too well. And thanks to life experience, I know the difference between running away and running towards. There’s always a balance between holding on and letting go and allowing ourselves the freedom to explore both without judgement.
I’m grateful for all of the experiences I’ve had where I’ve learned the courage to stay and the courage to leave. Being “over it” has such tremendous power in it. And we can allow this sense of wanting something other than what we have to wash over us and to wake us up into knowing without a doubt that we are co-creators of life. And that the only constant is change. And more importantly, that we have the strength to start over again when we need to.
For those of us wanting to feel more aligned with who we are in our everyday lives, in our livelihoods, and beyond, I’m right here with you. I’ve thrown the apron down on the counter too. I’ve laughed all the way home at my own audacity and at the power I felt to let go of the present and to allow for a new reality to take hold.
Go us! Hurray for freedom :)