Talk with a difficult manager

I once had a talk with a manager that was very difficult. The talk, and the manager, I mean. Both were difficult. She’d been psychologically abusive the entire time I was there. It wasn’t just me that she was abusive to – she was abusive to everybody. I like to joke that she alternated between being a bully and a tyrant. Upper administration knew about her, or suspected quite a bit, but felt powerless to do anything because of her race. She would have threatened to sue if she had been disciplined or fired. It wasn’t her race that was the issue, but she would have made it one.

I didn’t say anything to her for years. I didn’t say anything in part because I didn’t often have to deal with her directly. There was a manager between her and me, and that manager caught most of it. I also didn’t say much because I grew up in an abusive home, with a pushy and manipulative brother and compliant parents. Being pushed around and not treated well was my normal. It was only in my 40s that I started doing my boundary work.

When the bad manager finally decided to retire, I knew I had to say something. I steeled myself up and prayed quite a bit. I sat, in her cramped office, lights and furniture angled to make everyone visiting in it feel like they were being interrogated (this was intentional on her part). I reminded her of the sentence she’d said at the announcement of her retirement. She’d said that she’d “been hard on us all this time because it was for our own good”. She meant that she was abusive because it would help us, she thought – spur us on to be better employees. She nodded, she remembered saying that. I asked her “Would it have hurt you to say ‘thanks for the good work’ every now and then?”

She didn’t reply. She was stunned. In 12 years she’d never said that, and she knew it. She recovered, and turned it around so that it was all my fault. This is her way. Leopards don’t change their spots, you know.

I didn’t do it for her. I didn’t expect her to change. I did it for me, because I’d changed. I wasn’t seeking revenge, just reconciliation. I had to speak up, even if it was just a little, even if it was at the end of our relationship. Late is better than never. I didn’t want to push her or abuse her – then I would have been the same as her. I just wanted to speak up, to let her know that things weren’t what she thought they were.

I left her office, holding myself together. I went into the bathroom and cried. I cried hard, not caring if anybody heard me, not really. I knew she wouldn’t. She rarely ventured out of her office. I didn’t want to cry in front of her – I didn’t want her to get the satisfaction of pushing another person around.

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Jesus in the stacks

I was in the stacks getting paging slips. I see this guy using his laptop. He has his legs up on a stool. It is against the rules, but I don’t say anything. I’ve just gotten challenged about the rules for what we are going to allow as proof of address for library cards, so I leave it.

This guy calls to me. Sort of. “Becky!” he says. “Becky!” I’m not Becky, I’m Betsy, but he’s close. I have “Elizabeth” on my nametag, so maybe I’ve told him my name and he’s half remembered it. I tell my name to people I like.

The only problem is that I don’t recognize him.

I look, and look, I and I think maybe he’s a regular, but he has cut his hair? Nothing.

So I think about it, and because he sort of knows my name, I come closer. He says “I’ve got something for you.” and he pulls out a box of cookies and starts opening them.

I’ve just finished a piece of banana bread, and I’m trying to not eat a lot of snacks. You don’t keep 50 pounds off by eating snacks. Plus, I don’t know this guy. Sure, the box was sealed, and they aren’t homemade, so I’m not worried about being poisoned. But something doesn’t feel right.

I tell him I can’t, that I’m trying to stay fit, so I can’t eat extra calories. He tells me he just walked several miles. I point out that I haven’t.

I walk away.

And then I think, is this Jesus in disguise? Did I just refuse to share a cookie with Jesus? Is this communion in the library?

And I think of this verse.

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

And I start to wonder. Am I doing the right thing? There are a whole lot of boundary issues with being a follower of Jesus. More on that later. At what point do I protect myself, and at what point do I realize that I’m safe all along?

A pain in the gut.

A regular patron came in recently. Well, by regular I don’t mean he is normal. I mean he has been in often for the past several years. His paranoia has gone to new heights. He makes my former boss’ end of the world preparations look like child’s play.

He has a thirty year supply of seeds. He is raising his own food, and not just vegetables. He is raising sheep and goats and chickens. He even has a beehive.

Or at least I think he has all this. He might just be preparing to be prepared. It is in the works, at least.

He believes that you can’t trust anyone or anything. He believes that the government is out to get us all. He might be right. Who knows?

I’ve noticed that all these preppers don’t seem like happy people. Somehow all of this stocking and storing, this training and testing, doesn’t seem to be making them content. Somehow, instead of getting a sense of calm that they have everything under control and their lives are free from worry about other people and their perceived lack, they seem even more wound up.

I understand some of their desire to fend for themselves and not trust other people. When I was in college, we had to do group assignments. The group had to do the research and work on a project. Rarely did I get to pick the group I was in. I usually ended up doing all the work because I didn’t trust the competency of my fellow students. I didn’t want my grade to be adversely affected by their slack.

So the preppers are doing the same thing, but instead of their grades being affected, it is their lives. They think everything is going to hit the fan and it will be every man for himself.

I can handle only so much of this kind of talk. He has shared some of his theories with me in the past about how things are going to go south and I always feel physically bad afterwards.

I want to be present for people. I also want to be open. I want to study them as well. Sometimes I have to allow myself into situations that are uncomfortable for me in order to personally grow and learn.

But this time was different. Perhaps it was a cumulative effect. Last night’s rambles weren’t especially paranoid, but somehow I was affected adversely.

I started to feel a pain in my stomach shortly after our conversation ended. Now, it might help to know that I have a hernia. I thought it was acting up. I got it when my Mom was dying and I had to lift her from her bed to get her to the bathroom. I remember the feeling of my muscles in my abdomen snapping from the strain. She wasn’t especially heavy her whole life, and she was even less so then because of the chemotherapy, but I wasn’t trained for that kind of lifting.

I’ve strengthened my abdomen quite a bit in the past few years with water aerobics and yoga, but that kind of injury never fully heals. I’ve learned that if I do a forward fold it usually helps.

Not so in this case. I waited a bit, and then went to the bathroom. While sitting there, I thought about this pain. It kind of reminded me of the pain I had when I was in my first year of college. That wasn’t a pain from any physical illness, but it manifested in a physical way. It was a pain from stress, from anxiety, from fear. It was the pain of being too far away from everything I knew and facing a whole lot more of the unknown.

Then, I went to the student health services and they, in their ignorance, gave me an anti nausea pill that knocked me out for half a day.

I didn’t want to be unconscious, but I also didn’t want to be in pain.

So I prayed. What do I do, Lord?

The answer? A hard exhale. Just like in yoga class, the ocean sounding breath. Just like one teacher says “Fog up that invisible mirror in front of your beautiful face.” So I did it. Huhhhh.

And I felt instantly better. I did it a few more times and the pain was all gone.

And now I think I’ll have to tell that patron that I can’t listen to his prepper paranoia any more.

Just like finding out that I am allergic to a certain food and I no longer eat it because it makes me sick, I have to do the same with people and ideas. If they make me sick, don’t let them in my head.

But it is also good to know that the answer to every question is just a question away.

Kindergarten 2-12-14. Boundaries

Today I had a lot of students! M and D, (new students from last week), along with J, S, and V. S once again did not want to work with me. He said that he doesn’t like to read, and since there is almost always reading going on when I tutor, he doesn’t want to. His loss, but other student’s gain. It means more time with the ones who want to work.

We were working with reading easy books, sight words, and numbers today. Each student has a box with books and sight word cards that are at their level. I started with M, in part because he was first on my list but also in part because he was sitting at the edge of the classroom by the door. It seems that he had gotten a little rambunctious during class earlier so he was sent to sit in the doorway to cool down. This is not the first time that I’ve seen him there.

He read two books to me, but then admitted that he had them memorized. He was using the pictures as a clue to what was on the page. This isn’t reading. This is an adaptive technique. This is what you do if you can’t read and you want to make it look like you can. I totally get that. He’s faking it, and doesn’t know he shouldn’t be faking it. The more he relies on being able to memorize, the less he is going to be able to learn new things. When he memorizes he can only do things he has done before.

I got to work with D, the girl from last week who was out. She is a very shy Hispanic girl. She is quite far behind on reading at this point. I suspect I will work with her again.

I worked with J and this time I decided to be firm about actually working. In the past he has occasionally thrown the things we were working with on the floor and shoved them around the table. He is rather wild. I just don’t have time for wild and it isn’t a great behavior to encourage. So the first time he dropped a book on the floor I asked him not to do that. The second time he did was soon afterwards and I said “OK, we’re done” and started scooping up the materials. He got it. He understood I was serious. And he worked and didn’t goof off the rest of our time together.

I’ve not gotten any training on this. I have tutored college students with learning disabilities. Kindergarteners should be easy right? But I don’t have children, and I’ve never spent that much time around them. This experience is certainly on the job training.

Part of what I’m learning is how to tell when the child is legitimately bored or uninterested, and when they are just messing around. Sometimes they just want to play. Sometimes they want to distract me from working with them, which then means they want to play.

I get that. I like to play too. But this is kindergarten, not daycare. It is hard to tell sometimes. There is a bit of dovetailing between the two. The teacher makes work look like play a lot. But I still have to get them to work on the assignment or we are both wasting our time.

It reminds me of when I first started working at the library. I had to set boundaries and limits, otherwise it would all become a big mess right in front of me. When I am at the desk, I do one thing at a time.

I believe that multitasking is just Newspeak for screwing three things up at once. So I had to set limits with the patrons. I had to decide what I would accept and allow and what I wouldn’t. Generally what I won’t allow is someone cutting line unless there is a legitimate emergency. Wanting to have their DVDs checked in right away so they can get more is not an emergency. Also, if I’m getting someone a library card, I have them stay in front of me while they fill it out and I type. This prevents other patrons from interrupting. I think it is best. Otherwise I’ll end up with three patrons who all want cards at once.

I’ve seen how much of a train wreck things become when it isn’t done like this. You can’t please everybody at once, and the only way to do things well is to focus on the person in front of you.

But I don’t really know the rules with five year olds. I’ve tutored for three years and I figure it out a little bit more every week. Perhaps if I tutored every day I’d know how to do it better. But then I realize that each child is different. Each child has her own unique and special way of understanding the world. And while I’m trying to teach her how to read by learning these arbitrary squiggles that we use for letters, she is showing me inside her world.

It is pretty amazing.

I’m grateful for the time I get to work with them, and I’m further reminded that I don’t think I would have the patience to be a teacher or a mom. I can borrow them for few minutes once a week and I’m overwhelmed.

Dude, I’m not kidding about the peppers.

I have a food allergy. I’m not alone. People all over have things that they can’t eat. Sometimes the things they can’t eat are by choice – vegetarian, kosher. Sometimes the things are not by choice – gluten issues, IBS, celiac disease. Restaurants are coming slowly to understand that people aren’t kidding when they ask if something has an offending item in it.

But not always.

I am allergic to peppers. It took me years to figure out what the offending thing was. I’d eat something and get sick. I’d eat something else and be fine. I had to do a little sleuthing to figure out what the constant item was. Once I figured it out, I told my Mom and she said “Oh, your grandmother had the same problem.” She could have saved me a lot of trouble if she’d mentioned that, but that was par for the course.

Perhaps the issue is raw peppers. Raw onions are a problem too. Cooked, not so bad. And perhaps the issue is green peppers, and not red ones. I’m not sure. I’m not really excited about finding out. I don’t get sick to the point of death – it just feels like it. And my tolerance to it gets lower and lower each time.

My husband and I were out at a restaurant once and I’d said I couldn’t have peppers and he overheard the wait staff complaining about it later, that they thought it was a stupid allergy and I was just being picky. He was very very angry. It isn’t something I’ve chosen. I don’t want to have to be sick every time I eat peppers. I’m not excited about the fact that so many restaurants think that putting peppers into everything is the way to make anything have a taste to it. You can’t imagine how hard it is to pick something safe to eat these days.

If you are a server at a restaurant and you don’t understand what it is like to want to die because of something you’ve eaten, you need to stop being a server. If you don’t get that someone is serious about it, be grateful that you don’t have that food issue.

I went to a friend’s house and his Mom made gazpacho. I’d never had it. I didn’t know that it had raw onions and green peppers in it. I was very very sick. I was surprised. I was miserable. I learned the hard way what gazpacho was. Normally I can see the peppers or onions and I can pick them out. I pick out a lot of onions and peppers. I’m just used to it. But I can’t pick them out if they are liquefied.

This isn’t a sickness that causes death (I hope). I feel really ill. Everything gets a little weird. The colors get brighter, sounds get closer, and everything gets really intense. I have to take myself to a quiet area and lay down for about 30 minutes, and then the feeling passes. It is really intense. It is kind of like dropping acid, but without the fun part, and not for 8 hours.

Places think they have to spice everything up to make it tasty. It is like thinking all music has to be at 10 in order to hear it. If you only hear 10 all the time, then you’ll never appreciate 5. Food can be very tasty and not spicy. When restaurants put peppers in everything, then I’m left with nothing to eat.

I can have a little bit, but that little bit is getting smaller every year. I don’t know where the line is. It isn’t so bad that I can’t be exposed to peppers at all. It isn’t like the kitchen has to use separate utensils and cutting boards to make my meal. It isn’t like I can’t be exposed to them – I can have fajitas that have been cooked with peppers. I just pick them out. I can have salsa, but I just look carefully before I eat and don’t get the peppers. It is time consuming. It gets old. But it is what it is.

I won’t die from eating peppers, I think, but it sure doesn’t feel well. It is very painful and scary. Perhaps it isn’t an allergy, but a food intolerance. I say it is an allergy so people will take me seriously, but it doesn’t work.

I’ve learned there are some things that invariably have peppers in them. Anything with black beans. Spinach dip. Some veggie burgers. I’ve learned these things the hard way. Normally I can figure it out, but every now and then there is something that sounds promising but perhaps suspicious. I can ask, the waiter says no, and I wait 20 minutes for my food and it has peppers in it. I can tell. It is like an electric burn on my tongue. Then I dig around and find the peppers. Sometimes I just pick out the peppers. Otherwise I have to wait another 20 minutes for my meal to come, and by then I’m really hungry and miserable and my dinner companion’s food has gotten cold.

We went out to eat this Sunday, and it was 3 in the afternoon. We were tired and hungry. My meal had peppers all in it, after asking. I thought about picking them out, but I didn’t do that this time. I called over the waiter. I pointed out the raw green peppers. By this point I’m tired of it all. Sure, it was late in the day and I was on the weepy side of low blood sugar. But I’m also sick of telling people about a food allergy and being ignored. It isn’t something to screw around with. He apologized and got me the tilapia – something safe (usually). We waited and waited and it came and I was tired of the whole thing by then. My husband didn’t eat his meal. He waited for mine to come. His was cold by then and mine was very bland and boring but it was food. The manager came over and apologized and comped our whole meal. He understood because he too has a food allergy. He said they use peppers in almost everything there. We’ll never go back, which is sad because I’d heard such good things about the place.

Years back I went to a tex-mex place with a boyfriend. It was late in the day and he had to go to work. I’d asked the waitress if one item had peppers and she said no. I told her I was allergic. Turns out the other two items on my plate did have peppers. We didn’t have time to wait for it to be fixed. I just started crying. I was hungry and tired and frustrated. I just want to eat. I don’t understand why a waiter can’t understand that if I say I’m allergic to peppers, that means all peppers, in all dishes. Not just the dish I asked about. If there are peppers in the rest of the thing I ordered, then warn me before the order goes in.

Or better yet- put the ingredients on everything. That would save a lot of problems.