I’m the oldest of 10 children. I have five brothers and four sisters, and this is only slightly above average size in my family. Children are blessings, bundles of joy that are prayed for, begged for, rejoiced over.
So naturally, there’s a lot of them.
From the time I was 2, I have been an older sister. I’m now almost 20 and I still have tiny people as siblings. The youngest are four now, and even though they are definitively the last biological children my parents will have, there are 16 years between my birthday and theirs.
I have been in charge of small children, in control of their survival and health, for probably more years than I should have been. I have a remarkable ability to track wandering toddlers, and juggling wiggling babies is second nature.
The other second nature I have walked away with- slightly related to the first and unavoidable, in my opinion- is a terrifyingly fierce protective instinct. A friend once labelled it a hero complex.
I love an underdog with every fiber of my being. People who cannot protect themselves instantly earn my protection, and I will fight to the hyperbolic death for their cause.
I don’t qualify myself as a nice person to most people. If you’re going to harass me on the street or waste my time with inanities, I’m not a nice person.
If being nice involves lying about my feelings on a matter, then I’m not a nice person. I will not tolerate your nonsense or laziness, and ignorance or cruelties will gain you my harshest words.
If, however, you need my help? If you’re scared and out of your depth? If you tried your hardest and you’re still watching everything fall through your fingers? Then I am a nice person.
I’m a nice person when you confide in me that you wake up sometimes from night terrors, and you just need to message a friend to remind you what’s real and what isn’t.
I’m a nice person when you can’t remember why you’re crying, or why I say I love you.
There are some new kids at work, and they are so young. I’m not much older than them in numbers, but at this phase in one’s life, the numbers aren’t the point. At nearly 20 and having been independent for over 2 years, I feel ancient when I look at a 16 year-old high school student.
The most obvious divide is that I am a closer, and am at the store for hours past their legal curfew. Legally, we cannot have people under 18 working past midnight, so they leave at 10 and 11 pm, heading off to shower and go to bed before they go back to school the next day.
I started thinking about the main point of this post a couple weeks ago, when somewhat unexpectedly, I was put in charge of training one of the new hires on his very first day, his very first time on headset. He’s 16, with a bowl-cut head of blond hair and bright blue eyes, and a surprising gift with talking to customers.
“You’re going to train him on headset,” my manager told me, and my first thought was Oh, no.
I am not a trainer, nor do I usually see new kids until weeks into their time here, because of the later hours I work. By the time they get to me, they’ve started becoming ingrained with the good habits that will help them survive our harshest trainers and managers. By the time I get to them and their sphere of influence, they’ve developed an immunity to my automatic bad habits.
But this one was brand new.
This was somewhat exciting- I could train him to do his job exactly how I liked people to do that job, and wouldn’t have to spend my time correcting his tasks or chafing while I listened to him.
I don’t have a control issue.
So I began to train him. I knew all the steps somewhere in my mind. I’d watched it be done and remembered from when I learned. I have the menu board memorized, and I’m one of the fastest order-takers at the store. I knew the words to use, what questions to ask, and I knew when to let him struggle to find an item so that he would always remember where it was. All I had to do was do these things in the right order, right?
As he picked up on the dozens of variable steps, I began to say less and less. I could step back or walk across the store, simply listening as he began to speak over the headset for himself. I got lucky- my trainee has a gift with words and people.
But all the same, I had to fight a stupidly large grin off of my face as I stepped behind a wall for a moment of a break. He was doing well! I had done well! Pride welled up inside of me and I wanted to laugh for giddiness.
Even now, some weeks later, after he has memorized the steps and taken hundreds of orders and can now be left to his own devices, I’m still fiercely proud of my student. He still comes to me with some questions, rather than the managers.
I used to be stubborn on the fact that new kids probably didn’t want to talk to me. After all, I’m not a nice person and I don’t make friends.
But my opinion on that has changed for the better. Now, I am greeted by my trainee by name every time I walk in for my shift. We work well together, because he is an echo of me. He listens to me more closely than someone else might.
When I started working here, I was 17. A handful of months away from 18, but enough to keep me from being able to actually close. Since I had graduated and had my parents’ permission, I could work up till the time the store closed, but I was the baby. I was innocent and quiet and timid and oblivious to the social cues that these employees had developed with each other. I desperately wanted to be one of them.
By now, I am one of the core members of that same group. It has changed almost completely, with some of those people having left and some moved to different stores.
But that group still exists and with it, the divide between employees.
Closers are vicious.
It’s a gang for which the initiation lasts for weeks and if it lasts too long, there is no way to come back from that. If you don’t learn quickly enough, you’re spurned and labelled.
Adults can handle this. They’re adaptable and resilient. But children shouldn’t have to.
Be nice, readers. If you see a new kid- whether “kid” means they’re 16 or 26- or a person who is behind you in life stages in any way, fall in next to them and tell them that it’s not as scary as it seems to move forwards.
Do not define people by their age alone, or let that become a negative factor in their existence. People who aren’t even allowed to be out after dark unsupervised don’t need you heckling them about their age.
Do not let their upbringing or gender or inexperience decide who they are. Invalidating someone is a dick move, no matter how you do it.
Do not make the things they don’t know weights hung across their shoulders. They have enough of those.
I still remember the single person who treated me as an equal. The one person who was willing to accept that I was valid, despite knowing nothing, and to teach me how to do my job.
Be that person.