Friday, October 25, 2013

The Calling of a Barista

 I must take a moment to deviate from all things stepmom in order to discuss a topic that has irked me so much that blogging about it seems to be my civic duty. Presently, many of us know what's understood on the street: Don't tick someone off who's preparing your food. If a waiter or waitress does their job and does it well, leave a tip (even if they don't do so well still leave a tip; perhaps just reduce the percentage), and do not treat others in ways that you would not want to be treated, relatively speaking.

Okay, we've got the basics covered.

So, here's 5 things to try and avoid when interacting with a barista (and trust me, these things happen quite often).

1. "You can't be tired. You work in a coffeehouse."

Seriously! This is the equivalent of telling a doctor that he or she cannot be sick...just because they're a doctor. Influenza doesn't know that "John Smith, PhD" is a doctor, and the flu will infect all who get in its way. The same can be said for FATIGUE. I am a wife, stepmom, and a writer and oftentimes I am ragged and sleep-deprived when I arrive at work because my life is filled with roles and responsibilities that surpass the bounds of an urn filled with lava-hot-energy-liquid! Lastly, (everyone say it with me) there are times when a person experiences a level of fatigue that no amount of coffee or caffeine can counteract. I NEED A NAP!!!

2. Dearest Patron, please do not "ssshush" me at the drive-thru window because you decided to conduct an important conference call in your car...RIGHT WHEN YOU DECIDED TO GO THROUGH A DRIVE-THRU! Repeat after me: The function of a drive-thru is to enable and promote fast and efficient service wherein my barista MUST clarify my order and relay to me how much I owe so as to complete the supply & demand transaction. The barista is doing his or her job to greet me and "try" to give me the items I ordered. I, on the other hand, am being a complete jerk-face when I "ssshush" them and hold my finger up in their face. I solemnly swear I shall do no such thing from this day forth.

3. "I have a Grande Caramel Latte on the bar!"
    "Oh, is that my drink?"
    "Possibly, what was your order?"
    "I had a Tall Soy Chai Latte over ice."
    "Well, this Hot (not iced) Grande (not tall)
    beverage IS NOT YOURS!!!"

This is the first part of the exchange and there is already a problem. When a barista calls a beverage at the hand-off-plane it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to know what it is that you ordered. (I don't know what you ordered or what it was that Bobbi Sue told you that she wanted when she discovered that you were making a "coffee-run.")

   "Well, where is MY drink? I have been waiting for a minute."


eeeeerrrrwaaaaeeeerrccck, (this is the sound--according to me--for REWIND!) Sir/Ma'am did you not see the long line, so long it's snaking around the entire coffee shop and parking lot before you walked in? And after you walked in you stood in that long, snakey line until you placed your order. And if you can dig deep into your short-term memory, there were about TEN people in line in front of you, which means that when you step to me inquiring about your latte, and the people who ordered in front of you are still waiting on their drink(s), yours isn't done yet.


I know that it's October, and everyone is doing their "get your scare on" thing. The AMC television station is playing a host of Halloween-appropriate fare, and the new season of The Walking Dead just began (I'm excited). I love scary movies, but I do not love ZOMBIE CUSTOMERS!

"Well, when we come into the coffeehouse we're tired. We're there to try and wake up!" I cannot dispute you here, patron. Actually, many baristas acknowledge this aspect of our business. Yet there is a difference between being tired and crowding in with other ZOMBIE CUSTOMERS, as you all close in on the bar area, fail to respond to friendly greetings and inquiries, and bore into my soul with your hollow, blink-less stares. It's scary. It's uncomfortable. Instead of thinking about "Brainzzz" you all are thinking about espresso "Beanzzz," and barista is compelled to stab you through the eye with the steam defense, of course!!!

Take it from me, when you arrive pick up a newspaper and read it. Or talk to some of the other customers you might know. Look at your cellphone. Talk to me for goodness' sake, because Lord knows I'd love to actually talk to you (I am NOT being sarcastic) as opposed to you glaring at me for 5 minutes. Glaring at barista does not make barista move faster. Barista is already moving fast as humanly possible; we're just busy.
Zombie silhouette courtesy of, free Zombie clip art
5. "Uggggh! I cannot believe what YOU just made me do!"

"Ma'am, here's your Tall 180 degree White Mocha...have a niceeeee, ummm, ohhh...are you okay?" As the lady is pulling the drink into her car (in the drive-thru), she manages to smash the cup against the side of her car. (This happens because she is trying to finish a text message while simultaneously trying to secure her beverage). Liquid explodes from the cup turning hot, frothy milk into a geyser of steamy shame. Then she glares at me with the quintessential, "Look at what YOU made me do!" face.


I'm sorry. Reader, I am being insensitive. I should feel bad for this lady; her coffee drink was really hot.

Ummm, NO.

If customer is so preoccupied with his/her phone, gadget, device, conference call or--heck--is that deficient in hand-eye coordination that the retrieval of product from the drive-thru window is an impossibility, then don't come through the drive-thru!

Congratulations! You have just completed the, "How to become a better Customer (and better participant in society)" training series.
Thoughts, comments, or questions--please respond to this post if even one small talking point resonated with you.
Press On, all my customer service workers, Press ON!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cheers to the "Wicked?"

Well, I had my first official professional-writing-endeavor-rejection. In short, I sense I am being told I am too provocative or confrontational. The business-side of me can certainly understand how various websites and publications must safe guard against what might be deemed defamatory and/or liability-inducing content. Yet, the academic, scholarly side of me sets its feet, throws its head back, and sends forth a “Rebel Yell” (thank you, Billy Idol). So, the content I originally crafted will probably never see the light of—publication—day, but I will certainly share my unabridged thoughts in the blog-o-sphere!

Recently, I stumbled upon a couple of articles that made me angry, and for those who know me, this is a big deal. I am not easily angered or disturbed. Let it be known, when I say “articles,” I am not talking about writing found on someone’s personal website. I am referring to articles published in high-volume print and online magazines, promoted and stamped with celebrity names and statuses. Let’s just say these articles are in the mainstream not the periphery.

Fuel for the rage tank…

“Something’s got to give, and neatness should be it. If the situation is desperate and the kids are growing subspecies in their space, get Dad to go in there and organize a cleanup. Life is messy, and it’s even messier when you choose a man with children. But remember: it’s better to have a man with kids than one without kids who flosses his cat’s teeth.”

“You’re better off being wicked.”

These are direct quotes taken from Rosemary Rogers’ article 12 Things a Stepmother Should Never Say, featured in the May 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

Like The Matrix, I cannot tell you what the article is; YOU must read it for yourself. Formulate your own opinions then grace me with your thoughts. In the meantime, read on to see why I am so outraged.

An Excerpt from my formalized retort:

Rogers’ eight admonition glosses over the real, on-the-ground, experience of the stepmom role in the blended family. For example, prior to marrying me, my husband and his mom instructed his kids to see me as a figure of authority and trust. Therefore, it is necessarily part of my role and responsibility to care for, interact with, and discipline—as necessary—the kids as set forth by me and my husband. I relay important information about the kids and my interaction with them to my husband. There are several issues involving the kids, accountability, and discipline of which he takes the lead, because particular instances call for his direct involvement. Yet, overall, as adult friend, guardian, and parental-figure (whichever term “we” land upon to denote the role of stepmom) the implementation of accountability, discipline, and respect are enacted. Moreover, it does not mean that I or the kids think of me (myself) as their Mom simply because I hold them accountable in ways that are healthy for children, and this includes picking up after themselves in appropriate ways. Heck, even some babysitters ask kids to pick up after themselves! Think about it.

 There are several existing and emerging blogs and websites that propose helpful suggestions for the healthy formation of blended families. I am not suggesting that all articles, writings, and postings on stepmom and blended family have to deal only in positives. In other words—when taken on a case-by-case basis—there are likely to be drama-ridden, if not harmful, actions taken on behalf of SOME stepparents (stepmoms) that sow to the detriment of healthy blended families. Commentaries made in response to SPECIFIC “bad” behaviors and habits are necessarily important to stepmom conversations. However, a problem exists in the fact that retorts addressed to SPECIFIC situations, dynamics, interactions, and behaviors have been taken up as POPULAR, MAINSTREAM, GENERALIZED discourse lumping stepmom into a perpetual valence of reproach, repulsion, revile.

Stepmom articles do not anger me because they offer admonishments—NUMEROUS PARENTING ARTICLES ARE FRAMED AROUND ADMONISHMENTS. Anger arises because such articles are sardonic and antagonistic while being reductionist. There are huge differences between offering advice and broaching a topic with generalized disdain and sarcasm.

I cannot emphasize enough my overall argument that the social and cultural landscape is overwrought with STEPMOM TALK that is lacking the nuance of which discussions of stepmom require. These articles hint at the complexity that is stepmom and the stepmom/stepchild relationship then completely abandon complexity and nuance at the cost of relegating stepmom to the bowels of confining, ill-addressed boundaries and role-specific ambiguities, which are never teased out.

Stepmom is a role that is and will be donned by numerous women: all sorts of women with varying idiosyncrasies and foibles of character. Every family unit is different, particularly in contemporary society where the face of family changes daily. One thing that one woman in the role of stepmom does may look very different from what I  say or do, which may also differ from what the woman living next door to me says and does. Reader, are you with me?

Women and behaviors exuded while operating in the role of stepmom are VARIABLE, while the ambiguity, obscurity, and complexity of the role itself remains the same for every woman—the obscurity of stepmom, as role and identity, is CONSTANT. 

If we accept all of what I just posited as a new frame or lens by which to discuss stepmom then we avail ourselves the opportunity to work within various concepts, conceptions, and ideologies and find areas of resistance, enlightenment, awareness, and reform. Whoever wrote the article around which I framed my retort will not subject me to contrived absolutes. (Obviously, I am aware of who wrote the article—insofar as I know her name, but my writing is not about the author(s). My writing is about the discourse purported into the social scene.) 

The title of Rogers’ article so perfectly illustrates what my blog is building upon: the “lack” (or blocking?), so to speak, of language which keeps stepmom outside certain forms of recognition, ownership, possession, agency. Think about the weight and all the implications of churning out an article that lists things a stepmom should NEVER SAY, when we are so behind in our discussion of what it truly is to embody such a role! Furthermore, the discussion of language is merely entryway into a bounded-ness that goes beyond language. Stepmom is the embodiment of ambiguity, interim, oddity, and—as I hope my book will support—is itself (the role) indefinable.  

                                             (A new frame or frames...)

Stepmom has been lost for too long. Actually, stepmom has never been FOUND. I am not trying to tell stepmom who she is supposed to be. I am only digging to excavate a site for stepmom to be…to glean sight into how the role oscillates, and the effect/affect such a state has on human beings.

We have arrived somewhere. I do hope YOU, reader, will walk across the threshold with me. Stay tuned for my next post, which will outline the differences between “Assimilating” and “Blending.”

Humbly Pressing On...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Who is the "Step-Mom?" (Part 2)

Woe to him who thinks to find a governess for his children by giving them a stepmother! He only brings into his house the cause of their ruin. There never yet was a stepmother who looked kindly on the children of another; or if by chance such a one were ever found, she would be regarded as a miracle, and be called a white crow. But beside all those of whom you may have heard, I will now tell you of another, to be added to the list of heartless stepmothers, whom you will consider well deserving the punishment she purchased for herself with ready money.

Giambattista Basile, Nennillo and Nennella



When the stepmother found that she could not do anything through her husband, she made up her mind that she herself would get rid of them. So one morning, when her husband had gone away, she took the little boy, and without saying anything to anybody, she killed him and gave him to his sister to cut him up, and prepare a meal for all of them.

The Story of the Little Boy and the Wicked Step-Mother



If you think the content of these excerpts, these children’s stories, are morbid then you are NOT alone. At the onset of this project I was certain that the “Wicked/Evil Stepmother” paradigm had roots, but my research has yielded stunning results.


(My inquiry into the “step”-mom has awakened in me the desire to research the emergence and re-telling of folktales. What did or does the content of such tales say about the social and cultural climate of the societies into which they were initially produced and purported?)

Today I polled approximately twenty people. I did not sit down with these people and conduct in-depth interviews, which I may do at a later date. For now, I am only interested in knee-jerk reactions or quick, off-the-top-of-your-head answers. I asked each person what comes to mind when they hear the term stepmom. Per usual, there were a few outliers or people whose answer(s) fell outside what was said by the majority: there was a majority. Two people told me that they think about the 1998 film Stepmom, starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon. One person told me that they think of two Christmases (more gifts)—this made me laugh lightheartedly—and someone to talk to when mom is not available. Practically, everyone else said they think of Cinderella, chores, and EVIL when they hear stepmom. Obviously, I did not conduct a vast survey, but the results are important and meaningful. Notably, several people had much more to say—most of which deviated from the Cinderella route—when they took more time to really think about stepmom. I will speak with these people and write about their musings in future posts.

Etymological Findings…
 “Etymology” refers to the origin and development of a word. For example, the etymology of the term “Etymology”—pertaining to the prefix, etymo—is cited as a noun ethymologye, circa 1398, borrowed from Old French ethimologie, learned borrowing from Latin etymologia, from Greek etymologia, from etymon true sense of a word based on its origin (neuter of etymos true, related to eteos true (Robert K. Barnhart, The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, 1995).
Did I lose you?
If you are asking yourself, “What am I reading?” or “Why am I reading this,” then we are on track.
Think of it this way: If writing, reading, theory, and research are like building a house, then a good, solid foundation must be established before the rest of the structure can come together…I (we, because the reader, YOU, is a part of this) am building…
What all of this mind-boggling language is saying simply: is that the word, “Etymology,” that human beings take up and use today, is steeped in a vast history of ancient origins, having been taken up and re-taken up—building upon the French word to the Latin word to the Greek word—offering a term that has come to denote the study of words and their origins, their development. In other words, WORDS have tales to tell for themselves! (My geeky interest is delighted!)
Barnhart’s Etymological dictionary cites step as “a combining form meaning related by remarriage of a parent rather than by blood, as in stepfather, stepsister. The original sense is indicated in Old English steopcild stepchild, for “orphan,” and by the cognates, Old English astiepan, bestipan to bereave…Etymologically, stepfather or stepmother (before 800) means “one who becomes a father (or mother) to an orphan…” (759).
I challenge the old adage, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, because words as performatives (which I will discuss in my next post), words as strategized language (a fancy way of referring to how words and their meanings are taken up…), and the fact that human beings are social creatures who live in and through communication—words, speech, even body language—necessitates a respect, so to speak, for words. So many people are quick to say, “Oh, well, it’s just a word…can’t hurt anyone,” but is this entirely accurate? I would be willing to agree that a word in and of itself is in essence benign. Yet, rooted in vast matrices of meaning and usage, I argue that the old adage is a farce, and perhaps impossibility.
Many thanks to my Starbucks colleagues, customers, and friends (outside of work, as well) for their willingness to participate in and contribute to my poll about stepmom.
Humbly Pressing On...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Unsung "Stepmom" Profiles: Week 1

“Ten years after they were married, when Bunyan was thirty, his wife died, leaving him with four children under ten, one of them blind. A year later, in 1659, he married Elizabeth, who was a remarkable woman. The year after their marriage, Bunyan was arrested and put in prison. She was pregnant with their firstborn and miscarried in the crisis. Then she cared for the four children as stepmother for twelve years alone and bore Bunyan two more children, Sarah and Joseph.”
John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd (Illinois: Crossway Books, 2001), 54.

“He was himself [Bunyan, my emphasis] singularly fortunate in the two companions of his home life and pilgrimage. Mr. Lynch acutely suggested that in Christiana, with her vigorous strength of character, Bunyan was idealizing his second wife Elizabeth, who in the Swan Chamber so nobly confronted judges and magistrates in his behalf; while in the gentler character of Mercy we have his heart-reminiscence of her who had been the wife of his youth in his far-off Elstow days.”
John Brown, John Bunyan, His Life, Times and Work (London: J.S. Virtue and Co., Limited, 1886), 276.
John Bunyan, was a 17th century Christian leader and writer. Per scholars of the life and times of John Bunyan, his most notable works—still widely applauded and heralded today—are The Pilgrim’s Progress (scholars are still in debate about when this work was actually produced and published. Yet, most cite the work as being produced within 1660-1675) and his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). John Piper, one of my favorite writers and theologians, chronicles the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of Bunyan’s life in his book, The Hidden Smile of God.
I have read Piper’s book several times—probably twenty times—because I tend to identify with Derrida more so than with Descartes in that “I mourn, therefore I am.” John Bunyan’s life fits well within the frame of Piper’s project—and assuages my need to read about, if not speak with, others who have crawled through trials equipped with hope that there is indeed “fruit” from affliction—because The Hidden Smile of God is all about looking at and learning from the hardships and humble fortitude of various Christian leaders and thinkers.
Please visit: Locate Kent Brintnall and/or Joseph Winters (two prolific thinkers within the academic study of religion), and click on the link for the "Mourning, Trauma, and the Religious Imaginary" syllabus. This will not only provide you, reader, with a direct source for truly "seeing" some of what I was trained in as a Religious Studies student, but will also lend a great reference to Derrida and mourning, in general.


Specifically in Bunyan’s case, he was imprisoned for approximately twelve years during a time rampantly overrun by religious and political strife and conflict between Parliament and monarchy (please see Piper, 46). I write all of this and mention all of these details about the influence of Bunyan’s life, and my repeated readings over aspects of his life, to emphasize the fact that in all of my reading about Bunyan never once did I truly take notice of his SECOND WIFE, Elizabeth Bunyan.
Not taking notice of Elizabeth Bunyan—in most circles—is not an egregious error; however, in light of my fascination with and commitment to the production of new ways to “frame” and discuss the stepmom, I am most intrigued by placing her at the forefront of what I will continue to call: “Unsung Stepmom Profiles.”

(Let us take a moment for a brief disclaimer, for I shall dedicate an entire post to the aspects of my blog that SHOULD be challenged and pressed. As a writer, I am often the first person to acknowledge the fact that, sometimes, in order to make a sound argument other questions, answers, persons, and concepts become suspended or eclipsed. In other words, in much the same way that deep cleaning one section of a messy room often results in numerous other messes that must then be accounted for and cleaned up, I am simply highlighting Elizabeth Bunyan insofar as to create one clean area in my focus on the stepmom, but I will stay committed to thoughtfully addressing stepdads and even biological moms at a later date. Therefore, if you are not a stepmom—and I suspect that many of my current readers are indeed NOT—then I implore you to stick with me, think with me, challenge me, applaud me, if you feel so inclined, and be prepared to literally ARRIVE “somewhere” with me and many others upon reaching a denouement in this project.)
And herein lies my BOLD rhetorical move, I argue that Elizabeth Bunyan—herself, aside from her husband—can, and should be, the center of books, biography, sermons, discussions, and studies. I am not implying that Elizabeth Bunyan is not mentioned within books. Indeed, she is (most notably within John Brown’s book about John Bunyan), but my research—which I cannot say is exhaustive—has yet to encounter Elizabeth Bunyan as “subject” outside the bounds of being discussed alongside her “famed” husband.

Simply reading one paragraph about Elizabeth Bunyan leads me to think that she was not only John Bunyan’s second wife; yet, she was a brave, bold, dauntless stepmom and caregiver, who probably experienced trials and tribulations in her step-parenthood of which I have no parallel or experience. Perhaps, I should write a book about her? Of course, I have no way of knowing about or commenting on her character, per se, without extensive research, but as for now this has been “Unsung Stepmom Profile: Elizabeth Bunyan.” She cared for four children of whom she did not birth, one of whom was blind, while valiantly petitioning for her husband to be released from prison. Wow. I am humbled, Elizabeth Bunyan.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Who is the "Step-Mom?" (Part 1)

   "I'll tell you what, husband," answered the woman, "early tomorrow morning we will take the children out into the forest to where it is thickest. There we will light a fire for them, and give each of them one more piece of bread, and then we will go to our work and leave them alone. They will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of them."
 (Hansel and Gretel, Brothers Grimm)
 "Once upon a time there was a gentleman who married for his second wife the proudest and most haughty woman that ever was seen. She had two daughters, who possessed their mother's temper and resembled her in everything. The gentleman had also a young daughter, of rare goodness and sweetness of temper, which she took from her mother, who was the best creature in the world."
(Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper, Charles Perrault) 
In Hansel and Gretel—what is arguably the darkest children’s tale— a struggling woodcutter lives with his wife (second wife or "step-mom") and his two children, Hansel and Gretel. Struck by famine and economic hardship and forced to ration a meager supply of food that is barely enough to feed two, the man's wife suggests--and eventually persuades and forces the man--that the children be taken to the deepest part of the woods and left to fend for themselves, thereby affording the man and the woman a chance to live with the resources and rations they have in tow.

Cinderella, is a fairytale that has been told and re-told time and time again.  A man—with one daughter—remarries and takes for his second wife a deplorable, wretched woman, who has two ill-tempered daughters of her own. The man’s daughter is forced, by the hand of the stepmother and her daughters, to complete cruel housework, not short of treating her as an indentured slave. The girl becomes known as Cinderella, because she often sits among the cinders and ashes of the chimney after she completes her chores.

I have skipped over a host of plot details from both stories (hence, I have included links to the folktales for a more in-depth reference) for the mere fact that it is only the words and actions of the step-mom-figures that are integral to my particular project. (For now, I will table the fact that the men in both stories seem to allow their wives to enact such cruel fates upon their children, while sitting oblivious or idly by.) Ultimately, what is important to note is that the step-mom is the one who adamantly wants the children gone. The step-mom shows no love, affection, attachment, or remorse for her cruel actions, towards the children.
.       .       .
I am positing various texts, mainly excerpts from children’s tales and folktales, as a site for examining and teasing out the ways in which we, human beings, talk about the stepmom. I argue that ways in which we talk about persons, places, things, ideas, concepts, etc. indeed shape and frame the way in which human beings conceptualize particular persons, places, things, ideas, and concepts (on the ground, in practice, in the day-to-day). In other words, I aim to incite a discussion about the ways in which certain words, texts, and discourses have been taken up regarding and/or resulting in the evil step-mom-paradigm.
Think about a frame, a literal frame. Most people think of a frame in terms of mounting and showcasing something: a photograph, artwork…frames in film. I frame something that I want to see or to show or both. On the other hand, think about how a frame showcases, how it works: a frame encases, encloses, differentiates, sets off, and sometimes cuts off.
Currently there exists actual living, breathing women—who happen to care for children, via marriage, of whom they did not birth—who are pushed outside of certain forms of recognition and acknowledgment in the way of “parenting”(I will delve into what I mean by “forms of recognition and acknowledgement” in my next post). These suggestions may seem silly and/or extremist to some; however, let us examine how language is in essence strategized within vast webs of interactions and thoughts used to rationalize the casting of “step-mom” as outsider, cruel, evil, stern, haughty, selfish, vain, and ultimately abusive (I can personally attest to the fact that I as “parent-to-my-husband’s-kids” oftentimes “feel” like an outsider. Yet this particular aspect of the “step-mom” experience is vastly rooted in various psychological and emotional inter-workings of which I will discuss later).
Sometimes it is only questions, dissections, and polemical approaches that can result in births, advents, reforms, and multivalent nuances, which are—oftentimes—not encased, enclosed, or perpetually cut off.
Remember, I greatly desire to not only engage but to be engaged in conversation with others. Secondly, if you read this I hope it is a catalyst for thought, theorizing, and writing. This aspiring sage simply aims to produce.
Humbly Pressing On...