I want all of my children to wait on tables and work retail at some point in their lifetimes. I waited tables in multiple restaurants and worked in department stores through most of college and graduate school. The lessons for them as well as future partners are beautiful.

Waiting tables: I remember many nights of heading to work as a waitress with a weary mind and body from schoolwork, but the bills had to be paid, so I knew I had to perform. I had to find my smile and my manners and bring the energy from somewhere within. Or else. Tips were my tuition. My rent. Gas in the car to get to school and work. I learned a hard lesson during those long nights of really physical work and intense listening to the needs of others. To get where I needed to go, I had to put my “I don’t feel like it” aside and serve. I had to listen to patrons and treat them like their wishes mattered. Sometimes the way they asked wasn’t terribly kind, but kindness always seemed to dissolve the ugly behavior from someone I was trying to serve. The unkind behavior from a client was almost always about not feeling like he or she mattered, not about how the steak was cooked. That’s a solvable problem, especially if the steak is delivered with the message that I want to get it right with you. As partners, we won’t get it right with each other even close to all of the time. Sometimes we will be unnecessarily grouchy and demanding or put the blame in the wrong place, but being able to go back and repair with love, kindness, and apology is critical. My tips more than paid the rent when the compassion and effort were visible. Our partners need customer service, too. Try it.

Work retail: One Christmas holiday during college I worked at a downtown department store. As holiday help, I never knew where I would be placed and had to be flexible as well as learn the new sales area often on the fly! I must have shown some competency in hosiery (that’s the way I like to look at it versus the reality that no one else wanted that job) because I spent many days that vacation selling Hanes Control Top Reinforced Toe Hosiery. One customer stands out in my memory. She was an elderly lady who came to me asking questions that had nothing to do with my hosiery knowledge, and despite my efforts at patience, she became very agitated and almost nonsensical. I was 19 and ill-prepared to know how to calm her down, so I just listened to her talk about her hurt and confusion. She left as quickly as she had appeared. I remember feeling like I had been hit by a tornado and wondered if I had handled the customer (who wasn’t buying anything) the correct way. The next day she came and found me at work. She began to cry and told me that her beloved husband had died in her arms exactly a year before yesterday. She knew that she had been overwhelmed and had taken it out on someone who didn’t understand her pain. She brought a gorgeous piece of fabric as a gift to apologize.

I think of her every year as I wrap the red, green and black tartan around the base of our Christmas tree. Show up. Listen when someone is in pain. We’re not meant to do this life alone. Do you know what your partner’s biggest stressor is right now? Ask. Then ask how you can help. Our job is to take good care of each other.