Starbucks job doesn't sound like a bad idea

March 12, 2002|By Susan Reimer

ACTRESS JODIE Foster confessed in a recent issue of USA Weekend magazine that she has a secret wish to give up the movies and work at a Starbucks coffee shop.

She told writer Jeffrey Zaslow that she visits the Starbucks near her Los Angeles home almost every day, and she covets the jobs of the people behind the counter.

"Part of me longs to do a job where there's not a gray area. There's either enough foam [on the cappuccino] or there isn't. ... It's a reaction to what I do for a living, which is gray and amorphous."

The best part, she says, would be coming home at night knowing she wasn't responsible for what will happen the next day.

I know just how Jodie Foster feels.

Those of us in the first wave of working mothers have been pursuing what passes for a career since our children were infants, and those of us who went back to work when the kids were a little older have been working for perhaps 10 or 15 years.

We are 50-something, and we are exhausted - worn out by the compound demands of home and office.

Our kids are teen-agers and, like Jodie Foster, we want a job we can forget about at the end of the workday, because we know what is waiting for us at home.

Even on the best of days, raising teen-agers is that gray and amorphous area the actress finds so frustrating. Like her, we'd like to come home and read a book.

Because there is no escaping the job of motherhood for the immediate future (and those above me in the parenting food chain say young adulthood is no bargain, either), my friends and I often speculate how we would change the other side of the home/work equation to take the pressure off.

And I have to say, I'd love to work at a Starbucks.

Like Jodie Foster, I go to the one near my home almost every day, and I watch those young people behind the coffee bar perform with skill under the pressure of long lines. But I also see them walk out the door at the end of their shifts, their aprons hanging carelessly from their hands. You don't take a briefcase full of work home from a Starbucks, unless you run the place.

Recently, I had lunch with a woman who runs a sophisticated electronic library. When an aspirant asked her what library job she would do if she could do any of them, she said without hesitation that she would work in a community library answering simple queries and helping people find a good book to read.

That's when it occurred to me that this downsizing fantasy must be epidemic among women my age who have been burning the candle at both ends since the kids were babies and find that they don't have much candle left.

We thought, at least I thought, that as the nest emptied I would find the time, energy and focus to kick-start my work life - either by doing the job I do with renewed vigor or by reinventing myself in a new profession.

Instead, I daydream about working in a bookstore, a coffee shop or a garden center.

Certainly men have these kinds of daydreams, too. I think my husband would like to quit his globe-trotting newspaper job and coach a JV girls basketball team. But it may be that men are too bound by the golden handcuffs of a substantial income and the ancient expectation that they provide for the family to entertain these fantasies for long.

It was one of the founding principles of the women's movement that our gender was a great, untapped economic and intellectual resource, and I think we have proven the point.

But the expectation - at least on the part of women - was that men would join us in the yoke at home so we could succeed at work. By and large, that has not happened. Maybe men haven't stepped up and maybe women won't delegate, but it is true that working mothers have two jobs while working fathers have, perhaps, 1 1/2 .

If you need to substantiate this claim, simply notice to whom all the questions are directed in your house: "Where is ... ?" "What time is ... ?" and "Can you ... ?" If the only calls he gets are from his office or telemarketers, you know she is in charge of the household.

If a woman hasn't been fired for incompetence and her children aren't pregnant or in jail, she can consider herself a successful working mother by some standard.

But she also may be worn out, burned out and used up by the dueling sets of responsibilities she has been maintaining for most, or all, of her children's lives.

So, gentlemen: If your corporate attorney wife, or your schoolteacher wife, or your pediatrician wife, or your union organizer wife, or your columnist wife or your Academy Award-winning wife is spending a lot of time at Starbucks, it might not be because she likes only the coffee.

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