Nestling into her office at the beginning of the day, Lynne Prentice, twenty-eight year-old Business Manager for Eternal Life Academy, sat down at her computer and dove into her inbox. A total of 38 emails had accumulated since she shut down the night before that needed her attention. After first checking her online datebook to see what meetings she had lined up for the day, she stretched her arms over her head and shook her limbs loose. “Let’s do this,” she said out loud to no one as she opened the first email in her box, read it, and fired off a reply.
Three hours, fifteen phone calls, two cups of steaming hot tea, and more bathroom breaks than she cared to admit later, it was time for the ‘Morning Administration Meeting.’ Morning is a term used loosely in this regard because they always seem to get pushed back until noon or later. However, by some miracle or divine intervention, they were on track to actually start on time, 10:30am. She pulled her shoulder-length, dark brown, box-braids back with a hair-tie she kept around her wrist, shut down her desktop computer, put her desktop phone on do not disturb, grabbed her leather-bound notebook and fountain pen, then headed to the conference room. Nodding at the red-headed Administrative Assistant, Francine Slater, whom she shared with the Head of Discipline, she slipped quietly into the conference room and sat down in an empty seat close to the door. Surveying her co-workers, Lynne assessed that they might get through five of the agenda items before all hell broke loose as per usual. Such was the norm at Abundant Life Academy, a prestigious, private, parochial KG-12th grade school in New Jersey. The campus housed four different grade-level buildings (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and, 9-12th) a pool, a football field, soccer field, baseball field, track, tennis court, a dorm for boarding & international students, and served just under 4,000 students.
“Armand, I’m no longer your assistant. Stop asking me to type things up for you.” Came the annoyed voice of Helen Vogel, the blonde-haired Director of Residential Life. “I haven’t been your executive assistant for two years thank you very much.” She hissed at Armand Mendez, the Vice Principal of the High School.
“I’m sorry, but you write so well. And I have so many to get done between now and December.” He pleaded to her softly, hoping his boyish looks would still work on her despite turning forty-two a month ago.
“Tsk. How the hell you qualified as a vice principal when you constantly outsource all of your work evades me.” She retorted.
Oh this is going to be good, Lynne thought to herself as she adjusted herself on her cushioned chair, nonchalantly craning her ears in their direction. Helen took the empty seat two-down from Lynne, Armand sat on Helen’s other side. They continued bickering over the writing of Armand’s recommendation letters for the current graduating class.
Eventually, Ava Docherty, 36 year-old Head of the Fine Arts Department and Lynne’s work-wife, sat down in the empty seat between Lynne and Helen. Gesturing her eyebrow in the direction of the two to her right, “did I miss anything good,” Ava asked Lynne in a whisper.
“Naww, not yet. He is still asking her to write his recommendation letters.” She muttered low to her so no-one else could hear.
“Nice, maybe they’ll get something good going before this meeting starts. I’m desperate for some actual drama. The students in the Dramatic Arts workshop I just did an observation for leave a lot to be desired.”
Lynne let out a breathy laugh at Ava’s admonition. Their hopes at a mini episode of workplace drama unfolding before them were dashed when Jeffery Strauss, Head Chancellor of the school, walked into the room and all chatter ceased.
He took his place at the front of the room and loaded the agenda upon the projector screen, cuing his secretary to dim the lights. “Let us begin.”
“Well, that could have been an email.” Ava remarked as she and Lynne left the conference room and started in the direction of their offices.
“Agreed. I nodded off there for a while. Can you shoot me your notes when you get a chance in case I missed anything of meager importance?”
“Life saver. You wanna do lunch?”
“Would love to. Can’t. I have a working lunch at Napoli’s with a bunch of the big recurring donors to the Arts Department. I have to go screw my winning smile on and turn up my schmooze factor by 235%. Strauss is expecting me to pull in enough to fund the complete overhaul of the sound system in the auditorium.”
“Oooh. Ouch. I do not envy you my dear.”
“I don’t think anyone does. Well, let me go mentally prepare myself for this grand circus. Ta darling.” Ava called to her as she turned and headed in the opposite direction to her office.
Lynne headed back in the direction of her own office before she felt the urge to pee again. What is up with me? Changing her direction, she ducked into the women’s bathroom for the umpteenth time today. Maybe I have a bladder infection or UTI. Mental note, schedule a check-up with Dr. Kohan some time next week.
When she was finally back at her desk she puttered through her normal check-ins with the other members of the Financial Department before focusing on settling the weekly numbers for accounts receivable. Losing herself in the numbers, she dove into it with a laser-focus. It wasn’t until her cell phone started playing her mother’s ringtone of “Isn’t She Lovely” that she picked her phone up and noticed that two hours had passed. Clicking the accept button, she placed her phone on her shoulder and kept working. “Hey momma. To what do I owe the pleasure of this mid-day phone call?”
“Good afternoon baby girl. Can’t a mother just call to check in with her youngest daughter?”
“Not when the mother in question has a catering business to run. What’s up momma?”
“You make it seem like I don’t just call to check in with you. How are you doing?”
“I’m fine. Work is normal. I’m sitting here trying to make sure that all the numbers balance out so I can run payroll next week.”
“That sounds stressful. I hope you are taking care of yourself. I worry since we don’t get to see you so often.”
Lynne took the phone off her shoulder and switched the speakerphone function on, freeing her to pinch the bridge of her nose in frustration at the mistakes on the spreadsheet in front of her. “Come on momma; that’s not true and you know it. I was just by for dinner with you and daddy on Sunday and it is now Tuesday. I know you love me and all, but there is no way you miss seeing my face so bad that you’d call me when you know I’m at work. You were the one who taught me about being professional and not doing any non-business during my work hours. I love you, but can you please get to the point of this phone call. I just found a substantial mistake that I need to backtrack through the system and need to be able to focus my brain power on this.”
“Oh phooey. I’m calling for a favor sweetcake. Mommy’s in a bit of a pickle. My best waitress just notified me she fractured her ankle and will be out of commission for 6 to 8 weeks according to her doctor. I don’t have time to find and train a new hire by this Saturday and I have that high society wedding which I’m catering for the Henderson family in Cape May and I’m gonna need your help.”
“Can’t you ask David?” Lynne inquired about her little brother, the mixed media artist, who was always temping, not really holding a permanent job.
“Oh honey, I’ve already roped your siblings into this. Flu season has drastically affected my waitstaff numbers this year. Vinny and Kris are going to help out with the bar, Elisa is helping me in the kitchen, that leaves Julissa, David, and you to fill out my waitstaff. This is a huge contract for me. You’re the last one I reached out to, because I know that job has you mentally drained most days. But it’s all hands on deck to get through this.”
Great, the Black Brady Bunch rides again. Lynne let out a silent chuckle at the thought. Her mother had been a Cardiac Recovery Nurse with a passion for cooking that never left her. When Lynne was seven, her mother started taking night cooking classes at the local community college. In their community it was unheard of for a middle-class black woman with six children and a husband in her late thirties to change careers. Eventually, she switched to working only weekend shifts at the hospital while she was enrolled into a cooking school full-time during the week. She was intent on starting her own restaurant. The family was supportive of her goals, but times were occasionally stressful. All the kids pitched in to help keep the household running smoothly. The older children, Vinny (17), Julissa (16), and Elisa (14) each took charge of a younger sibling: Kris(9), Lynne (8), and David (6). Hair was cared for, baths were given, lunches were packed, homework was checked, clothes were pressed and neat, bedtimes were enforced and observed, and the house was kept neat and tidy. They knew how to work together like a well-oiled machine. And when their mother graduated from culinary school and started working full-time in a restaurant as a sous chef, she gradually changed her mind and transformed her plans to a catering business rather than a restaurant. Within five years she had quit her full-time job at the restaurant and gave up her per diem work at the hospital, having saved enough to start her own catering company. Once they were each old enough to work, Lynne and her siblings would travel around on catering jobs with their mother. As they grew, each child discovered their own niche within the catering business from cooking to bartending to waiting. Now, almost fifteen years later, the business had grown substantially. “Sure momma. I’ll be there. Just send me the address and the time.”
“Thanks sweetie! I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”
“You’re welcome momma. Now I love you, but I need to get off the phone now. I’ll see you this weekend. Love you.”
“Love you baby girl.”
Sighing as she tried to turn her attention back to her work, her mind drifted back to her family, specifically her parents. She had never really thought about how they had made it work for so long. They had been married for thirty-nine years, going on forty next summer. Somehow her parents had maintained a loving relationship although they hardly saw each other. Lynne’s father was an investment banker with a firm in the city and worked long hours. Her mother’s catering business had her either at her store-front office or traipsing all over the tri-state area mostly from Wednesday through Sunday making sure things were perfect for different events. Eh, I guess sometimes people just know how to make situations work for them. Taking a swig of her water bottle, she started the arduous task of back-tracking the mistake.
She sent a small prayer up to the gods that she would be able to get through it without uncovering a quagmire of mistakes or taking any more bathroom breaks.