During the winter when work grew scarce and the bills kept piling up, the last thing I wanted was for one of my shifts at the restaurant to get cut. With each passing week in January I watched as fewer employees were scheduled to work. When February came, the boss said he was sorry, but one of my shifts was going to be taken by Mr. Hill, a salaried employee. I said it was okay. I understood. I wasn't happy about it. But I understood.
At work, after the extra day off, a terrible attitude crept into my thinking before I'd even had time to unlock the walk-in cooler. The bills at home took on whale-like proportions as I trimmed and split 15 pounds of chicken breasts while thinking about my lost hours. My mood took a turn for the worse when Mr. Hill dropped by to show off the new truck he'd just picked up from the dealer. I maintained a stone-faced silence, stuck my knife in the last breast, and split it with a whack.
The day dragged along, and I began to resent the clock, too. It felt as if I'd been at work for three days before my eight- hour shift was finished. I puzzled over my frustration and anger all the way home.
At the rate I was going, my brow would be permanently furrowed by frown lines before the week was out, I'd lose my job thanks to my crabby attitude, and the bills would never stop.
"What can I do to change this?" I asked myself.
There was a message beside the phone that Robin, my sister, had called. I called her back.
Right away, she sighed and asked if I could hold on for a minute. She was talking to her daughter, Kelsey, in the background.
Kelsey is a beautiful little red-haired child with a remarkable penchant for getting frustrated and throwing tantrums over the little things in life that don't go her way. When Kelsey is upset, she draws her chin down into her chest, lets her hair fall over her eyes, and glares through it at the offending world.
"Kelsey, are you having a bad attitude?" Robin asked with concern.
"Yes!" Kelsey yelled. I could almost see her clenching her hands into little fists.
"Well, you're going to have to run that attitude off, honey, 'cause there's no room for it in your heart's house," Robin told her.
Kelsey grumbled in the background, and then there was the sound of foot stamping before Robin was back on the line.
"What's all that about?" I asked.
Robin started to laugh. She explained that when Kelsey gets frustrated, she can stay mad for an unbelievably long time. So, instead of wasting all that time pouting, Robin has her run laps around "the circular traffic pattern" - kitchen, hall, living room, dining room, and back out into the kitchen. A few minutes later, Robin asked me to hold on again.
"Kelsey, how many laps are you up to?"
"Nine," four-year-old Kelsey panted.
"How do you feel? Really?" Robin prodded.
There was a pause before a contrite- sounding, "I think I need to run some more," crackled through the phone line.
Robin and I continued talking. In the background, Kelsey was shouting numbers each time she completed a lap.
When she'd finished 15 laps, she collapsed at her mother's feet, laughing. "It's gone!" Kelsey hooted.
Robin and I both cheered.
"Wow!" I exclaimed, "That's all it took?"
"It's funny, isn't it? But it always works!"
Robin told me another trick she uses, on herself. She turns in a circle, right where she's standing. If anyone asks, she says her perspective was off; that she just needed to turn it around to get a better view.
She said sometimes her co-workers laugh at her and shake their heads, but it beats getting frustrated over something she can't change.
When I got off the phone I realized that my own attitude had fallen away sometime while Kelsey was doing her laps.
The next day at work when a lingering feeling from the day before threatened, I shook my head and turned in a circle.
"What are you doing, putting on a dance for those dead birds?" the manager asked.
"No," I laughed, "but maybe I should.... Care to join me?"
The manager just shook his head and walked away. It felt good to laugh at work again, and it felt even better when the boss said my schedule should be back to normal in a few weeks.