I hate to fire people.
It was January 2 and Sheila had been my aide since November 29, usually working two hours a day three days a week. It wasn’t exactly a long, deep relationship. In recent weeks I had taken to praying for and about her almost every day. Apparently even God couldn’t fix this girl or our working relationship.
When Sheila was interviewed, she told me she was 22; recently she defended her actions by saying she’s only 21. Whatever, she got pregnant as a teenager. By the time baby Anthony was born she was living with a man who was not the child’s father. Two years down on that relationship they had an argument in a casino parking lot and he moved out.
When she came to work for me, she was working from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. six days a week as a hostess at a restaurant. She also was taking five courses toward a degree in nursing at the local community college. I was impressed by her commitment, energy and willingness to work hard. After her boyfriend moved out, she took on another home aide client for 17 hours. She was a single parent working 59 hours a week. She was just finishing her final exams and going on semester break but she already had registered for courses next semester. I could not see how it would be possible to continue her schedule.
In five weeks of working for me, she was late more often than aides who had worked for me two years. Her reasons for tardiness included: her son was having a bowel movement; she couldn’t find a place to park; her son swallowed a quarter; her mother had a car accident; she had a car accident—all in a month.
On a day when neither she nor I perceived any ice on the streets, she spun out on a 360-degree turn on a city street. She thought perhaps there was a problem with her tires. When asked, she said she hadn’t checked them in six months. And one was bad when she checked then. And no, she hadn’t checked since. And, yes, she was still driving her little boy in the car. And her car’s inspection would expire in a week.
If Sheila was having a good day then things got done in proper order. Problem was, I never knew when Sheila would be having a bad day. After a typical bad day, I would have to go around and pick up after her: refold the blanket, add shower gel to the shopping list, put the lid back on the sugar canister; reassemble the breathing machine correctly, and so forth.
One day we were making barbequed ribs in the crock pot. Because there is no room in my tiny kitchen, we put the crockpot on the stove. I told her to turn it on. A couple minutes later, with acrid smoke rising from the crockpot and electrical sparks flashing, I discovered she had turned on the stove burner instead of the crockpot. She had used the crockpot in my kitchen before, and reported using a crockpot in her own home.
The plastic feet had melted over the burner. The electrical cord had melted. The copper wire was exposed and broken. The kitchen circuits were blown. And Sheila, while looking at the exposed and broken wires, said we should plug it in and try again. That is when I became afraid of her.
Sheila apologized profusely and said she would replace the crockpot, but in a further discussion of her lateness, she wiped away the accidents of herself and her mother as “things just happen,” and that’s when I began to understand that Sheila holds herself completely irresponsible for her actions. In her world, accidents don’t happen because of bald tires and excessive speed: they happen because it is winter. Crockpots don’t burn because she’s done something stupid; things just happen.
Two days ago, she walked into my bedroom when I only had on my underwear and proceeded to talk to me. I waved her out; she withdrew as far as the doorway and continued to talk. I told her to leave. After I was dressed I told her that I knew she’d seen me naked when she gave me showers. I didn’t like it but it was necessary and I accepted it. However, when one person is young, healthy and clothed, and another person is old, sick and naked, it is an unbalanced situation. One person has power and the other is vulnerable. She should respect my privacy.
Oh, Sheila said. Oh.
Later I asked her what she considered her strengths and weaknesses as an aide. She replied that her strength is that she cares. She said she doesn’t think she has any weaknesses but she supposes she must but she doesn’t know what they are.
I could make a few suggestions, but I keep my mouth shut.
She tells me that she has repeatedly asked her restaurant supervisors to promote her, train her for higher work, but they haven’t. Instead, they are hiring from outside. It is then that I find out that the hostess position is the lowest one in the restaurant—busboy would be a step up, and server a step above that.
Sheila is what we used to call a “front desk” person, i.e., a receptionist who looks pretty, smiles nicely, is cheerful and wants to be helpful to strangers. It is work for which she is ideally suited, apparently lacking the capacity to learn, remember, engage in complicated thought or accept responsibility.
Yesterday morning she called to ask for increased hours on Monday or Tuesday. Because she is taking off Wednesday and Saturday.
She says she told me before that she wanted the time off and I wrote it down.
I did not write it down. I have some vague memory of her saying something while she was working in the kitchen and I was busy in the living room. I probably gave her my standard answer: remind me later—“later” being designated either as the end of the shift, or closer to the days she wants off (one aide had a tendency to give me one-month advance notices when I can’t see more than three weeks ahead). Sheila never brought it up again.
Now she is telling me something about leaving Wednesday afternoon for a game and not coming back until Sunday. And she wants to know if she can have extra hours. She is not working her regular hours but she wants extra hours. Yeah, right. I tell her that the other aide, Kim, is working Monday and Tuesday and is not available at the end of the week to trade hours. (To be continued)