What A Janitor Can Teach Us About Knowing Our Worth

self-worth

During a visit to NASA space station in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He walked over to the man and said,

Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?

The janitors response?

I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President.

What a great story!

That man saw himself, not just as a janitor, but as a member of the NASA team and he was right, he was helping to put a man on the moon.

I have been a caretaker and I understood my worth too.

There are many jobs in this life that people consider themselves to be above doing so they belittle the people who do them without giving thought to the fact that they are backbone of society.

I once went for a cleaning job at a well known department store. I turned up early in the morning – dressed smartly – and was shown around by a supervisor. During my interview, one of the cleaners came out of the toilets and the supervisor belittled this lady despite me standing there listening to every word. When I was offered the job at the end of the interview, I declined it and the main reason was the lack of respect shown to the cleaner.

Working as a caretaker in a nursery school, I understood that I was helping to make a safe and comfortable environment for children to learn in. Children can’t concentrate if they are too hot or too cold can they? I made sure that doors opened properly and bike wheels ran smoothly. If it could be mended, I’d mend it. If it was broken beyond repair, I disposed of it.

I looked after the building when it was empty during the holidays and was there to oversee any work that was done. I never saw myself as a just a caretaker. It was never just a job. I saw myself as a guardian of a wonderful old building that had been around since before World War Two. It wasn’t the best paid job in the world but it paid the mortgage and put food on the table and it made me happy to be there. To the children, I was Mrs W (or Mrs Woman as one little boy called me) to the teaching staff, I was an equal.

After the school closed due to council cuts, I took another job this time as a cleaner in a local warehouse. When I gave my notice in a year later, my supervisor said I was one of the best cleaners she’d ever employed and was sorry to see me go. She tried to convince me to stay by offering me more hours but I needed to make more money than she could offer as my personal situation had changed so the decision was made for me.

There had never been one word of complaint about my work and the company for who I’d cleaned for offered me a full time job working for them based on my work ethic.

Some cleaners turn up to do the bare minimum, it has to be said. It’s simply a job – a means to an end – but that’s not how I work. I often went beyond what was expected of me, especially in the kitchen where it wasn’t part of my job to clean the microwave or fridge. If I had time, I did it. I polished the desks in the offices upstairs taking care not to break photo-frames of treasured family photographs. I emptied the bins, hoovered, cleaned the windows and washed up the odd dirty cup that I found. I didn’t have to wash pots but I don’t like starting a new day by washing yesterdays dishes and I liked to think that the office staff appreciated not having to.

It was rare for managers to be working when I was but some would make me a coffee if they were working late. I’d also get the odd cake as a treat and at Christmas I received a bottle of wine and some chocolates along with the entire warehouse staff. It made me feel like I was one of the team instead of what I was – which was technically a contract cleaner.

If I mopped a floor and somebody walked on it, they were apologetic. I once saw a comment left by the previous cleaner which said how annoyed she was that people were walking all over her clean floor! What did she expect, for them to levitate their way into the warehouse?

There were some interesting moments which prompted this post but in the main, I was treated respectfully and enjoyed working there despite the ‘icky’ nature of part of my job, as in, cleaning the men’s bogs which usually required numerous blasts from an air freshener for me to be able to get through the door without passing out!

As a cleaner I was helping to keep a warehouse and offices running smoothly by ensuring everything was clean and tidy. Despite having the social skills of a wheelie bin, I did it all with a smile and – more importantly – I enjoyed the job.

Having done work like this makes me appreciative of all people who do these kind of jobs, even the binmen who piss me off by missing out my bin! Where would we be if we didn’t have a bin collection? Filthy, rat infested streets, that’s where!

When you wake up tomorrow morning, spare a thought to all the people who’s day starts long before yours. Think about the street cleaners who’ve been clearing away last night’s rubbish and vomit strewn streets so that you don’t have to see it.

Think about the cleaners who work hard to make shopping center floors shine and windows gleam. You may see them pushing cleaning trolleys about throughout the day so how about giving them an appreciative smile instead of walking straight past them?

How about the people who keep the hospitals clean? I’d say that was one of the most important jobs in there! The prevention of infection starts with them. A clean hospital means fewer infections and,as we know, infections can kill. Such is the importance of their job and in my experience the bedside manner of your average cleaner wipes the floor with that of many doctors and nurses. See what I did there?

Things run smoothly because there are people behind the scenes who make it possible. They do the jobs that you could never imagine yourself doing but they are necessary jobs. People might not be on great pay or have their own parking space but their worth is invaluable. If nobody did these jobs, our society would be very different.

Somebody told me once that I was ‘just a cleaner’ and my worth was based on what I earned. I saw myself as keeping a roof over my family’s heads which I’d say is pretty important!

The NASA janitor saw himself as being part of something much bigger and that’s how it should be from the cleaner to the MD because we are all part of something much bigger than ourselves.

“As long as you look for someone else to validate who you are by seeking their approval, you are setting yourself up for disaster. You have to be whole and complete in yourself. No one can give you that. You have to know who you are – what others say is irrelevant.” ~ Nic Sheff

A Bit Of Everything

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Autumn Serenade

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A while ago, I posted about my time as a school caretaker.

One of the things I loved about the job was that I got to work outdoors. I was relatively young then instead of the arthritic hop-a-long I am now who seizes up at the slightest hint of damp or cold.

The early morning starts gave me the opportunity to see nature at it’s most serene, like on a snowy day when the snow was crisp and untouched except for the boots of the paper-boy (and the odd patch of dog piss). The yellow patches reminded me of Slush Puppies and that’s probably why I’ve never been a fan. *boaks*

The school had an enormous cherry blossom tree in it’s grounds. In bloom it was a sight to behold. The children used to stand under the falling blossom and pretend it was snow. Cute, eh?

The blossom would give way to summer leaves which would provide much needed shade for the children, not to mention menopausal teaching staff who were constantly hot-flushing.

Summer would give way to autumn and this magnificent old tree would put on it’s final show of the year by turning it’s leaves red, yellow, orange and ,occasionally, deep crimson – my favourite shade of red.

All too soon the leaves began to fall and they’d glide gracefully down to the floor. Sometimes I’d watch this performance while I had my tea before the staff started to arrive. It was like meditation, courtesy of nature.

Some of those leaves would be gathered by the children and would end up stapled to the walls inside the school. Some would be crammed into bags and pockets to take home (or be found months later) but mostly they covered the yard like a 1970’s carpet. An awesome sight.

The thing about leaves is that they become slippery when wet so I had to gather them up whenever possible for safety reasons. Break a limb? Not on my watch!

It was back-breaking work. There were no fancy smanchy blowing machines for me. Just an old yard brush and few refuse sacks!

Occasionally Mother Nature would do the job for me and a big gust of wind would blow the leaves under the privet, leaving me free to do other caretakery work, like fishing Stickle Bricks out of toilets.

Sometimes, if the forecast was good, the head teacher would ask me to postpone raking up the leaves so the children could enjoy a leaf-kicking session. Some days if the leaf fall was disappointing, I’d go round raking up as many leaves as I could from elsewhere to make it more fun. I was a nice caretaker, not at all miserable like Argus Filch, or the ones from my school days. I can’t ever imagine them going to such lengths to make children happy. Miserable gits.

It would take several weeks for the tree to shed all of its leaves but eventually it would be completely bare and there it would stand – naked yet still magnificent.

However, it’s work wasn’t quite done as the teachers would dangle old CD’s and other sensory paraphernalia from it’s boughs and it would come alive again, if only until home-time.

I loved that tree apart from the mornings when it was throwing it down with rain and then I’d whinge about having to clean those ‘sodding leaves up’.

These days I can find my autumn in the local woods where there are hundreds of magnificent old trees all competing for the best in show. I often stand there (waiting for the dog to have a crap) watching as millions of leaves dance around as they fall to the floor. I tried to take a picture of it once but couldn’t do it justice. Some things just have to be experienced, don’t they?

Autumn is my favourite season. It’s the final smile of the year before winter sets in with it’s slippery pavements and wintry winds. *groans*

Through the trees comes autumn with her serenade.
Melodies the sweetest music ever played.

~ John Coltrane – Autumn Serenade

Image Via Creative Commons

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Confessions of a School Caretaker

All I ever wanted to be was a wife and a mother. Call me old fashioned but I totally bought into the whole ‘homemaker’ vibe. However, fate had other ideas and when my then husband became ill. I had no choice but to work part-time to makes ends meet. One of my jobs was a school caretaker. Yes, school caretaker! Not all school caretakers look like Argus Filch!

Some are 5ft 1″, brunette and wear Reeboks..

The school was purpose built in 1939, just before the second world war broke out. The Anderson shelter wasn’t dismantled and filled in until the 1980’s. That’s one of the things I loved about the place, it’s history.

When I started working there in 1995, it had hardly changed at all since it was built. Part of my job was to maintain an ambient room temperature which is sort of impossible when you have menopausal staff who are shivering one minute and flinging off their cardies the next. Nightmare!

Although most of my work was mostly done around school hours, sometimes I’d nip down to do some gardening and it was a joy to listen to the children singing nursery rhymes. It was hard to believe that one day those little angels would become moody, acne-ridden, angst filled arse-holes, like I was.

The downside to the job was having to deal with vandalism..

Each Monday morning I’d apprehensively open the gate and hope that the local louts hadn’t been up to their usual tricks of kicking in fence panels, or worse, smashing in windows. Once, I found an old mattress and some used condoms behind the shed. The. Dirty. Bastards.

Shagging someone on a stained mattress in the grounds of a nursery school?

Classy, no?

The empty cans of Tesco Value lager gave some clue as to the level of ‘chav’ I was dealing with. That said, at least they were using condoms so I suppose there was some degree of intelligence in there.. After a minute of intense effing, I snapped on several pairs of Marigolds, scooped up the offending ‘joy bags’ with a shovel and marched across the playground in the direction of the bins. As soon as I got home, I plunged my hands in disinfectant. The council came and carted away the mattress of shame and we planted the area with prickly shrubs as a shag deterrent. Only a complete idiot would risk puncturing his clackers on that lot!

My strangest find were some photographs of a lady that I found scattered over the grass one morning. I couldn’t go around the neighbouring houses knocking on doors asking who they belonged to cus, well, they were a bit saucy, innit!

I decided to take advice from the head teacher, who almost choked on her Polo mint when she saw the lady resplendent in her suspenders and DD peep-hole bra. She concluded that it was best to deny all knowledge of them and fed them through the shredder. Sorted.

One of the cutest moments was when I was changing the paper towels in the toilets and one cute little boy held out his painting to me and said. ‘Hold this, Mrs lady, I’m going for a poo!’ Just wonderful.

Originally, the school had three intakes of forty children a year but nursery classes being opened within nearby primary schools meant that numbers started to dwindle. The council took the decision to close the school when the intake dropped to 25 saying that it was no longer financially viable. Despite a petition put forward from thousands of people, many of whom had attended the school themselves, the council pressed ahead with it’s plans to close and on a summer’s day in July 2005, after 66 happy years, the nursery closed.

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Happy memories of the nursery at Christmas circa 1940’s

During the big ‘clear out’ the head called me into her office and showed me some of the log books she’d found from during the war. Everything was written down. The nit nurse was mentioned a LOT. But one entry stood out to me the most. It simply said, ‘The children had their tea in the air raid shelter’. Imagine that?

I felt emotional as I stood looking round the empty building on that last day. A building which for so many years had been full of life and laughter. The walls, once adorned with paint (and dried pasta), were now stripped bare and there was an echo to the room that only comes with emptiness.

As I walked through each room, I could hear children’s voices (not literally, I’m not that bonkers, yet) I could hear their squeals of joy as they sped around on the trikes and the ear-piercing shrieks as they shoved each other over on the playground. I heard the rumble of the prams and the shrill sound of the teacher’s whistle. I saw C running with his egg and spoon on sports day looking as camp as a row of tents with his floppy wrist. I saw K, sat there with a tea-towel on his head, picking his nose through the ENTIRE nativity play!

Good memories..

I was a good caretaker. I was proud of what I’d achieved and having a touch of OCD came in especially handy when it came to locking up. There were no unlocked doors or windows on MY watch, ever!

However, it did take me about an hour to do my checks and re-checks…

With a heavy heart, I closed the gate for the last time and I allowed myself one last look before another chapter in my life closed.

I doubt that I will ever find a job like that. I loved every second of it. Going to work in the morning was never a chore. I loved the building. I loved the people I worked with. I loved how I ended up on the annual school tea-towel, standing there with my tiny broom and enormous arms poking out of my head..

The building sat empty for quite a while. The privets became overgrown and the cherry blossom leaves blew around because I wasn’t there to pick them up. It was sad to see. Then one day I noticed that the privets had been cut and a shiny new sign was in place of our old one. It had been bought as a private day nursery! I TOTALLY love that the building still knows the sound of children’s laughter. A new chapter in it’s life and long may it continue…I am proud to be part of it’s history.

A pity they let the old punishments die. Was a time detention would find you hanging by your thumbs in the dungeons. God, I miss the screaming ~ Argus Filch ~ Miserable git caretaker in Harry Potter

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