Student working 54-hour-week finds balance between working and living life


Photo provided by Laura Ballinas

Senior Lizbeth Gonzales stands at the entrance of Molina’s Cantina during a break. She works a nine-hour shift five days a week to help herself and help her mom financially.

By Maria G. Perez, Bellaire High School

Noon is the busiest time of day for senior Lizbeth Gonzalez. She greets guests, seats them, manages seating charts and responds to requests, all while thinking about her next math test. 

Two years ago, when Gonzalez turned 16, her only wish was to find a job. A few weeks later, she received a call from a restaurant manager and scheduled an interview. Her wish became a reality and she was hired on the spot to be a hostess. 

“I wanted to start working right when I turned 16 because I wanted to start getting things on my own and not from my mom or others,” Gonzalez said. “Along with that, I also wanted to help my mom out with paying bills. So, getting hired definitely made me very elated.” 

Gonzalez, now 18, still works at Molina’s Cantina. Although she faces daily challenges, she doesn’t let them defeat her. 

“I have to deal with rude and picky customers. I have to have so much patience with everyone,” Gonzalez said. “They make me want to quit sometimes, but at the end of the day, I remind myself that money won’t magically appear in my bank account unless I work for it.”

Working 54 hours a week, Gonzalez has little time for herself.

“In the beginning, I didn’t like the fact that I barely had time for myself. I would get asked out to hang out with my friends, but I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to go. But, I got used to it and now, I just ignore it and try not to think about it too much,” Gonzalez said. 

Gonzalez works 9-hour shifts, six days a week, and although she finds it hard to keep up with her school work, she always finds a way to turn in everything on time with a passing grade. 

“I manage to complete all my school work by doing them right after each class or it’s even better when I do them during class,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes I do my assignments after work, which makes me upset because I want to go straight to bed after work, but I know my education comes first, so I still get it done.”

Gonzalez’s manager Jose Lacan said he values Lizbeth as an employee. 

“Lizbeth works really fast and is very good at dealing with customers,” Lacan said. “I have seen her learn and pick up many things throughout the years that she’s been working for me. I would hate to see her leave.”

Although working almost every day is overwhelming for Gonzalez, one way she releases her stress is by doing hobbies that distract her from her major responsibilities. She started getting into makeup at the age of 15. Gonzalez sees it as a get away from other things like the troublesome customers and working every day.

She gets inspired the most by looking at other people’s makeup work and wanting to recreate something similar to them. With nothing but patience and practice, Gonzalez has improved enough to have been booked by at least 10 girls who are in their teen years or early twenties.

“When people book me, it makes me feel proud that people actually want to get their makeup done by me,” Gonzalez said. “It’s then when I see who really supports me.”

Gonzalez’s motivation for her work and her makeup has never wavered. Having support from the people she loves is one of the things that motivates her the most, especially, when it comes to her mom’s support. 

Elvira Leyva, her mom, allowed Gonzalez to begin working as soon as she turned 16 because she realized it was something her daughter really wanted to do. 

“As a single mother, Gonzalez has helped me in so many ways financially,” Leyva said. “She loves working for herself and has bought herself so many things with her own money, including a car, which makes me a really proud mother.”

Leyva is a mother of four kids: three boys and Lizbeth. She used to babysit and continues to clean houses every day just to make sure that her kids were raised with everything a child needs. Three of her kids, including Gonzalez, are now adults. But with the amount her and Gonzalez make from working combined, it is enough to keep the family happy. 

“The road for me was long and it was really hard to move forward without a partner, but I never lost hope. My kids have always been my motivation,” Leyva said.

Despite keeping up a busy work schedule, attending school and doing makeup on the side, Gonzalez plans to grow bigger in the makeup industry, but she has many other motivations that make her continue what she is doing now. The money she receives from work also motivates her because she knows that she can do so much with it. 

“My days are kind of crazy but I’ve matured and learned how to be more responsible,” Gonzalez said. “It’s all worth it at the end.”

This story was originally published on Three Penny Press on March 1, 2021.