Monday, May 28, 2012

Is It Worth Arguing About?

I like doing dishes. I don't enjoy cooking, but I think I don't-enjoy it less than the Jazzman doesn't-enjoy it. If we're both home and I've prepared a substantial meal, he'll clean up the kitchen after the meal to compensate for my having prepared it.

Recently, there was a reason I wanted to do the dishes. I don't remember why. I just didn't want him to do them. I wanted him to be able to go off after his hard day and do whatever he wanted to do, which I couldn't imagine being washing the dishes.

As we stood there arguing about who would do the dishes, I was instantly transported back in time to around 1963.

My lifelong best friend (at that time, we were about five years into that friendship that still endures) was living with us for a month or so while her mother was in the hospital with hip or back problems. It must have been a Wednesday night or a Sunday evening, because Daddy was home. Daddy was out in his garage workshop, tinkering with one of the antique cars he was always rebuilding.

We finished dinner. Mother turned to us and said, "You girls do the dishes," and the incident began.

Whoever normally washed wanted to dry or some equally stoopid argument. Gail and I stood there going back and forth, arguing about who should wash and who should dry. I don't know how long this went on, but long enough and loud enough that Daddy could hear us in the garage, through several doors and over the jazz he always kept playing in the garage.

Before we knew it, he had stormed into the kitchen. (This was a man who never stormed anywhere!) He sent us each to a bedroom and said he would do the dishes.

Punishment? Oh. My God! He could not have devised a worse punishment. We both adored him. We knew how hard he worked every day. To have, by our hard-headed immature arguing, forced him to drop his beloved car-tinkering to wash the dishes was a worse punishment than any we could have devised.

This, my friends, is creative parenting!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Like Father, Like Daughter

This weekend my younger son is at a large alumni reunion organized for the 50th anniversary of the founding of his high school, a world-renowned school for the arts. I keep checking his Facebook page to see who he has reconnected with. I have sent and received greetings from his dormitory housemother, who—from my perspective—treated each of those young men as her own. I have gazed in awe at his inspirational history teacher, who instilled in my son such a unebbing love of history. I have seen familiar faces, now almost 20 years older, and looked for these classmates' Facebook pages and websites to see the successes they have logged in the ensuing years.

Then I stop and wonder if there's something wrong with me that I'm so entwined in my sons' lives.

Only then do I remember my daddy and how closely he followed my life. He knew my friends' names. He listened to the tales I told of our exploits. He doted on my place in his life and in the world.

I always called him "Daddy." My brothers called him "Doodle." One of my closest college friends, who recently finished her U.S. Air Force career with the rank of Major General, dubbed him "Doctor Daddy Doodle." We still talk about how wonderful he was to us.

One of my favorite memories dates from around 1970. I hosted a gathering of my University of Central Florida Tyes Sorority sisters at our home in Spring Valley. Daddy was away at a medical convention or fishing in Alaska, his two most common reasons to travel. In the middle of all the laughter of college-aged girls, the phone rang. It was Daddy, calling to say hello to my friends and to see how the party was going.

Was that intrusive? No! Was that overinvolved? Never! It was a daddy who somehow knew his importance in my life, staying connected.

And I think I'm standing in my daddy's shoes.

Doing It Right

Longtime readers know I have a lot of misgivings about the courses my life has taken. Four marriages? Being a non-custodial mother? Twenty years to complete college? Getting a J.D. but not passing the bar? Changing jobs every two years or even more frequently? Where's the sense in all that? How did it happen?

But sometimes, despite missteps and misgivings, one gets her life right.

And those rightnesses bring me great happiness and joy and a few tears to the eyes.

One of the big successes was walking with John from his diagnosis with metastatic prostate cancer through the 21 months to his death. He was lucky to have a wife who had the inner fortitude to just focus on him and his needs. And I was lucky to be able to give and give and give to him. We were both personalities who needed to be needed, and we were blessed by the universe to find each other.

I've done what I could for my older son, who is bound and determined to do everything for himself. The damage of my mother's parenting of me, and the damage of my parenting of my sons (i.e. leaving) led my older son to follow in my counterdependent footsteps. He seems to want to be left alone. So I try to let him know I love and support him, while letting him be his own self. It seems to work. I think we've been successful in our forming of the adult child-to-adult parent relationship.

But where I really did it right was with my younger son. This weekend he is at Interlochen Arts Academy (IAA) for a reunion, and I am filled with memories of what an absolutely miraculous place Interlochen is. Because of John's son-in-law, himself a National Music Camp alum, we were introduced to Interlochen Arts Camp and Interlochen Arts Academy. Because of my son's self-assurance, he was able to break away from his father and come to the parent who understood his love and affinity for this creative place in the woods of northern Michigan. Because of my determination to always try to do what was best for my children, I worked and worked and worked to provide that education and that place for him. I told him from Day One that he was to consider his time at IAA as an investment towards college. He worked harder than I've ever worked, made reasoned choices and decisions, studied, made a name for himself, and ultimately earned a full scholarship to college. Thanks to a loving housemother, he learned to do his laundry and manage his time. Thanks to incredibly gifted and compassionate teachers, he got an academic education he simply would not have gotten in any public or private high school in Dallas or in D.C.

And the entire time he was at Interlochen, he did not let a week pass without thanking me for all my sacrifices on his behalf.

And so this weekend I reminisce back to my phone calls from D.C. to his dorm between the lakes. "Is there anything I need to know?", I would ask. I would send packages containing both fans and blankets—to counter the blistering heat of northern Michigan summer days and the seemingly unseasonable chill of northern Michigan summer nights. I would find ways to make trips up for Parents Weekend and the Collage Concert. I would sacrifice and I would worry. But I would know that what I was doing was one of the rightest things I had ever done.

And I wipe away the tears of joy for having been given something hard to do and having done it well.

Ultimately, isn't that what matters?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Define: Blog

As I was laying out my feelings in yesterday's post, I was suddenly hit with how negative my words would sound to the former boss to which they applied if he happened to google my name and found that post.

And then I thought about the conversation my friend Ypsi and I had over coffee yesterday morning. I knew she had taken a hit from some readers several weeks ago and had determined to stop blogging. I had a similar situation in the early days of my blog, maybe mid-2007, when a reader who chose to remain anonymous said something very hurtful to me. I immediately password-protected my blog and only gave the password to known friends. (I hadn't been watching my blog feed so hadn't realized that Ypsi was writing again. I had a great time last night catching up with her recent words and thoughts.)

Yes, we bloggers are separated from our readers by lightyears of cyberspace and thousands of pixels. But we still have feelings. Why would you post a comment on my blog containing words that you wouldn't dream of saying to my face? I have feelings. I—especially I—have thin skin. Try as I might to toughen it up, it's still thin and I am hurt easily by unkind words.

So when someone, say a former boss, reads that I describe him as a MegaMicroManager, am I saying unkind words? In my mind, I'm not. (And, in the reader/commenter's mind, his or her words may not be unkind.) When I describe my boss, I'm sharing my thoughts, my opinions.

If he were to read those words and find them hurtful, I would feel hurt. He's really a kind, caring man. He has been generous with both Tyler and me by providing employment when we needed it, income when we needed it. That doesn't change my feeling that he's unnecessarily micromanagerial. That's my feeling, my opinion. He doesn't agree. We've discussed it in years passed.

It's his business. He's entitled to run it as he sees fit. If I want to run a business, I can go start my own. And if I find his micromanagerial style to be egregious and out of synch with my own style of working, I can leave and go find other employment. Which I did.

But I would never want my words to be hurtful to anyone.

Frequently I say things about people where I am fully aware of their web habits. I am fairly confident that neither of my brothers nor my sister-in-law will ever read a word I write on the internet. They have lives that don't revolve around cyberspace. But, again, the things I write about them are designed to help me probe a little more deeply into my soul and to give the readers—if they care to have it—a little more insight into who this writer is.

What's the point of today's circle of words? I guess it's "speak kindly, write kindly."

Oh, yeah. And if you want to say something cruel, go get your own damned blog. Keep your meanness out of my blog.

Sometimes it may not seem so, but ever since John's illness, my personal motto has been "Kindness spoken here."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Brick upon Brick, Stone upon Stone

As I mentioned earlier this week, I'm job hunting. For the particular job that I really, really want and for which I believe I am immensely qualified, a lot of work is required.

I'm scouring my résumé, ordering transcripts to prove my degrees, and copying documents to prove my City of Youngstown residency. I'm googling and surfing and making long distance calls to procure contact information for former employers. All while the clock is ticking. Every supporting doc has to be in place by June 1st, and this is a holiday weekend, meaning one less day for employees in far-away places to pull a transcript or a proof of employment and send it. University of Maryland needed an extra $15 to expedite the request. Another institution needed $16.75 to FedEx the transcript to Youngstown.

But the thing I dread is the possible question during an interview: "Why do you have so many jobs on your résumé?"

Once I really started working in earnest, simultaneous with the first divorce, things looked good. I got a wonderful job I loved with IBM, a company I loved, and I anticipated spending my entire working life at IBM. Within IBM, one frequently has a variety of short stints during one's career. Or, like a friend of mine, one does the same thing for 20 years. I was the short stint type. I had one assignment for two years, then another for two years, and so on. I finished my Bachelor of Science degree at night and on weekends and then went right into law school, continuing to work full-time.

Two years through law school, I wanted to follow the real estate track, anticipating a lifetime of closings and title investigations and so on. But the real estate courses were only offered during the day, and I was a night student because I worked during the day. This was during John's and my early (pre-marriage) years together, and he said I should follow my heart (well, he didn't use those words!). I talked to my IBM manager about possible options. Could I take four hours a week off without pay to attend the classes I needed? No. Could I come in early to make up the lost time on those days? No. Could I switch from full-time to part-time work? No. No matter what I offered, it was roundly denied. And no alternatives were offered in its place. John and I discussed the situation for a couple of weeks. Finally he said, "Why don't you just quit? I'll pick up the slack."

Life Lesson #1: Listen closely. When the man you're living with isn't 100% sure he wants the relationship, do not—repeat: DO NOT—believe him when he says, "I'll pick up the slack."

Thrilled to be so loved as to be given the freedom to study what I really wanted to study, I gave my notice at IBM after eight wonderful years and two wonderful months.

Approximately six weeks later, having given up a salary equivalent, in 2012 dollars, to $84,000, I received a letter from my younger son telling me he wasn't going to live with his dad any more and wanted to come live with me. He had been voicing this desire since the divorce nine years earlier and throughout a custody battle two years earlier. Now he had reached the age where the judge told him the court would consider his desires if it was litigated again. He had made his decision. He was going to be where he had always wanted to be.

Alas, I was living in Washington, DC, a city not known for great schools. And I had a kid who was very smart and immensely musically talented. I needed to prepare to put him in private school or move to Maryland or Virginia for better public schools. But I was in a wonderful relationship with a wonderful man. Or so I thought. And I had just given up my income.

A couple of months later, after much negotiation with the Father Of My Children, I drove to Dallas to retrieve my younger son and all his possessions, including a drum set and a marimba. I convinced a good prep school in DC to let him in midyear. I got him settled in his new home. And all was well.

Oops! Not so quick there. On Valentine's Day, after being questioned about a couple of outrageous and unexplained purchases on his credit card statement (because I handled all the finances), John said, "I can no longer deny my love for E… and I want to be with her." Bam. Did not see that one coming.

Because what I didn't know, what we had never discussed, was the difficult time John had raising his teenaged son when his wife left 15 years earlier to pursue her artistic dreams. For him, the thought of raising another teenaged boy was more than he could handle. When you pair that with the Vixen on the Sidelines who was telling him to leave me and she would leave her husband and they could be together and live Happily Ever After. Well, if you examine that pairing, you can guess who won. She did.

 <Sidebar On> John and I stayed together for three months until I could find another place to live. Tyler and I then moved to Falls Church, VA. John and I stayed friends and married six years later. John came to love and respect Tyler with every fiber of his being. <Sidebar Off>

I went about getting a job, and another job, and another job. From that point forward until Tyler was settled into YSU on a University Scholarship (full tuition plus book allowance), I worked a full-time and two part-time jobs, even through December of 1991 when I graduated from law school.

I was a legal editor. I was a legal index editor. I was a marketing/technical writer on contract to IBM. Each move had its reasons and rationale, either within my control or without. Through all moves, I was a Nordstrom pianist, loving every moment that I made "beautiful music to shop by."

I moved from legal index editor to tech writer for a $10,000 increase. Then that contract was cut. I taught piano for a while, which fact never made it to my technical résumé. I went to a big law firm in DC as manager of database systems after my husband (#3, whom I had married because I needed Major Female Surgery and had no health insurance. I loved him, yes, but I was nudged along by the insurance issue.) told me I wasn't bringing in enough income. (We'll ignore the fact that he had taken an IBM "bridge to retirement" and was earning $0 at selling real estate.) Then my boss at the law firm was fired and I was allied with him. If I didn't find something soon I would also be fired.

I moved to a job as a computer specialist with a government agency in an old building in DC. Emphasize: Old. I was allergic to something in the building. I would get to work at 8:00 feeling fine, and by 9:30 or 10:00 would have a raging headache that would last the rest of the day. Simultaneously, my husband (#4, the good one) was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. I was trying to tend to his emotional and medical needs when he got home from the Pentagon at the end of the day while simultaneously nursing a sick headache. Every Day. So I called the lawyer/publisher I had been working for seasonally during his publishing cycle since the time I left IBM and told him the situation. He quickly invited me to come back to work for him and said I could have all the time off I needed to deal with John's illness.

Life Lesson #2: When working for a MegaMicroManager, never believe him when he says you can have all the time off you need. It just ain't so!

And the fact I've skipped throughout this story is that, beginning in February of 1992, I was studying for and taking a bar exam every six or twelve months.

I've been married four times and have taken five bar exams. Or I've been married five times and have taken four bar exams. I can never remember.

(And, by the way, if you're not familiar with the process, bar exam prep and bar exams are Very Expensive Processes. Expensive in time and expensive in money.)

Let's just say it was a hurdle I was never able to get over. After one Pennsylvania exam and four Virginia exams, I had registered to take the DC exam when John was diagnosed. He/we fought his cancer for 21 months. For me, losing my beloved spouse was life altering. There was no way I wanted to or could sit again for that exam after his death. I was done. I would continue working as a programmer, doing what I knew how to and loved to do.

The morning of the day John died, a company called me and asked me to come work for them as a Lotus Notes Instructor and Consultant. I had taken a class from them several years earlier and they were very impressed with how well I grasped the material. I went to the parent company of what is now SiriusXM Radio as their Lotus Notes Administrator, and every couple of weeks would go back to my company's office to help teach Lotus Notes courses. But then the contract was cut and there was no work for me. A recruiter called and placed me at a very large government contracter as a Lotus Notes Developer.

And then I met a man, (cut to the short version), accepted his marriage proposal, moved to Tucson with him, set up his house, kept his house, and then attempted to raise his teenaged daughter to his standards. All without help from him. Four years later, after I had been out of the technology workforce for four years (and that's about a thousand cyberyears), he said he wanted to be alone.

Life Lesson #3: When a man says he wants to be alone, don't believe him. Especially after he comes home from a business trip and you find a woman's dress in his suitcase. Don't believe him. (By the way, he got married ten weeks after I moved out.)

Once again, when a survivor has to, she starts over again. From the lowest rung on the ladder. She works someplace for two years until she gets some skills built back up and finds something that offers $10,000 more in salary and far better benefits.

Oops, then her son decides to move back to the city where he's been happiest, and he and his wonderful wife take her grandchildren with them.

So, as a result, I have a résumé that looks like the rock wall in the photo above. (Captured in a small town along the Ring of Kerry in late August, 2011.) Rocks, slabs, layered, wedged in, horizontal, vertical. Somehow they hold together. But to look at them, they don't make sense.

I'm sure there are many Human Resources specialists and hiring managers that look at my résumé and scratch their heads in amazement. They think it just doesn't make sense.

But there have been a few—actually, about one every couple of years—who could look at that résumé and realize, "This woman can do anything I give her to do."

I owe my career, fragmented as it is, to those management visionaries who could analogize my rock wall of a résumé to the fact that I got to where I am one brick at a time, one stone at a time.

It all fits together.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

But If You'd Have Just Told Me!

So, I'm job-hunting again. The primary client for whom I was updating Web pages decided to hire a person to handle all their IT and Web needs, so I returned from vacation to find I had, basically, no job.

Anyone who follows my Facebook posts knows I love this client. It's a bakery-café chain whose products I loved long before my son got the contract to manage their site. So to learn my association with them would be terminated filled me alternately with sadness (for losing that connection) and fear (for being able to pay my bills).

Now I spend hours of each day scouring company websites and jobs websites. I struggle to compose compelling cover letters and scurry to pull together needed documentation.

Searching for John's military employment information today to complete an application for 10-Point Veterans Preference for a city job I really want, I came across my performance appraisal from my last job. All the numbers were good except for one item. The real kicker was that I had no idea this behavior mattered to anyone or was causing problems.

One of the people who worked in the human resources department of that company had complained to my manager about this behavior, but neither of them could be bothered to discuss it with me. If either had said a word to me about this offensive or distractive behavior, I would have ceased immediately.

(You're dying to know, aren't you? Here it is: for over 30 years, way back to the days of my IBM employment, I've done the daily crossword puzzle while sitting in meetings. I am fully capable of thinking and writing letters in squares while listening to what's going on in a meeting. But rest assured I never did it again after receiving this appraisal.)

The corollary to "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is "if I don't know it's broke, I can't possibly fix it!"

Let the record show that, over two years later, this appraisal still ticks me off. So today, contrary to my normal pattern, I fed all three pages of the appraisal into the shredder. With relish. There! - I feel better now!

The other kicker about the company's human resources patterns was the fact that employees were allotted, oh, a day of sick leave per pay period, or some other arbitrary number. But, if said employee used more than two to three days of sick leave in a year, it would show up as a negative on the appraisal. During the year in question, I caught the flu bug that was going around, and I caught it well! I don't abuse sick leave, but to drive 60 miles while running a fever and feeling, generally, horrible to work in a technology company that wouldn't allow programmers to telecommute but required all sales staff to work from home …. Well, you get where I'm going with this. (And besides, if your employees could do their jobs remotely, why would you insist they come into the office and expose all your other workers to their bug??? Yes, that is one of the great questions of the universe.) (By the way, once I left that employment, over 18 months passed before I caught another airborne illness. Just sayin'.)

And while I'm at it, the other interesting point about this company was the fact that on one's timesheet, the code existed to take leave without pay (LWOP). Because of my mother's age and sicknesses, I had used all my vacation for that year, but needed to visit her again. I asked my manager for three days LWOP and he approved. When I returned from the trip and filed my timesheet, he got in trouble with the human resources payroll lady, and then I got in trouble with him. Huh?

(Can you say "hostile work environment?")

I guess the subtitle to this post should be "Stupid Employment Tricks." The bottom line is communication. If you see an employee doing something that you feel crosses the line, tell her! If you have a policy on your books, honor the policy or get it off the books!

These seem to me to be logical practices. Am I missing something here?