Thursday, November 14, 2013

On my workiversary

An email went out to my entire organization today, congratulating me for 15 years of service.

[Let's pause. Let that number sink in.]

15 years?! Oh, no. How is this possible? I cringed. I contemplated running to the mirror to pluck gray hairs. I pictured 23-year-old me walking through the doors of that building, thinking it was temporary, because after all, who pursues a publishing career in Delaware? I thought of all the missed opportunities at other companies, mourned all those books I was going to write, imagined my younger colleagues pointing and laughing at my complacency and old-timey thinking. My stomach flipped. I spiraled.

Then my friend -- with whom I've worked for almost 13 years, and who has agreed to stick it out with me until they pick up the building and shake us out -- sent me this article titled "How I Learned to Stop Explaining How Old Things Make Me Feel." It's so darn perfectly, beautifully appropriate for this very moment. No regrets, no lamenting. Only learning and growing and becoming.

I certainly would not be the person I am today without these 15 years at one organization. I started as an assistant editor earning $18,000 a year (which was a jump from the $16,000 salary at my previous job), and I have worked my way through editorial, marketing, product development, and acquisitions. I've been riotously happy and dejectedly sad, sometimes in the same day. I have always been challenged, encouraged, and surrounded by really smart people. I have learned how to think strategically, how to negotiate, how to communicate with people from all backgrounds and experience levels. Most of all, I have learned perseverance -- I have learned that I can persevere, even when I am in a deep, dark professional valley full of pointy-toothed monsters.

And I hope that a few (hundred? thousand?) teachers have learned a bit from the work that I've done, and in turn, perhaps some kids have learned to read -- or even better, gotten excited about reading. That would be nice. In fact, it's possible that in the time that I've worked here, a few kids have graduated high school who wouldn't have done so otherwise. That would be really nice.

Without this full-time job, I would not be able to enjoy this comfy middle-class suburban lifestyle, driving my two blond babies around to their various activities in our gas-guzzling minivan. More important, this job has allowed me the flexibility to attend to the needs of my family -- to work from home when there's a Halloween parade at preschool or from the hospital when my husband was sick. I don't know many people who have the same luxurious holiday schedule or generous vacation time, either.When I started this job, I was just a girlfriend, not yet a wife or mother; I had no idea how crucial the flexibility would be to helping me find balance between work and home, but it is. Crucial. Absolutely and without question.

"Work is not supposed to be fun; if it was, they wouldn't call it work." My mom used to say that a lot when I was a kid, but I think that was mostly in reference to cleaning bathrooms and other house chores. My mother loved her job; she was an award-winning teacher who was passionate about her students and always an advocate for her colleagues. (She had been dead just over a year when I started this job; my father had just started dating the woman who is now my stepmother and friend. I was not yet married. I was so very young.) I think of my mom every day, over and over, because it's for people like her that I'm sticking it out, even through the last few rocky years.

My mom also said that only boring people get bored, and you make your own experiences what you want them to be. In these past 15 years, I have learned that all these things are true. And I have learned that work does not define me; work is part of me, but more importantly, my work helps me to enjoy my real life -- the life outside of the office.

Over these years, I have made deep and lasting friendships, I have traveled to new cities, I have met some of my favorite authors, and I have connected to hundreds of people all over the world. Also, even though 15 years seems like an extraordinarily long time, I still have about 30 years of working life ahead of there's a lot of time to keep growing and setting new goals and pursuing new opportunities.

So I've stopped spiraling. For now, anyway. Instead I'll be grateful for all of these 15 bumpy, sometimes ridiculous, occasionally rewarding, always interesting years. I don't know that 23-year-old me would appreciate this sentiment -- in fact she'd probably roll her eyes -- but what does she know? Very little, it turns out. As the blogger wrote in the article above, "Lamenting my age, at this point, even in jest, feels ungrateful. It's sort of an insult to the integrity of my intact life, without which I would not be sitting here. You pull out any of the pieces, however much I may have hated them at the time, and the results would be unpredictable. This is where I am, this is how long it took."

Amen. This is where I am, this is how long it took. And I am grateful.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sacred Fridays

I've been fortunate in my working life to have a flexible schedule and the option to telecommute. Since Happy was a baby, I've worked from home at least one day per week, and there were a few years when I was at home three days per week. Telecommuting allows me to breathe in and out, to catch up on laundry or errands, to have a day when I don't feel chained to email and can actually catch up on editing. Telecommuting just generally keeps me sane.

Now I work from home as often as I can, but always always always on Fridays. It's the only way I can regroup from a busy week. And let's face it: Most weeks have even busier Saturdays and Sundays, so it's nice to have Friday to sit still.

The view from my Friday office
Right now I am sitting on my deck, sipping coffee with a manuscript on my lap. I'm breathing deeply, enjoying the September sun on my back. The kids are at school. The cat has taken his usual position, curled up by my feet. A wren scolds us from her perch in the cherry tree. A cricket sings in the veggie garden. A lawnmower buzzes on the next block. I have a direct view of my stringbean teepee shaking ever so slightly in the breeze; soon it will be time to turn over the garden, but not before we nibble a few more sweet, crunchy beans.

I met a friend for coffee this morning, then came home and caught up on the week's email. I read two chapters of a book that has been my dream project, and I learned that we exceeded our annual revenue forcast by almost 25%. I now have time to vacuum the house and shower before Happy comes home from school.

Fridays are sacred here.

I feel full and satisfied. I'm grateful.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I really loved this summer. Here's why.

Hey, look! I'm back in the blogosphere! Blogging it up. Or, as AC/DC would say, Back in Blog. (Too much?)

It's been a really long time, I know. And I miss writing, probably more than you miss reading my babble. I write a lot in my head every day...but it somehow doesn't make it out of that small, confined space. Plus, it's true that writing and exercising are similar in that if you don't write every day, you eventually get rusty and stiff, and it's really intimidating to start back up. I mean, once your belly fat hangs over top of the workout shorts, it's really hard to squeeze back into them.

But it's a new school year and time for a fresh start (c'mon, everyone knows September is the new January), so I'm going back to the gym in the mornings (starting next week, I promise), even though my shorts are too tight. So I'll also try to write more frequently, even just silly short little ditties, because that's what blogging is all about, right? Exercising my word muscles, jotting down the interesting/funny/sad/annoying/mundane things that pop into my head. All right. Here we go. Time to get back to blogocizing.


Today, as I watch the temperature plummet (true story: I can actually see the air getting chillier; it was 93 yesterday, 85 today, and will be in the 60s by Saturday), I'm nursing a nasty cold that's settled into my throat and limiting my voice. It's possible that talking less is stirring a hankering for written communication...must get it out! I took a sick day, which has allowed for a little time to settle my brain down, which has allowed for a little time to think about how much I loved this summer. So I thought I'd used this time as a little warm-up stretch to writing more often. And what's a better writing warm-up than a list! 

The Bucket List...we rocked it
(1) Summer Fun Bucket List. We wrote down on poster paper all the things we could think of that we wanted to do, hung it on the wall right by the door, then checked them off one by one. An awesome way to find fun wherever we went...and to make fun whenever we could.

First beach day with besties
(2) Catching fireflies with Zippy. "Aw, mom, here's one! Uh oh...he's dead."

(3) Floating around Delaware Bay in an inner tube. I've seen a horror movie or two that start out that way, but luckily this particular day was sunny and perfect, enhanced by kids giggling in the surf and time spent sitting on a sand bar digging for snails, clams, and crabs.

One of many campfires
(4) Joining the neighborhood pool. No better way to stay in touch with friends than hanging out at the pool. And really, is there anything better than coming home from a long day at work and meeting the family for poolside pizza?

View from our lakeside campsite
(5) Camping adventures with Happy. We camped in June, July, and August...twice with our good friends, the third time just the two of us. Beach. Farm & woods. Mountain lake. Hiking. Swimming. Kayaking. Cooking on a fire. Pure fabulous.

(6) Almost-Third-Grade Summer Book Club. Combining three of my favorite things: Reading good books, hanging out with fun kids, and eating popsicles.

Phirst Phils game (that he can recall)
(7) Impromptu Phillies game... thanks to awesome friends who gave us tickets at the last minute. We left the house at 6:20 and made it to our seats in the first inning. And despite the ominous skies, it never rained a drop. This was an evening meant to be. I'll never forget the wonder on Happy's face as we took our seats and he looked out over the field and stadium. It didn't even matter that it was a terrible game, and our guys lost in the last inning.

(8) First sleepover party. Happy turned 8 this summer. The very best age. So we celebrated with his besties at the movies, then a sleepover in our family room. And they actually slept.
UNO with Auntie

(9) A roommate and her sweet kitty. My sister lived with us briefly as she transitioned from farmer girl back to city girl. I loved having her here; we hadn't lived under the same roof since she was 10. And she really saved the day when I had my first ever vertigo bout. Also, her cat is one of the most beautiful creatures I've had the pleasure of snuggling with.

A bird named "Batman"

(10) Lots and lots and LOTS of time off. I took a full week of vacation at the start of the summer. Worked from home one or two weeks so Happy could attend some half-day camps, and took almost three weeks off at the end. This is how we managed to do so many fun things. The best idea I've ever had was to take one full week with each child before school started. I could enjoy them individually, talking and laughing and sipping the summer sun. Happy and I went camping and played at the pool (I finally got to see what it's like to be a pool mom for a day!), and Zippy and I went to the zoo and wandered in local parks.

Stop and smell the sunflowers
Three trips to the aquarium. Evening concerts in the park. Full-moon hikes. Fireworks at the baseball stadium. Tubing in the creek. Petting sheep and chickens at a farm. Walking to the ice cream shop. These are all things we got to do together this summer, thanks to the oodles of vacation time I've accrued over the years. As challenging as my job can be (and it was reeeeally challenging this summer), I love it ever so much more when I consider the vacation perks. This is time with my family I'll never have again, and I'm so fortunate to have made these memories.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Five steps to "good enough" clean

I dreamed last night that I was standing on the stairs that lead up to our second floor, with a bucket of cleaner and a large sponge, scrubbing the walls to remove fingerprints. I felt pleased as the fingerprints disappeared, but then looked down at the floor: The cleaner was dripping down the walls and soaking the carpet with blue spots. So I scrubbed harder on the walls, trying to mop up the drippy cleaner, but it just got soapier and drippier, until the wall was covered in bubbles and the floor beneath me was stained blue and soggy.

I woke up panting and sweating. It must be Saturday morning. Time to clean.

No matter how hard I try to stay on top of the dust bunnies, finger prints, and sticky floors, this is what I'm working with: One child who thinks it's fine to stomp the mud clumps out of his sneakers as he walks across the hardwood living room and that aiming for the toilet bowl is optional. One child who delights in dropping cereal, pretzels, Goldfish crackers on the floor or couch cushions and crushing them to oblivion. One cat who obsessive-compulsively kicks litter across the room and pulls her food out of the dish before she can eat it. And one ancient, confused cat who thinks the world is his toilet. Luckily, I have a husband who is a clean freak, and he keeps us all organized and tidy.

But a clean house ain't gonna happen. At least not this year. This house is lived-in, I like to say. And I've come to grips with it, mostly (or at least I thought I had, until that nightmare last night). We've been so busy the past month that this joint had gotten out of hand. To the point that maybe dropping a match and walking out the door might have been the best course of action. Yet there's always the aspiration of cleanliness...or at least the pressure of daytime visitors.

I woke the troops this morning and gave everyone a job. We knocked it out in about 4 hours...which doesn't sound great, but really, I was impressed. And I'm looking around now at the smudgy windows and mirrors, and thinking, oh well...good enough.

I think that's the secret, isn't it? Not just to housekeeping with kids, but to life with kids. Good enough often is the best we can hope for. Our home is tidy and neat, but don't recommend eating anything off the floor. It doesn't bother me that I can't really see my reflection through the kid-prints because I love to hear Zippy's giggles when he dances and smooches in the mirror. I don't mind lint-brushing Happy's rear at the school bus stop because his cat loves him so much she won't leave his side. And the sofa only smells a little weird because we like to cuddle up on Friday nights and eat pizza in front of a movie; sometimes stuff spills, what can I say?

So next time you trip over a psycho website like this one with a weekly chore schedule that actually made me laugh so hard I spit coffee out of my nose (seriously...she says "The rule of thumb for carpeted rooms with high traffic... is to vacuum once a week + one additional time for each household member"..ha!), remember how it goes here in a lived-in house:

(1) When it's all-hands-on-deck time, all hands are on deck. I'm not the only one who made this mess, so I'm certainly not the only one who cleans it! The little one gets a wet washcloth and has to scrub the fingerprints off the walls and the dust off the baseboards. The medium one gets a dry mop and a dust cloth and has to pull the fur and dust bunnies from under the sofa, piano, bed, wherever the vacuum doesn't reach. The daddy has to strip all the sheets, start the laundry, and scrub the kitchen. The mama follows behind them all with a Dyson, then a wet mop, then the steam cleaner. Mama and daddy draw straws (or make bargains that have to do with sexy undergarments) to determine who cleans the bathrooms.

(2) Set a time limit that allows plenty of extra room for whining, chasing, snacks, diaper changes, and phone calls from friends. And stick to that time limit, no matter how much doesn't get accomplished. After all, it's not like you'll never clean again...mostly.

(3) Alternate start rooms/levels. One week start in the bedrooms, the next week start in the downstairs. This way if the cat runs out the door and you all have to chase, or if you have to stop everything to extricate a favorite toy from the belly of the vacuum, then everyone's too traumatized to go on, you can just pick up in that spot next week.

(4) Only entertain in the evenings, so you can keep the lights low. Candlelight does wonders to hide dust and smudgy walls.

(5) Be satisfied with "good enough" clean. If your kids are helping, you don't want to nag and make them hate cleaning. So just let them do their best, and that's that. Then, just make sure nobody gets close enough to your air vent grates to see the dust between the slats, and certainly don't let them into that laundry room that's been neglected for, oh, the entire time you've lived here.

Sit back on your stinky couch and laugh heartily at your silly, messy children. Someday, when they're out of the house and you want to host fancy brunches, your house will be nice and clean, because you'll either have more time on your hands, or you'll have enough extra cash to hire someone to polish the light fixtures. But for now, it's good enough.