Saturday, March 26, 2011

Then and now: not so different

Once upon a time I had a career in the Human Resources department of a huge global consulting company. I worked in the Employee Relations group, which is basically where they send the sensitive situations. And the crack pots. People who aren't doing their job. Or are keeping others from doing their job. Or are doing their job poorly and nothing seems to be working in getting them to turn it around. Often times it was heartbreaking. There were the cases where an employee wasn't meeting performance expectations and upon further investigation it was discovered they were facing a chronic illness, or divorce, or family crisis. In the hazy warm glow of my memory I recall how I was able to make a difference by helping these people and helping the company. All of those wonderful success stories where I made an impact. But time has a way of softening the edges, editing out the annoying and mundane. And the really stupid people. Once I take off the rose colored glasses it turns out my *professional job* is not much different from my current position.

Here is a brief comparison of then and now:

Then: Ridiculous excuses for behavior, such as *I couldn't finish the report because my hard drive crashed*.
Now: Ridiculous excuses for behavior, such as *She started it* or *It's not my fault the lamp was there, I was just running and twirling by and it fell off the table. By itself*.

Then: Lots of whining and complaining.
Now: Lots of whining and complaining.

Then: Petulant partners who tantrum when they can't give their favorite employee (yet another) huge raise due to budget constraints.
Now: Petulant son who tantrums when I won't by him (yet another) Star Wars Lego set due to budget constraints.

Then: Employees who assume someone else will pick up their slack.
Now: Children who assume someone else (me) will pick up their slack.

Then: Long hours.
Now: Longer hours.

Then: An employee inadvertently gets paid double their regular salary for three months straight and can't understand why this is a problem, or why they should have to pay it back.
Now: My child smashes their sibling's toy and can't understand why it's a problem, and why they have to help them rebuild it.

Then: An employee has a million excuses for why they can't get their work done.
Now: My child has a million excuses for why she can't get her homework done.

Then: A partner that emails at 7pm requesting some critical data for a 7am conference call.
Now: A child tells me at 8pm they need to construct a detailed diorama of King Tut's tomb for school tomorrow.

Then: An employee screws up a major project resulting in thousands of dollars lost.
Now: My son somehow screws up the computer resulting in thousands of hours of my time being lost.

Then: An employee doesn't understand why it isn't okay to take a two hour lunch.
Now: My child doesn't understand why they don't get two hours for recess at school.

Then: An employee has a few drinks at lunch and embarrasses themselves in front of the client.
Now: I have a few drinks at lunch and embarrass myself in front of the dog.

Then: An employee thinks they should be paid extra just for doing their job.
Now: My son thinks he should be paid a dollar for putting the milk back in the refrigerator.

Then: Longing for more recognition of my contributions.
Now: Longing for any recognition of my contributions.

Then: I sigh. A lot.
Now: I sigh. A lot.

Monday, March 21, 2011

You are what you wear

I like to refer to my wardrobe as shlubby chic, minus the chic part. As a stay at home mom I don't have stylish *work* clothes or even *office casual* clothes. I have my assortment of jeans, yoga pants and when I am feeling really fancy in the fall and winter months, cords. My shirts are equally unremarkable. The problem is I love clothes but I have nowhere to wear them. You look ridiculous wearing a chiffon blouse, skirt, hose and heels to drive your child to soccer practice or work in the kindergarten art class. If you decide to dress up for a PTA meeting you get suspicious looks and comments. The same kind you would get in a business casual office if you suddenly wore a suit to work one day (are you going on an interview?). Or worse, comments telling you how nice you look, implying that the rest of the time you look like you just rolled out of bed. I envy those whose wardrobes have a purpose and get to dress accordingly.

The other night I was at a school board meeting. The school board chair is a woman who is always dressed in suits, and not the Hilary Clinton pant-kind. It is the real deal with the skirt and heels. I had never seen her before and was mesmerized by her appearance up in front at the head of the table wearing her smart red suit. She exuded confidence and authority and was clearly in charge. I was so captivated by her powerful appearance that I have absolutely no idea what she said but I am sure it was important and meaningful while adding a touch of wit. All I knew was that I was seriously missing out by not having anywhere to wear a suit if I owned one. Which I don't anymore. I finally gave them away to charity when I realized that even if I were to return to the corporate world tomorrow shoulder pads and pleats weren't coming back. But if I started wearing a suit as my regular wardrobe, despite my lack of an office, I surely would command respect from everyone I came across: my children, the barista at Starbucks, the checker at the grocery store, the employees of Target and the rest of my usual weekday crowd. They would all listen to me with rapt attention. And then act accordingly.

In an attempt to satisfy my inner clothes horse I occasionally buy items that clearly don't have any place in my current lifestyle. These are the items hanging in my closet with the tags still attached (don't tell my husband). I also have a stack of hosiery sitting in a drawer - probably close to 10 pairs in assorted shades of black and nude. They are just waiting for me to have an occasion to wear them. I suspect they will disintegrate into dust before that occurs.

I find that the best way to fulfill my needs is to focus on accessories - shoes, hand bags and occasionally jewelry and sunglasses. These work for a couple of reasons. First, you can find ways to wear them with jeans and still not look like you are trying too hard. Even the hand bags you can pair with work out clothes and get away with it. Second, they never make your hips and thighs look large (unlike a suit) and you don't have to worry about getting a run in them (hosiery). Of course the big down side is I am drawn to the ones that typically cost as much, if not more than a suit (again, don't tell my husband). But none of them still have the tags attached so that makes them worthwhile, right? I am very big on amortizing my purchases. Clothes can only be worn once or twice a week, but the right hand bag and sunglasses can be used every day. I refer to this brilliant economic justification as *cost per use*.

Unfortunately when I do have the occasion to wear something besides my shlubby chic collection it causes panic trying to figure out what to wear. This is followed by a frenzied and desperate round of shopping that includes torturing poor sales girls with my need to find *the perfect outfit*. Ultimately it results in me wearing the shopping-under-pressure outfit (usually not perfect, but instead *good enough*) and looking very awkward as I am reminded how uncomfortable hosiery is, and how restrictive a suit can be. But then I get to go home and put on one of my 25 pairs of Gap jeans and my plain jane Dansko clogs and imagine the authority I am oozing and respect I am commanding as I rock a pair of sunglasses.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When pennies don't bring peace

A friend of mine stopped by one evening to drop off a few items. She arrived right as I pulled into the driveway with both kids, post running an errand right before dinner. So they were in rare form. This is a friend who is *my friend*, not *the mommy of one of my kid's friends* so what that means is she doesn't really know my kids, and they really don't know her. You would think they would be on their best behavior, the one they reserve for people they don't know (never me).

My friend had stopped by because she was dropping off a bunch of pennies she had accumulated for a charity fundraiser, Pennies for Peace, that the 2nd grade does at my daughter's school. She remembered my daughter was in the 2nd grade and thought she might like them. She was also dropping off one of those car magnets that you see everywhere. This one was in the shape of my daughter's school's mascot, the tiger.

My friend gets out of her car and approaches us and makes the mistake of telling my daughter she brought something for her, not specifying the pennies. My daughter spies the magnet and immediately assumes this must be the item and immediately busies herself with the important task of figuring out where it should be displayed on the van. In the meantime, much to my embarrassment, the pennies were completely ignored.

Next my son gets into the act and grabs the magnet and repositions it to a new location on the van, at which point my daughter snatches it back and puts it somewhere else altogether. During this exchange I am subtly telling my children to stop squabbling, that it was just a magnet, and trying to (successfully) get my daughter to show some manners and thank my friend for bringing the pennies. No dice. My son grabs it off the van and they start chasing each other around shrieking about the superiority of their location. At this point my friend realizes it is in her best interest to depart. I am so jealous.

More shrieking and more chasing and since my friend has left I can start yelling, loudly, that for the love of god it is just a magnet and if they don't quit fighting I will take it away. And so they continue to fight. At this point I am tired, irritated at their embarrassing display of bad manners, and cold because it is night time and we are still standing around outside. It may even have been drizzling. So I just lose it. I yell that we will not have the magnet on the van if they can't agree. I am still holding the bag of five dollars worth of pennies which I consider throwing at my children (not really, that would have made a big mess in the driveway). Instead I snatch the magnet and stomp inside. But I need someplace to stash it out of sight because if it is visible then they will still fight over it and will also whine to me about wanting it back. So I stomp into my home office and in my worked up and now irrational state of mind I decide that it can't be kept anywhere on or around my desk because I am not sure if it is wise to have a magnet near my computer and other various electronics. So I stick it away. Somewhere. And go back to yelling at them for their appalling behavior.

The next morning I get up and want to show my husband the cute magnet my friend brought over. But I can't, because I have no idea where I put it since I didn't put it on my desk, which is the logical place. So now not only do I have ill-mannered children, but I have become the ill-mannered friend who doesn't display the gift of magnet. I am sure there is some sort of teachable moment in this irony, so if you can figure it out let me know. Just don't drop it off at my house when my children are home.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bookcase meltdown

Warning: This post is rated NC-17 for language and violence.

My husband is a very even keeled man. It's one of the things I love most about him. He rarely gets stressed out except in dire situations, like when the car breaks down, or there is no money left in the checking account. Or when the car breaks down and there is no money in the checking account. And even then, it is a kind of muted grumbling, not ranting and raving, not the screaming banshee that you might get from other members of our household. So on the rare occasion when he does completely lose it it is spectacular, and admittedly, kind of entertaining.

I imagine when I get heated about something it is kind of like background noise to him, he is so used to it. At this point in our relationship it probably is more of an annoyance, like the dog yapping at another dog walking by on the sidewalk outside our window. Mildly annoying, but certainly not out of the ordinary. That is the price you pay for being someone who has multiple tirades every day. But when your tirades are like Halley's comet they can't be missed.

The most recent one in memory is the night of the Ikea bookcase. I had purchased this wonderful bookcase for a room upstairs. It was somewhat large, rather heavy and composed of a grid of squares. I was exhausted and needed to go to bed, but my husband was staying up to watch some *important political event* on television so I asked if he would mind multi-tasking and put together the bookcase. He cheerfully agreed. Unfortunately I forgot two vital facts: my husband can't multi-task, and the *important political event* on television has been known to agitate him. Oblivious to the impending disaster I went to bed and quickly fell asleep.

An hour later I was awoken by very loud banging, proceeded by yelling. As I lay there listening it happened again. BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG. YELL. And again, and continued at ten minute intervals until finally I got up and went downstairs to see what was going on.

As I entered the family room I saw my husband and a half finished bookcase laying on its side. The next thing I know my husband is smacking my bookcase repeatedly with a rubber mallet, then let out a stream of cursing. He was beyond frustrated, he was enraged.

In between cycles of clobbering the bookcase and swearing I managed to ask him what happened, why he was so upset. My inquiry only served to antagonize him and as he replied he started kicking it, emphasizing his words with kicks so it sounded something like this: I put the (string of unrepeatable curse words) pegs (kick kick) in the wrong (kick kick KICK) holes so it wouldn't go together correctly (kick kick) and now I can't get the (string of curse words) out (really big kick). And now it is broken (more kicking and a few whacks from the rubber mallet).And then I made the mistake of asking him if he read the directions. You don't even want to know the reaction I got from that.

Now I am totally awake. My reaction has gone through many phases. First, stunned silence. Next I became a bit apprehensive at my husband's Incredible Hulk type transformation. Then came inquisition about how he got to this point and then I did the unforgivable. I laughed. And once I started I couldn't stop. Tears were streaming down my cheeks as I first pointed out how over the top he was. And then I couldn't help myself - I had to reenact the whole episode. More than once. Complete with cursing, kicking and the rubber mallet. Slowly he began to sheepishly smile. And by the next day it had become a running joke whenever we were out of earshot of the kids. Take that (expletive expletive kick kick kick) book case.

The thing that is so remarkable about this scene is I don't think anyone I have told actually believes me that it happened. I suspect that they think it was me who was melting down over the bookcase, but decided I would make him the scape goat. After all, a man who only has been known to yell when watching a sporting event could not possibly have this level of animosity toward a bookcase. But they could totally see his wife doing it. She's a total drama queen. Wackadoodle. But don't tell her I said that....