Friday, March 30, 2012

the path (xi) (the drastically modified version)

Since at least my college years, my modus operandi has been full throttle.

I tend to go after certain things with a passion that I sometimes recognize as unhealthy, but often have an impossible time controlling. When I see a hill, I usually pick up the pace.

Note: This definitely doesn't pertain to running speeds.

Heaven knows that in every foot race I've ever participated, I'm usually less than two paces ahead of the ambulance picking up stragglers from the course.

My track record certainly makes me feel invincible. But what I've come to realize is that I'm not invincible. While I do have perseverance and a strong work ethic that is in my blood, when there is absolutely no opportunity for recovery and you are always "full throttle", eventually you break down.

It's important to add that within the first month of my current job, my boss told me that it was his career aspiration to be an executive within our company and anything less would be considered a personal failure. Now, considering I work for one of the wealthiest companies in the world, that's no easy feat and is achieved by less than 1% of the work force.

Suffice it to say, my daily work routine is intense.

(Did I call it, or what? I knew it would be!)

For the past 20+ months, or ever since I've been in my current job, I've been full throttle and there has been very little time for recovery. I get through one project, and am hit head-on with another, sometimes multiple projects, simultaneously. Each project is new and different and the learning curve is steep. The experience that I've gained has been incredible, but the effort to understand and get to the top of a hill, especially in good form, has been all consuming.  Hence the reason I've updated my blog so infrequently and have yet to send out our annual greetings. And have resigned from leading the Girl Scout troop next year. And have turned in to a hermit who treasures QUIET time like nothing else. And have eaten 10 boxes of Thin Mints in the past month.

(Actually, that has more to do with the awesomeness of Thin Mints and my inability to control myself around chocolate. We'll be shipping cookies out tomorrow, so if you ordered some from us and are wondering where they are, I promise they're on the way!)

Last May, when I had a cold that continued to get worse in to June, I requested to work from home. But I was told that if I was well enough to work from home, I was well enough to work in the office. Moreover, if I'm home sick, I shouldn't be working at all. But I knew that if I didn't work, I'd be missing critical deadlines, that would have had a domino effect on a billion (with a B) dollar project which I was tasked to lead. And because I didn't want to take the full blow for being late on that project, or be subjected to work even harder once I got back in to the office, I skipped in with a box of Kleenex and Mucinex tucked under my arm. Less than 12 hours later, I was in an ambulance on my way to the hospital.

After that hospitalization, with what turned out to be a severe case of pneumonia, and a subsequent three month disability (and many, many, many tests), I was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome. It's a cheerful-sounding (pronounced: show grins) autoimmune disease that was made famous last year by Venus Williams when she took an extended hiatus from professional tennis. It honestly makes me feel so much better that even someone as physically fit as Venus was totally leveled by the disease.

While I, thankfully, don't have all of the symptoms, I do have the fatigue and body aches, Raynaud's, and periperhal neuropathy. I also have developed an acute case of TMJ that was diagnosed last month when I chomped clear through my polycarbonate night guard. (I just keep thinking how it's a darn good thing I'm not a horse or I would've been turned in to a bottle of glue by now.)

I've concluded that because I was a relatively healthy (and creative) person when I arrived here, and my health (and creativity) has been on a steady decline ever since, these seemingly constant challenges are a result of my environment.  
Or rather, my inability to adapt to this particular work environment.

For as long as I can remember, I've heard the argument that companies will use you until there's nothing left. They will work you right in to the ground. But I've rallied against that claim because I know that a company is as good as it's management. My former manager, for example, encouraged all of his employees to form triathlon teams and find a healthy-work life balance. He inspired and was a role model, both personally and professionally, for everyone around him. I don't recall work ever being too difficult for me, before? I had an amazingly relaxed manager that allowed me incredible freedom in my schedule. I worked from the house and had unsurpassed flexibility. Best of all, the children weren't in school, so my family was welcome to come with me on almost every business trip.

My current work situation couldn't be any MORE different and it's been very difficult because I haven't been in a position to make any changes. I've always been a deep thinker about this kind of stuff, but my deep thinking has reached a whole new level as I wonder, nearly every single day, "What the hell am I doing?" and "How do I get out?"

I've written before about the "curse" on the woman who works hard to pursue a college education and then, advanced degree, excels in her career, surpasses her husband's earnings, has children ... and instantly feels conflicted.

Is she a mother or is she a worker?

Is it possible that she can effectively do both?

Most of the women that I know are genetically programmed and even if she loves her career, there tends to be a pang of guilt whenever she leaves her children. I know for a fact, men don't struggle with this sensation nearly the way that women do.

In our case, because of circumstances and choices we made at the time, Charlie stayed home to be the primary caregiver to our children. And while he is the most wonderful husband and father I know, and many a woman have told me that they need a "Charlie", it's a well documented fact that I've always been restless and struggled with our arrangement. I've never been able to fully "embrace it" (aka: suck-up my responsibility) like so many people have encouraged me to do.

But ... but ... it was me that pursued all of the fertility treatments and never gave up trying to have our children. It was me that put on 200 pounds, in two separate pregnancies, and almost lost my own life the first time around bringing our babies in to the world. And yes, I'd do all of it again in a heartbeat because our children are the best thing to have ever happened to either of us. But I'll shamefully admit that I also do get resentful when I feel like I have no option but to work, especially since I do have a good career with an (otherwise) good company and there is stability that is uncommon in today's world.

But to work 70+ hours a week and have to clean the house on a weekend, because for a while there, there was no excess money in the budget for a weekly maid service and even if there was, I'd have to first find one, and Charlie is outside running around and having a grand old time. Sorry, sometimes my hand starts to cramp from squeezing all those juicy lemons in to lemonade. Although, lemon juice is also a wonderful furniture polishing agent. Did you know?

To make a long, long, long, (xiii series) story short, I told my beloved in December that he needed to get his rear in gear and find a job that would offer our family benefits because I could not do it anymore. Yes, he is amazing and I'm truly the luckiest woman alive. But I'm literally dying and he needs to do something to get me off the crazy train.

Also, at the risk of being called a overly dramatic self righteous ego maniac ungrateful for a good job in today's economy anal retentive controlling perfectionist who can't get out of their own way MOTHER that knocks out her preschooler's front teeth: I'm also a little SELFISH and it's MY turn to go out for nice long walks and send Charlie text messages of me sitting in a sunny coffee shop enjoying a muffin with our son while my husband sits in a cubicle, with his ambitious boss staring over his shoulder, and fights off another panic attack because of > insert today's HAIR ON FIRE critical drama ____ here".

I imagine a hockey game where one player who is cut and bruised and bleeding limps off the ice as a fresh and clean looking player, who a moment ago was smiling and laughing, has a look of terror wash over their face, as they slowly ease out of the box and in to the fray of the game.

"Um. You mean it's MY turn? Oh My God. What's gonna happen?"

Of course my husband has been giving me all kinds of grief about this. He believes that I could get a transfer to another role. And I probably could, but I'd still be in an office setting 40+ hours a week. And although he does work hard with the children, he loves this arrangement and would really prefer to continue working on his own. "Oh yeah, now that the kids are in school all day, you want to stay home. I SEE HOW IT IS." So I just tell him, "Come on, Charlie. You know those frozen Thin Mints aren't going to just eat themselves!!"

But all joking aside, my man is THE man. He jumped on that ice and after flailing around for a lap or two, he scored and then he scored again and again and again. He had offers back in California, here in Virginia, and in states we've never even visited. At this very moment, he has a job offer in hand, from the most amazing little company, less than three miles from my mother's house. My husband would be working with an absolutely wonderful man whom I worked for almost 25-years ago. I love the guy not only because he was one of my first bosses and remembers me fondly as someone who always worked hard, always was happy and always was smiling ... but because he always had a stash of peanut M&Ms to share.

Of course, for Charlie to accept the job, I'd say goodbye to my current career and all of the stability that it has (and will) offer. We'd need to sell our wonderful house with it's wonderful potential, in our wonderful neighborhood, and move. Again. We'd be significantly reducing our income, which does factor in to the equation because although money is no good if you die an early death making it, it actually IS necessary when you have four children who like to eat (and eat and eat and eat), outgrow their shoes every six months, and will be going to college at approximately the same time.

The ideal situation is us both working part-time, from home, again, just like what we had, before. But that's not an option. At least not yet. And we really need to make a change.

So what are we going to do?

I have absolutely no idea.

Sound decision making has never been one of my stronger suits.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

the path (xiii)

My mother was 38-years-old when I was born and my father was 40. In today's world, those ages wouldn't be considered unusual since a lot of people are holding off until they've established their careers before they start their families.

In today's world, people who are having children in their 20's are considered young. Babies themselves. But that's not the way it was when I was younger. And I was always acutely aware that my parents were among the oldest.

Considering my mother was the youngest of nine and her parents were in their 30's and 40's when she was born, they were quite a bit older by the time I arrived on the scene. I was their 40th grandchild and although I have memories of them both, I never really felt like I had an opportunity to know them. They passed away when I was five-years-old, so my memories are foggy and fleeting. My 89-year old grandmother, Margaret, died on January 1 and my 96-year old grandfather, Francis, decided that he didn't want to live without her, so he died of a broken heart five days later. I remember the funerals.

Mostly, I remember the stunned amazement over what had just happened.

I never really knew my paternal grandparents, since they weren't within a close proximity of us. I do remember visiting with them, though. I remember my white-haired grandpa, Francis, whom my father has a remarkable resemblance to, now. I also remember my incredibly sweet little nana, Alice, who loved to crochet sock slippers out of multi-colored yarn and give them away as Christmas presents. I also remember visiting them, when I was a very small child, and staring at the hen and chicken plants in their tiny garden, and wondering where that name came from? Could they actually lay eggs?

Our parents are spread far and wide. But I do wonder, what it would be like if we lived closer? What might it be like to drop in for Sunday dinner, or swing by to visit for an hour? How great would it be if they could attend a school performance, like the scores of other grandparents that are always in the audience, or on the sidelines, proudly holding up their camcorders?

Our children are now at an age, where they are definitely forming memories that will last them a lifetime and I want for them to have vivid memories of their grandparents.

Charlie's dad is doing great. And my dad is happy and in very capable hands. Every so often, I do feel guilty that he is not living with his family, but I don't think he'd want to. Unless we were on a diesel boat, motoring around Argentina.

Charlie's mom passed away twenty-years ago next month (?!), but our children know Charlie's dad, Alex, and his wife, Kathleen. Alex and Kathleen live in Arizona and it's difficult to see them now that we're on the opposite side of the country. But when we were in California, we would visit at least twice a year. Our children have heard countless stories about their grandfather, from their dad. One of their favorites, that they'll now recite, comes up whenever they see a trailer "pushing" a vehicle. According to legend, that's what Charlie's dad would tell always tell him, whenever they'd see an RV being pulled by a vehicle.

Charlie still laughs like a seven-year-old whenever we see one on the road. "Look at that, kids!! That trailer … HA HA HA … is pushing that car!!" Snort!! "How can it do that?! Who is driving the TRAILER?!"

My father lives in Massachusetts in an assisted-living facility. He was at the hospital with me when our triplets were born and has seen a half dozen times since. Our children know that Grampy is my father. Even though he quacks like a duck and tries to reach out and tickle them, they know that he gets nervous around children. My children are confused why my mother and father aren't still together and have asked me more than once if maybe they should just go to a church and get married, again? Since their grandmother isn't into polygamy, I don't see that as being an option.

My mother lives in South Carolina with her husband, Jim. But by virtue of the relationship that exists between mothers and daughters, my mother has been an integral part of our children's lives since even before they were born. Mom helped administer fertility shots in my hip when Charlie would go away on business trips, because I couldn't do it by myself. To this day, Mom and I talk at least once a week and we visit with each other at least two weeks a year.

I've always felt a draw to my mother. From the time I was an eight-year-old child and my mother tried to put me on a plane back to Massachusetts to live with my father and I declared, "I'm staying with you because you need me and I need you!"

(Mom's going to read this and say "Oh for heaven's sake, go live your own life!!")

(But I know the truth.)

I want for our children to know mom and I want mom to know them. My mother has never really had that opportunity with any of her 16 grandchildren, and it would be nice if she had it now. It would be so nice to drop in and help her rearrange her furniture. Or drive her home from the optometrist when she's had her eyes dilated. To be close enough to have the option.

For more than 20-years, I've been away from my mom and the reality is, I'd like to be closer. But not so close that we'd drive each other completely nuts.

Because that's a reality, too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

the path (xii)

Oh, right! Regarding installment XI in this series? It was published for a whole 90 minutes, before Charlie read it on his iPhone and called me yelling, "ARE YOU CRAZY?"

He of all people should know the answer to that.

Yes, of course I am!

And your point is?

His point was that he's not crazy. And he kindly suggested, from the perspective of a person with a good grasp on their sanity, that people don't write things like what I wrote on their public blog, where they are read by people, who know us, personally.

OK. Fine. But I'm not deleting the post. It's critically important to the story and must be preserved so when I look at back on this time and have any regrets for choices I might have made, I can remember precisely my state of mind at the time.

My logical husband then went on to suggest that I'm very much like a sports car.

"Jen, you can go from zero to sixty in under two seconds. You're capable of taking corners like you're on rails, all the while maintaining very high speeds. When you're at your peak, you're a sight to behold. But baby, when you breakdown, you BREAK DOWN!"

He's right. And he knows that for the last few miles, I've been running on fumes and now, there is no gas left in the tank. I've got bent rims and there is smoke billowing out from beneath my hood. One of my tires is rolling down the road and a door just fell clear off it's hinges. When I tell him this, my husband laughs and says, "Honey, that's why I'm your tow truck. Why don't you let me hook you up and bring you back to the shop for some body work?"

That's a knee slapper, that one is!

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Thank God for Charlie.

Or more precisely, Thank God he's acutely aware that I really am in the breakdown lane. Of course, it's a little frustrating for me, because I feel like if my circumstances were different, I'd still be on the course, happily making laps. But the severe imbalance in my life, has thrown all of our lives off kilter.

f your eyes fell upon my XI series, that I published earlier today, you might better understand what I'm eluding to, here. And 
one of the many things that I touched upon in that post, but didn't fully explore, are some of the fundamental differences between mothers and fathers. More specifically, even if a mother is the primary provider for a family, there are parental responsibilities that only she can fulfill. I think this goes both ways, actually. And I think that at least in our case, the fact that I've deferred the majority of parental responsibilities to Charlie, has caused disharmony in our family. 
This disharmony was the impetus for me threatening to LEAVE in December. Until I realized, it's not anyone's fault.

It's simply the chemical and biological variability that exists between fathers and mothers.

We're programmed a certain way.

(Or at least Charlie and I are.)

For example, several weeks ago, one of our children was "Star of the Week" in their classroom. Charlie and I both showed up to read a story and spend some time talking with the class. As our child sat proudly perched between us, at the front of the room, she placed her arm on her father's shoulder and said, "Everyone, this is my Dad. He is a GREAT dad. Every day, he'll chase us around the yard and wrestle with me. We rough house and build bridges and I really love him."

Then she turned and faced me with a beaming smile. She put her arm on my shoulder and continued, "Everyone, this is my Mom. She is a GREAT mom. She is also a great cleaner. Every weekend she cleans the whole house from top to bottom. She scrubs the bathrooms and cleans underneath my bed and she works so, so, so, so, so hard. Mom will read me stories, but sometimes she falls asleep and the book falls on her face, like … this." She shows an open book crashing on to her nose before adding, "I really love her."

Awww! Those are just the kind of things that I want for my children to remember about their childhoods. Their dad running around with them, playing, while I wear yellow rubber gloves and wield a toilet brush. I take a break from my chores (hobby?) to read them a story, and quickly fall asleep with "Where The Wild Things Are" on my face.

I give the teacher a weak smile and she smiles back and softly nods her head.

A mother's work is never done.

In my defense, it's a well documented fact that I cannot function in a space that is not well organized.

Let me say that again, with the correct emphasis…


Even after a long work week, I'll come home and tackle cleaning the house. Not because I particularly enjoy spending my free time kneeling on the floor scrubbing behind a 50-year old toilet, but because a clear space is a clear mind. But say, while I'm down here, can I just point out that once the trashcan is full, it's not acceptable to throw trash BEHIND the toilet?

You, little one, that is moving in to my bedroom.

Can you hear me?

The kids ask me to play a game. I peel off my gloves and we pull up chairs to the table. But I quickly realize, how can I sit down and play Candy Land with the children if I don't know where half the pieces are? We surrender the idea and instead, go out to play T-ball in the front yard because it is a beautiful sunny, spring day. 
We go to find the T-ball equipment and it's missing from it's designated location. After 20-minutes, we give up. N
ow we're on to painting, except oops, all the paint is dried up because we forgot to put the caps back on. Frustration rapidly mounts because h
ow can I really enjoy these moments if I can't find anything?

Dear God, am I the only one that knows how to put things away?


Now quit your whining and go embrace your womanly responsibility.

I've always been organized, it's in my nature. But my organizational skills have hit mach speed since I've had children. I've long believed that they had to reach that level if I was going to survive and function. So my typical schedule is that I work all week and I clean much of the day on Saturday in an effort to restore the house to MY kind of order, whilst fully recognizing that order will largely disappear once I go back to the office on Monday.

Rinse and repeat the next weekend.

I try not to feel annoyed at our circumstances and the entropy that exists around me in the form of six beings. But as I'm cleaning up, I find overdue library books. And an unpaid bill. And a birthday invitation for a party that is tomorrow and we haven't RSVP'd, nor purchased a present. At the bottom of the pile are school supplies that were sent home to help one of our children who is struggling with their reading. These items, which we should be using daily, are covered in dust. Unused. Untouched. Since I last moved them during my "Order Restoration Session" last weekend.

A few months ago, when I was pulled aside by my child's teacher and told that if things didn't improve soon, they would likely fail the first grade, I made a pact with my husband that we would do everything in our power to make sure that didn't happen. We worked tirelessly, over the winter break, every day. We were committed. Now I pick up the flashcards and reading material, blow off the dust, and sadly sigh. One of the children is having trouble in school. Another one is having discipline issues. Another one is having social issues. One of them is bouncing off the walls because their diet has been reduced to peanut butter and jelly. Except when I'm home and insist that they eat fruit and vegetables. Is this just typical kid stuff that we'd be struggling with, even if our circumstances were different? I'm not so sure... 

I focus on the positive: 
the children have a parent who is kind and patient, and tickles them and loves them to the moon, every single day. They are safe and mostly, happy. 
But it still really feels like something's missing. 
And in my opinion, that something is me.

Or, maybe I'm over thinking all of this and we just need a live-in maid.

Like Alice. From the Brady Bunch.