Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm Charles Frickin' Ingalls

I am. I'm a pioneer.  And it's exhausting.  Absolutely emotionally and physically exhausting.  I wish someone had told me that ahead of time.  But I guess nothing fantastic comes easy, and I'm up for the challenge.  Once I get rested, that is. 

See.  Here's the thing.  I come from a long line of pioneers.  So do you.  You likely have just never thought about it much.  But I did.  I gave it quite a bit of thought after my mom posted on my Facebook that she was proud of me for being a pioneer.  But you know what?  Had it not been for women like my grandmother, who forged their way into the workforce when women just didn't do those kinds of things, then I would have never gotten the opportunity to even be on this blazing trail. 

And if it weren't for women, like my mother, who continued to push and work and fight and prove that women deserved a right in the workplace beyond basic typing and fetching, then I also would not be on this blazing trail. 

See, those women were TRUE pioneers.  And there are many others - they are not the only two, nor do I mean to imply they are.  They are just the two I'm using as an example.  They blazed a trail for me.  The one on which it was norm for women to achieve great things in the workforce.  The one on which it wasn't unheard of for women to hold high positions in the workforce.  The trail isn't for everyone to travel - it's a personal choice.  And that's okay.  We are all individuals and have the right to make our own choices based upon our individual needs and desires.  I chose this path. 

When I first started walking along the path they'd blazed for me - it was awesome!  Clear and smooth.  Easy to travel.  Then... I had the prodigal son.  And all of a sudden, the path was cumbersome and bumpy and all sorts of unpleasantries were attacking me.  I remember when I told my boss (a COMPLETE bitch - yes a woman - single mother, no less) that I was pregnant.  She laughed with hysteria.  Then she became quite somber.  Irritated with me.  And from that point forward she did everything in her power to make my life a living hell.  Sending me out on audits that lasted for weeks and months upon end, which required I board a plane on Monday morning at some unGodly hour of the morning and not return until late Friday night.  Hauling around a 75 lb auditor's bag, dressed in a suit, toting a suitcase and 6 months pregnant.  7 months pregnant.  8 months pregnant. 

When I was about 7 or 8 weeks along, my placenta detached.  Afraid to tell her I had a serious medical condition, I kept it a secret and just continued to plow through my duties, risking the life of my unborn child and myself.  Must keep this job.  Cannot mention medical complications.  Too risky.  Too taboo.  (Everything turned out fine in the end and I won't bore you with the full details of the entire pregnancy - I promise). 

I took my 6 weeks of maternity leave.  When the prodigal son was but 10 weeks old, he contracted viral meningitis.  But at the time, we did not know it was viral - we had to wait 48 hours to see if the culture would grow and determine if it was viral or bacterial.  I called the bitch in the evening and alerted her to his sudden illness and hospitalization and that we were told that if it was bacterial, he would likely die.  Do you know what that bitch said to me?  "So, will you be in the office tomorrow or not?"  I vowed right then and there I would immediately start looking for a new job.  And I did.  And within weeks I had found one and left.

The new job offered a bit more flexibility and since it was a government job, I was fairly well protected from any more antics like what I had experienced with the bitch.  And it helped that one of my bosses was suffering with a terminal illness.  (And I don't mean that in a bad way - he was empathetic).  During this job, I became pregnant with the brunette and I was treated fairly and justly and not placed under undue scrutiny or assigned to horrible punishing projects.  Again, being a government agency - I was protected.  And through their amazing leave donation program, I was able to take a 7 week maternity leave and get paid through the entire absence! 

Later, that post ended and I moved back into the private sector.  And I had very little wiggle room.  I soon found myself as a single parent with two very small children.  I had a 30 mile commute to work and was always strapped for time.  I remember one time, I had issues with the prodigal son that resulted in numerous morning melt-downs and screaming and spankings and just the most hideous sight I'd ever seen.  And even after a 30 mile commute - my heart was racing so badly I thought I might have a heart attack - but I was panic stricken that morning - he was misbehaving and I was at risk for being late to work.  I drove 90 that morning.  To get to work on time.  To sit in a room full of people and transcribe their words to paper so that the conversation could be logged for eternity. 

And then one of the kids might get sick, so I would scramble to find someone to watch them while they were ill.  Fortunately the local hospital had a sick child program on their pediatric ward and if they had the space - they would take your child for the day.  It was such a Godsend.  But then the brunette was hospitalized.  And then she got chicken pox - TWICE.  And at my next performance review - I found myself scoring in the top 5% of all officers across the national organization - yet written up - for shitty attendance.  I remember being so sick, personally, one time that I could barely function.  But I HAD to drag myself into the office - I could not risk missing a single other day.  Driving, 30 miles, in a fever-induced fog.  Praying I wouldn't pass out somewhere along the way.  Sitting at a desk, so ill that my entire body shook.  But by God - I was THERE.  And they saw my dedication!  And they approved.

When I first started at Company X - they were rigid.  Most of the execs came out of banking and we pretty well adhered to banking ways of conducting business.  Because we are a technology company, though, most of the staff started pushing for more freedoms and over time the ties were loosened some.  But we would be chastised for wearing funny hats while working on Fridays.  We were having "too much fun" - and certainly we couldn't be getting a damned thing done - what, with that silly hat on our head.  You can't work, or think, or be creative with a hat on your head.  And then, they decided we needed to push through more work.  And soon many of us found ourselves at the office for 80-100 hours EACH WEEK.  At one point, Company X paid for me to have a nighttime nanny.  So here were my babies - under 10 years old - being shuttled to a daycare during the day - retrieved by a nanny at 6:00 and the only time they saw me was in the morning when I would wake them to shuttle them back to daycare.  80% of the employees of Company X were on some type of anti-depressant medication during that time.  Gee.  I wonder why.

Then we got a new boss and he was nuttier than the prior boss.  And the reins were tightened again.  He would retrieve me from my house in inclement weather - to make certain I got to work safely.  He would play with us like puppets all day and when he grew tired of us - he would throw us aside and we'd be left lying there - wondering what in the hell just happened.  I spent most of my day entertaining him - keeping him away from the staff so they could actually get some work done and achieve something.  I shopped with him.  I went to lunch with him.  If he had a whim to go buy a vase - I'd go with him.  He loved me.  I was present.  And yet, because I am a responsible adult, I was STILL working endless hours so I could get the results we needed to survive.  When the blonde was born, I also got to take 7 weeks of maternity leave.  It was paid time off also - because the nutcase had found that "in his experience, women in my condition have a propensity to sue employers and it was just less costly to pay me and appease me."  Nevermind the entire issue was a matter because when he took over, he wiped out everyone's accrued vacation and I'd not had a day off in years.

I hated to see him go.  I really did.  I miss him every day.  NOT.

For the last few years, we've been pretty loose at Company X.  We have incorporated flex time; comp time; floating holidays; remote work; compressed work week.  We have tried them all - trying to find something that made sense for EVERYONE.  Yet we could feel it - we could sense it - the morale was dropping and getting lower and lower.  What could it be?  And it took us MONTHS to figure it out - people were sick.  Sick from trying to balance their lives.  We were offering what we thought were viable solutions and options - but it wasn't helping.  Finally, I tripped across ROWE.  And it made sense.  It just had to work - it had to be the answer.  And you can go read about THAT journey at: if you haven't already.

And as I sat yesterday, in our ROWE Implementation Workshop.  I regained my hope.  I looked around the room - at the young people - with young children and those that don't yet have children.  And I felt PROUD - PROUD to be a progressive thinker and willing to take risks - so that THEY can have a different life than I had when my older kids were young.  I felt sad for those of us that didn't have this opportunity and lost time with their children.  And sent our kids here, there and everywhere - hiding them - keeping their existence virtually mum - in hopes of keeping our jobs and not being overlooked for bigger things because we had kids.  But my happiness and pride FAR surpassed my sadness for what I had lost.  Because I knew in my heart - I was on the bleeding edge of a new movement in the workplace - and the inertia will build and this thing will take off - across the world.  And I was a part of the movement in the early stages - I got on board when fewer than 100 companies in the US have adopted it.  We are likely the FIRST company in Kansas to migrate to ROWE. 

When I got home, I told the prodigal son and the brunette that I had just joined a movement that would forever change the way they worked and that they could thank me later.  They just looked at me like I was nuts - which is pretty typical.  But I did.  And it will. 

And so for those women that blazed the trail ahead of me - each generation widening the trail and changing its shape and direction - THANK YOU.  And hopefully you will view what I've done and what I've stood up for - LIFE BALANCE  - as keeping the flame alive.  I proudly accept the torch you passed on to me and I hope you are proud of what I've done with it.  And for those of you who have not yet embraced ROWE - follow it - watch it - join it - get on the bandwagon with me - because TOGETHER we can move this giant old rusty wheel much quicker and with much greater ease!!! 

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