Saturday, April 14, 2018

Ch-ch-ch-changes

When I was in my very early 20s, I worked for a German-born retired USAF general who owned a small international marketing company. One time, I left work a few minutes early for an appointment. The next day, I saw a note on his desk that he had written to himself: "Claudia left at 4:56 today." He was probably my weirdest employer. He paid me next to nothing and routinely referred to me as his sexetary. But then he would do outlandishly generous things, like taking me to lunch at a fancy restaurant or buying me crystal for my birthday each year. Thanks to him, I actually own a lead crystal ice bucket - not everyone can say they own one of those.

I've had the good fortune to have some very nice employers over the years. For some reason, though, I keep thinking of a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Muppet Christmas Carol. (Hey, I didn't say that I was a sophisticated movie-goer here!) The bookkeeping rats urge Bob Cratchit (AKA Kermit the Frog) to ask Ebenezer Scrooge if they can have some more coal for the fire. Scrooge flies into a rage and asks the rats if they'd like to be "SUDDENLY UNEMPLOYED!" The rats, in turn, break out into a Caribbean-style dance and start chattering about a heat wave.

Why am I thinking about that goofy scene? Well, because (as of yesterday) I am  . . . SUDDENLY UNEMPLOYED. I am still reeling from the shock of it. My emotions were (and are) all over the map: fear, worry, sadness, and stuff I can't even articulate. I mean, I've always had a job. I have been working steadily since I was a teenager. I think the last time I was unemployed was in 1988 when I was a student at Texas A&M, and then a brief period after the mister and I moved to the Midwest in 1995.

My career path has been interesting. I started as an administrative assistant at a local IT company in 1996. Later, I transitioned to the company's web development department and eventually got into project management. In 2010, the web department (which had been spun off as a separate company by that time) was sold to another local IT company that specialized in web hosting and managed services. Fortunately, I was offered a job by the new company and worked there until 2016, when the owner sold the company to a very large IT company. In 2017, the very large IT company sold the web development division to a small marketing agency. Got all that?

I was excited to get into a new field and to learn about content marketing (in addition to continuing to serve the clients that were part of the acquisition). I did everything I was asked to do. I earned two HubSpot certifications. I wrote blogs to support the company's inbound marketing campaigns. I managed web projects. I trained clients. Plus, I liked my boss and my co-workers (I still do, honestly). And then, suddenly, I was sent packing. I can't say that I took it well. I cried all day and I'm pretty sure I still have more tears to shed. It's hard not to take it as a rejection of me as a person instead of simply "we can't afford to pay you anymore."

Of course, I have to be very careful about what I say next. It's very easy for me to go down a path of being very angry. So, I am trying to stay positive, focus on the future, and hope that a great opportunity comes along. Why was I let go? I was told that the decision was purely financial (my salary was not huge, but I'm assuming that I made a bit more than my much-younger co-workers), so I'm trying to take that at face value. I was told that there was nothing I could have done differently and that I didn't do anything wrong. I keep thinking about how I worked with some of the same clients for a decade or more. I have to think that some of them may wonder where I am. I feel bad about that, like I've let them down in some way. 

Just recently I told a friend that after being acquired three times, I sometimes wondered when my luck would run out. I was hired by each company and held onto my job even when others were let go. It's kind of like when my husband hit a deer a few months ago. We live in an area where it happens pretty routinely. His number was just up. It was his turn to mangle a deer. Now, my number is up (not for the deer thing, though, I hope).

We're snowed in (yes, in April - Mother Nature can go suck an egg), so I've been working on my resume and gathering references. One positive thing is that I've managed to build a good network over the past 22 years and am reaching out to people who have offered to help me in my job search. Several have agreed to serve as references. I filed for unemployment this morning (for the first time in my life). As if getting fired isn't enough of a blow to the ol' ego, the unemployment forms just about finished it off. "Were you fired for stealing? Were you fired for drug use?" Geez.

What makes me sad (well, almost as sad as being unemployed) is that it just feels like loyalty doesn't mean anything anymore.  You can check your work emails on nights and weekends. You can beat the drum for the company. You can do everything you've been asked to do and more. But in the end, it won't save your job. And that's a tough lesson to learn.

Telling my daughter that I lost my job was almost as hard as absorbing the news myself. She is a very empathetic kid and I knew it would make her sad to see me down in the dumps. I assured her that it's my job (ouch) to worry about this stuff. I will do my best to make sure that very little changes in her world. I assured her that we'll still have her birthday party as planned. I did her laundry while she was at school yesterday (I normally make her do her own laundry), so that's one little bonus for her. I have more time for her, at least temporarily (I hope).

When I posted a note about my job search on Facebook, my friends were very supportive. According to them, I'm talented and smart and lots of other adjectives, too. You know what? They're right. I may not have tons of confidence when it comes to my appearance. I worry that I'm not a great mom. I certainly have my insecurities. But, I am confident in my ability to do a good job, wherever I land. They say that integrity is what you do when no one is looking. I'd like to think that I have integrity. I'd like to think that I've developed some valuable skills over the years. Plus, there has to be some employer out there who wants to hear my terrible jokes all day long.



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Middle School Talent Show

My daughter participated in a music gala at her school last night. It was essentially a talent show, with a fundraising component added (raffle, admission, etc.) The show benefited the school's music department.

The kid sang the song "Colorblind" from Glee. Because of time constraints, she was only able to sing one verse. However, she had the opportunity to sing it in its entirety at church a couple weeks ago (see below) and she's sung it for me and her dad about a hundred times, so I think we're all set. She also had a small solo in a number performed by the advanced mixed choir.

I have to say . . . some of the kids really blew me away with their talent. One group of kids performed a step number. It was so much fun to watch. We have a local tribe that's very prominent in our community. Quite a few tribal kids go to my daughter's school. A group of them performed a water song (in the native tongue) and then later they did a smoke dance to a drumming soundtrack. I think I was just extra impressed because I think it takes courage to be in middle school and to proudly wear tribal garb. Middle school is usually more about fitting in than standing out.

One act shattered my heart. The screen came down and the music started. A student named Jocelyn came out and sang a song about her brother. It was a sweet, simple song with lyrics like "I love you to the stars." Meanwhile, on the screen, dozens and dozens of photos of her family flashed by. In each, the focal point was a dark-eyed boy with nasal cannulas sending oxygen into his lungs. He looked happy but there was clearly something wrong, health-wise. I wondered if it might be cystic fibrosis. The photos kept coming and I started to think, "Oh no, I don't think he makes it." Second later, a photo of his headstone appeared. He died in 2017 at the age of 10.

I have no idea how she sang so clearly and beautifully. It's only been a year since she lost her brother. The auditorium, which was packed, was silent. I was crying openly at that point. Oh man, I feel a little weepy just thinking about it now! Brave girl, for sure.

A couple of acts were less memorable, but it was obvious that all of the kids had worked hard. My husband felt compelled to whisper his editorial comments throughout the show but I shushed him because you never know when the kid who just performed has family sitting directly behind you. A band performed an original song. P leaned over and asked, "Do you have aspiriiiiiiiiin?"

After the show, the kids who performed were running around, taking selfies. I spotted one girl, an eighth grader who had performed in the step routine. She has vitiligo, made all the more noticeable because she is African-American. She's lost the pigment on her forearms, neck, and hands. Part of me wanted to grab her and take her aside. I wanted to tell her, "You're beautiful, hold your head up, wear sunblock at all times."

However, she was already holding her head up just fine. I noticed her walking confidently across the cafeteria, three friends following a half-step behind her. She was laughing, calling out to other kids. Later, my daughter told me that the girl is one of the most popular kids in the whole school.

I couldn't help but wish I'd been more like her in middle school. I had the same medical condition (plus a couple others, just for extra fun) and my experience was pretty much the exact opposite. I'm still bearing the mental scars from being told that I was ugly, unpopular, and simply "less than." Geez, I think I'm secretly jealous of an 8th grader! Seriously, though, I hope bullying isn't as bad as it used to be.

The talent show was one of the more memorable evenings I've had in recent memory. Say what you want about "kids today" but you know what? I think the kids are alright.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Because poetry is cheaper than therapy

People tell me all the time, "You're such a great mom!" Memo to those folks: my kid wants to run track at school and I told her that she can do it, but only if she takes the city bus home. I'm pretty sure a great mom would figure out a way to pick her ass up. I sometimes wonder if people believe that an adoptive mom needs extra encouragement. I dunno. I think all moms appreciate hearing that despite all the yelling and all the times we let our children eat doughnuts for dinner . . . we're doing okay.

I haven't been writing a lot of blog posts recently. One reason is that my daughter is getting older (13 in a few weeks!) and I think her privacy is more important now than it was when she was a toddler who pooped her pants on the regular. The other is that I'm finally writing that book that everyone always tells me I should write. I don't know if anything will come of it, but I'm enjoying the challenge.

At my church we have an annual "Poetry Sunday." It's basically just what you think it is - a celebration of poetry. I am a fairly crappy poet. I know I was an English major and all that, but I've never written a lot of poetry. However, I threw together a piece for this year's service and read it to the congregation today. So, here 'tis:

Flutter

Convinced I was carrying a boy, I named him Seth Patrick
Deep brown eyes like his dad, but with my completely reasonable nose
I watched the ultrasound monitor closely, squinting at the foreign images
The room was dark, the paper-covered pillow crinkling beneath my head
The doctor pointed, a tiny flutter. “The heart,” she said, matter-of-factly

Soon, that flickering heartbeat fell silent, my wailing the only sound
We had tried before and would try again, not comprehending the futility
Four tiny spirits tried to break through, each flying away in succession
A cliche, I know, but my arms ached for the infant I would never hold
I gently shook a toy frog in the nursery, a soft chime emanating from its belly

We sat across the desk from the social worker at the adoption agency
“Start with these forms,” she said, sliding them across with a smile
Months were spent with forms, home visits, security checks
I created a photo album about our lives for pregnant women to peruse
I was careful not to make us look too poor, too religious, too anything

“A birthmom wants to meet you!” The social worker was almost breathless
Days later we sat in plastic chairs at the agency, nervous and afraid
Did I have lipstick on my teeth? Did I look like a woman who could care for a baby?
J arrived shortly thereafter, her blue-green eyes and ready smile putting us at ease
“I know your baby will be beautiful,” I remarked, wondering if it was okay to say

I cried at my desk at work when the official word came. We had been chosen
I painted the nursery and confided in the frog with a chime in its belly
Would she change her mind? Would she decide that I wasn’t meant to be a mom after all?
Days clicked by. I stared at my phone around the clock, wondering when labor might begin
The due date passed and an induction was scheduled. The baby was in no hurry

On May third, Patrick and I stood at the foot of J's hospital bed, making small talk
We endeavored to be respectful, lighthearted, not at all presumptuous
At 5, we retreated to the cafeteria for dinner, though we were not hungry
Suddenly, a rush of excitement. “She wants you in the room!” We scurried to the elevator
At 5:56 PM, a pouty-lipped baby girl made her debut, her tiny red fists punching the air

My arms, all at once, stopped aching. The ache, perhaps, had been passed to J
My soaring joy would be forever tied directly to her abject sorrow, and we both knew it
I caught my breath and then called my mom on her recently-acquired cell phone
I tried to keep my voice steady when she answered.
“Mom,” I said. “Would you like to hear about my daughter?”