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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A series of run on sentences on going back to work

Because of the way I eventually react to change, I figured my kids would have a reaction to my working every day my first week at the new job. And then working many days since then. It's so different, being gone from them some days more than I'm with them. It's not what I want--I don't want to be working full-time, having someone else with my kids all day. This is temporary though. I'm working a lot during orientation and then that will change quite a bit. But in the meantime. . .

I understand it both intellectually and viscerally and yet it remains a mystery to me--how our mental and emotional and even physical states can be so affected by uncertainty and stress. Is change by nature, by definition, stressful? I should look that up. It probably is. Something about our mammalian selves relies on routine and safety. When something shifts, I bet there is a series of chemical reactions inside of us. Except not in a clear, linear fashion that draws easy-to-follow correlations between cause and effect. That would be too easy. It's more a big collage of layered stuff gooped together.

It came the first day I was home alone with them. Last Wednesday. The day of atrocious whining, clinging, kicking, snatching, fit-throwing, et al. Of course it did. That's what being the mom means. The big emotions come pouring out onto you because you are a safe place. The roost. The center. Where it all began. I should have known that they would save their tantrums for the day I stayed home with them. I hung a swing from our apple tree (pause: wow, we are so lucky) and the kids loved it. And fought over it. My son worked himself into a frenzy, trying so hard to be patient and wait for his turn. He used his words, saying "It's my turn now, Cleo!" And he screamed and raged and spun and just lost his shit because she would not get out and I would not make her get out. And maybe also because I went back to work?

I'm so happy to be back to work in this new old job. It feels like just what I need. But it's hard to leave my kids. And it's hard not to take it all personally--all their big moods and saying they don't want to come home and crying about going to Stephanie's. That's all because of me, right? Not necessarily because my going to work is a bad thing (although maybe it is for them) but because my going to work changes the schedule, changes the flow of our days and weeks. And that is so hard.

Why did I choose now to go back? Why did I want to be a stay at home mom in the first place? I am not selfless--both choices were for me, ultimately. I wanted to be with my kids. Be the one taking care of them, taking them places, feeding them, watching them grow. One of my co-workers told me, before I went out on maternity leave the first time, that it didn't really matter who took care of the kids when they were babies--I should save my time at home for when they were older, when they needed me more. I stayed home because I wanted to experience it. To see how it changed me. And because I knew the chance would not come again. . .though of course it did come again, only so close on the heels of the first time that it's really been one, long experience rather than distinct phases of motherhood. That's why I stayed. Because I'd always wanted to.

Well, not always. When I was in my 20's, utterly defining myself by my cool job and what it felt like to work so hard I told  one of my best friends, already a parent and staying home, that there was no way I could stay home because I would be so bored. By the time I was in my 30's, aching to have kids and wondering when it would happen, I suspected that I wanted to quit my job and just be a mom. Just. What a word. Just be a mom because I didn't think I could do both things well and because I couldn't imagine how two working parents with commutes would manage to hold shit together once kids arrived. So I gave up my big job and became someone different. A mom of twins. And then the mom with two sets of twins. A mom on Zoloft. A mom who did as much yoga as she could and started writing a blog and despaired over the constant state of mess in the house and looked for ways to numb out to the many gaps between what I expected parenthood to be and what it was.

Why did I go back? Because I tried last June and then quit before even starting because my colitis flared so bad I knew I couldn't handle the stress. Because I saw the job get posted again and it felt like, if I waited much longer, I would never go back. Because I lost so much of who I was before--job that mattered to me, living in the city, single, not a mom, with an income--and I wanted to see if I could recapture some of it by going back to a place that had been such a part of me. Because I kept finding myself yelling at my kids. I no longer felt like my being the main person they were with all the time was serving any of us. I had lost the ability to see the forest and the fucking trees kept getting in my way and pissing me off. Because I get to speak Spanish in this job and I can't think of another more effective way to get my Spanish back. Being bilingual was the thing I was most proud of, almost two decades ago. ....holy shit, I have to catch my breath on that one. Two decades? No wonder I'm rusty.

That's a lot of reasons. One last, big, huge one is the fact that I feel death all around me lately. Not like it is coming for me. Not in a way that makes me afraid, exactly. It's more like. . . I'm 39. My parents and aunts and uncles are getting older. My friends have lost siblings and battled cancer, some winning and some conceding. I have four children. Four is a lot. Do I think we're all going to somehow make it through all of this unscathed? Quite the opposite.

That's dark but that's how I feel. I'm feeling the heaviness of humanity--I guess this is how I  experience having four additional hearts beating outside my own body. I didn't know I was scared. . .but it turns out that's part of what I feel. Afraid. Vulnerable. Mad. Out of control. And yet somehow numb because I can't deal with feeling all of that stuff all the time.

So back to work I go. To a work that puts me right in the thick of grief and loss--because I'm walking around with the spectres of those things anyway. And because this is the job I should have done years ago--the job I would have done had I sat down and listened to the quiet voice inside answering the question I didn't think to ask. What do you want to do?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Short and sweet

From this morning:

Parenthood gives me the gift of appreciation. Right now I'm lounging on the couch under a cozy blanket, reading the Mt Diablo magazine that keeps getting delivered to our house despite our not having a subscription. Drinking warmed up coffee and eating Trader Joe's biscotti, hearing the white noise machine rain falling in the big kids room. I've been sleeping on a mattress on their floor for weeks and the hardest part has been not getting even a moment to myself in the mornings. Often they've made their way to either side of me on the floor so getting up to go pee has been their wake-up. Having this almost-silence, this slice of time to myself, is a balm.

From now:

The kids are at Stephanie's and I've been craving them for hours. Maybe because I am working and want to worm my way out of things I need to do. Maybe because I'm going to a play with my brother tonight so it will be many many hours away from those sweet faces. I need to buy dog food, the kitchen needs to be cleaned, I'm doing my timecard, So much to do and I know as soon as I see them my heart will be soothed. And as soon as we get home chaos will ensue.

Saturday, March 5, 2016


For my 39th birthday, which was this past Tuesday, I got myself a job. I spent the day getting oriented to some systems I helped put together. The walls of the conference room were made of glass so people periodically walked by and, if they noticed me, many gave looks of surprise, glee, confusion. Wait. . .what are you doing here? Are you back? I am back.

I went back to work again, for the third time since becoming a mom. The first time I pitched a project management job after giving up my full time management job--I did that for a year and then got laid off. The second time I went to work for a new employer, in a related field and with people I knew well. I am still doing that job. This last time I went back to my old company, in a role new to me. I took the job I have wanted since shortly after I started working there, back in 2003. I am a Family Resource Coordinator and I will be supporting families in their grief as they contemplate the loss of and lose loved ones. I will be talking to them about organ donation and asking them to consider making the choice to donate on behalf of someone they loved who is no longer able to make that decision. Or, in the blessed instance when someone did choose organ donation before his or her death, I will be supporting their families as they honor and sometimes adjust to the wishes of their people. My heart feels full at the prospect of doing this work. What an incredible honor.

Years ago when I worked in Placement, aka the organ allocation department, my shift started at 7a or 7p. For the morning shifts I'd wake up at 5:30, hurriedly get ready and get on the road, driving east from San Francisco towards downtown Oakland. Often I'd be on the lower span of the Bay Bridge as the sun was rising. The world felt silent and I was alone in my car, in a space between selves, on my way to a job that often took all of me. Those sunrises were gifts the world gave me to say Yes, my dear. Keep going this way.
Tuesday was my first day at the new job. Wednesday was an all-staff meeting--they hold two a year. The last one I attended was February 2014, fresh from maternity leave, newly hired into the project management job and already pregnant again though I wasn't telling anyone yet. Because good grief woman, didn't you just have some babies??

The meeting this week was fun and energetic and a great way to come back--seeing lots of people all at once, getting and giving hugs, feeling at once at home and outside. I watched as people received their 5 Years of Service awards, their 10 Years. I remembered when they were hired. Now I'm at. . .my first year of service again, though it's really my twelfth, with a one year break. I'm new but I'm old. I was a boss but now I"m not. I was 25 when I first got hired; I'm 39 getting hired for the second time. I've lived a lot of life in between and most of those years, most of that life, has been spent making organ donation happen in some capacity, at some level. I'm good at it. I love it. It's what I do. I've missed it. I've missed the me I was. I am so glad to get to be a part of the work again. I might not get to be the me I was, not in the same way, ever again.

During a break at the meeting I got into conversation with another woman new to the organization, new to my new team. She described herself as having been a stay at home mom and said "not like you." Wait a second. That's the first time anyone has said that to me. Did my identity change that quickly? I mean, it was just last week I was spending most of my waking hours, and actually all of my sleeping ones, side by side with these children. I know it was just conversation, not judgement, but it made my head spin a little.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week I drove home on 680, heading north with the sky darkening, red tail lights holding me back from my kids. My heart full and sad and confused. This week I spent more time away from my kids than with them, for the first time ever except for the time I spent in the hospital last September. I didn't really miss them during the day but driving home I missed them so much, couldn't wait to get home to them,. . . and I felt so different. Alive in a different way than I've felt for a long time.

Why do we do what we do? Whether it is work or play or staying home to raise kids (which is both work and play and quite frankly a whole host of other things that make defining the experience damn freaking hard). Is it for the money? For the prestige? For the community? For the pleasure? For the challenge? For the learning opportunity? For the benefit of the kids? For the good of the family?

This work is the most human thing I've ever done--it brings me closer to what it means to be a person than anything else. Except for parenthood. They are both heavy and holy. So I'm going to do them both and see who I become.