Putting the Braces Back On

Posted: July 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Career Confusion, Daddio, Discoveries, Eating Out, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Money, Shopping, Working World | 1 Comment »

I used to be the Patron Saint of Interns. It was, of course, a self-appointed role. But one I took quite seriously.

The thing is, at one point in my career, or rather, the making of my career, I held quite a number of internships. Positions in TV newsrooms, hippie liberal radio stations, and various magazines where I’d earn a meager stipend, or sometimes just an appreciative thump on the back.

The hope being that the inverse ratio of earnings to hard labor would have some karmic redemptive upside.

I’ve lost count now of how many of those posts I’ve held. But suffice it to say, years into real grown-up paying work, my friend Mike and I were catching up on the phone and he asked how my internship was going. Sadly, I fear he wasn’t kidding. But that did become an evergreen joke for us when, over the following years, I’d worked my way through positions of mounting managerial responsibility and in our long coast-to-coast calls he’d ask the same question.

Good times, those.

Alas, aside from dignity-robbing name tags, epic Xeroxing tasks, and occasional demeaning-to-my-education lunch runs (I won’t even get into the pervy remarks from crusty old newsmen)—aside from all that, the biggest challenge with my Intern Era life was my short supply of cash.

Well, actually, I don’t know how much it really bothered me then. I mean, I think I attached a certain nobleness (not to be confused with the richy-sounding term “nobility”) to bushwhacking my way through a poorly-paying, romantic, writerly career path. But looking back, I can’t imagine how I did it.

I mean, I always managed to eat (and drink), God knows. And much as I worked towards self-sustainability, this Daddy’s Girl has thankfully never lacked anything of true importance. That is, even when my father’s definition of importance and mine differed. For some reason, he was maniacal about never allowing a child of his to sleep on a futon, of all things. Guess it seemed all Gypsy-like and what’d-the-neighbors-say to him.

Anyway, back then apartment-establishing jaunts to Target required first off, that I borrow a car. And once there, accumulating crap was a practice in restraint. Necessities like mops and cleaners and such went head to head against fripperies like ceramic Italian-esque pasta bowls and bright striped shower curtains. Sometimes home decor, to the extent it could be humbly called that, won out over specialty toilet bowl bleaches.

Thankfully, I never contracted any illnesses from my less-than-sterile but kinda cute living conditions.

These days Target is still the soup kitchen to my soul. But I shop with heedless abandon. Bolstered by their don’t-need-the-receipt-just-your-credit-card return policy, I toss whatever shiny thing I see into the cart.

Clothing? Well, I prefer not to buy it there (for reasons of snobbery alone), but sometimes a little cotton short catches my eye. And who knows if it’s the Small or the Medium that’ll work best. Buy both. Return one later. Candles, brooms, weird flower-shaped sprinkler attachments for kids to run through on hot summer days. A hectare of Size 4 diapers. I never leave the place without mindlessly spending, well, a lot.

The thing is, somewhere between the Intern Era came, well, the hoped-for karmic career redemption patch. Widely known as the American Dream. Or more precisely, the Internet Boom. Right here in Northern California, USA. And instead of having to desperately take an ‘Intro to the Internets’ class at The Learning Annex, I’d somehow managed to retool my media career into an internet business-type kinda job before all the hoopla kicked in.

Looked up from my laptop one day to discover I’d become a cherished ladder-climbing leader at a company where 27-year-olds made Vice President, bought homes based on the momentary health of their unvested stock, and earned bonuses their hard-working parents no doubt found obscene. I traveled non-stop, managed teams in multiple cities, and spent my days telling people twice my age how to run their companies. All that, plus shrimp cocktail and top-shelf booze at Friday afternoon office Happy Hours.

Like many folks at that time, I felt pretty damn invincible.

Unsurprisingly, my spending habits changed. I could buy one of those loft condos with Corian counter tops if I wanted! Buy last-minute tickets home to RI. Go to swank dinners with friends, order beyond the dinner salad, and not dread someone’s inevitable suggestion to “split the bill evenly between us.”

But more than the stuff I could get, what struck me most—initially, at least—was the lack of worry that my new financial sitch afforded me. More than the thrill of ownership any of the crap I bought, knowing I had what I needed to comfortably take care of myself gave me a supreme sense of contentment. A deep, proud-of-myself-for-making-it-so self-sufficiency and security.

And I realized yesterday that my memory of those days, that feeling in particular, is starting to fade in my mind, alongside the Intern Era. With the Global Economic Recession lurking in the pit of everyone’s gut, and me intentionally unemployed and Living La Vida Housewife, it’s hard to remember spending freely on a credit card that someone else (someone I’m not married to, that is) pays.

Prudence seems to dictate a throttling back on spending. It’s not that a crap run to Target will have us living on the street—blessedly. It’s just that, well, used to be we had two jobs and no kids. Now we’ve got one for the four of us. I’m no math expert, but that nets out to less all around.

So I get it right? I’m able to intellectually understand all this. It’s just I’m not certain how to get there. Regroup with that little voice in my head that used to say, “You can’t afford this.”

I mean, it seems obvious, right? Just spend less. But I’m deadline driven, motivated by fear, and perform best under pressure. I know that I should ratchet back, but I’m not feeling a sting to do so.

And Mark, poor dear. His concerns in this arena should be all I need to react. But I’m not getting spurned on. I’m not kicking into thrift mode with any of the novel glee or romantic challenge of it all.

And I can’t help but think that the monumental passage of the Intern Era’s to blame.

It’s like people who wore braces as teenagers, or however old you are when you do that. Elastic bands with colors or cutesie names, nightmares about corn on the cob, fears that getting inextricably locked with a co-braces-wearer during a make-out sesh might not just be urban legend.

I, thankfully, never had them. But I have to believe that once you get your braces taken off, you put all that gnarly, miserable, clingy-food-bits trauma behind you. Close that door and MOVE ON. You just get out there and enjoy your new straight teeth life, and revel in the knowledge that you’ll never be able to fry an ant with the glare off your teeth again.

That is, until as an adult you discover that your teeth have somehow moved. Shifted when you weren’t paying them any attention. And now you need to get braces AGAIN.

Which, is kinda where I feel like I am today. Perfectly straight teeth, thankyouverymuch. But having, despite myself, to go back to that uncomfortable place of restrained spending, at Tar-jay and beyond.

Well, that, or get a job. A job, or maybe a high-class internship.

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In the Know

Posted: May 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Career Confusion, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Working World | 1 Comment »

Every once and a while Kate takes it upon herself to enumerate the things the people in our family “know a lot about.”

Here’s what she came up with at dinner last night:

* Cars
* Bunnies

* Cutting (not a la Angelina—cutting as in carving meat, cutting pizza, etc.)
* Cooking things
* Fixing things
* Blimps
* Everything
* Tools

* Babies
* Talking baby language

* Babies
* Mommies
* Planting flowers

Now, I don’t mean to be petty here. I’m the first to admit that my husband is a modern day Renaissance Man, but saying he knows a lot about everything? Sure there’s cycling, linguistics, technology, music, The Simpsons, installing car seats, comic books, writing, barbecuing, gadgets, soothing crying babies, science fiction, cutlery, online communities, reading super fast, urban planning, the Civil War, and molecular gastronomy. He knows a ton about those things. But, Kate’s paternal adoration aside, isn’t saying he knows a lot about everything a bit of an exaggeration?

Well, if you were to ask him, he might not think so.

In college, Mark and his BFF, Christian, used to play an aren’t-we-so-young-and-brilliant game, its premise being that they could recite off the cuff three facts on any given topic. While drinking beer at the local watering hole, one imagines.

The Eiffel Tower? It’s in Paris. It was named after its engineer, Gustave Eiffel. It’s the tallest building in Paris.

You get the idea.

Anyway, however good Mark may be at that game, by my count three data points—even if he could produce them on virtually everything—does not, in my book, constitute knowing “a lot” about those subjects.

But really, of course, I’m just jealous. Since it saddens me to think that Kate doesn’t perceive my ken as extending beyond the maternal arts. What about all I know about yard sales? Parallel parking? Taking really hot showers? Unrelenting sarcasm? Downward dog? Or toe picking, for God’s sake? Don’t those things count for anything? Or maybe it’s just that in Kate’s mind they fall under the vague rubric she calls “Mommies.”

I really shouldn’t blame Kate entirely for my petite neurotic reaction to her dinner-time game. She’s just calling it as she sees it. Really I should be thankful she didn’t add “Bellowing, ‘Can I please just have one minute here?’” or “Putting little girls in Time Outs” to her list of things I know a lot about.

Fact is, I’ve been doing a fair amount of wondering what it is I do know a lot about, all on my own. Trying to remember what I’m good at. Something that might be applied in such a way that I can make some money from it.

Because, after a glorious trip to the beach on Sunday, sandy sleepy kids piled into the car and u-turning our way out of Alameda, Mark and I stumbled into a conversation that I knew was coming eventually. The one in which we faced up to the fact that it’s time for me to get back to contributing to the family’s bottom line. Hopefully in no soul-sucking cubicle-dwelling full time capacity, but by freelancing or project work, or some utterly ideal, flexible and lucrative, creative part-time job.

So on Saturday night I went to bed, a sometimes-ashamed-to-admit-it Stay At Home Mom. And somehow by Monday I woke up feeling, well, unemployed.

What a difference a day makes.

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Consider My Hat Eaten

Posted: November 13th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Working World | 2 Comments »

Remember in the die-if-I-missed-it show of my teendom, Happy Days, when Fonzie attempted to admit he’d made a mistake?

Well, if you weren’t as devoted a viewer as I was, I’ll tell you about it. He’d do this super goofy but kinda-funny-because-it-was-predictable thing where’d he’d say, “I was wrr-wrrrr-wrrr…” and inevitably someone like God’s own Ritchie Cunningham would say, “Wrong, Fonzie? Are you trying to say you were wrong?”

Well, despite the myriad similarities between Fonzie and me–including the fact that I like conducting meetings in the bathroom–this week I had reason to actually feel happy about admitting that I was wrong.

But first, the back story.

Before having Kate, my concept of work had one modality: working 50-65 hour weeks,compulsively checking email when not at work, never knowing when a pitch would require unexpected late nights/travel/migraines/beatings from executives, never knowing when the work that we spend long hours and late nights producing would result in beatings from clients, and intermittent Sunday evenings rife with stomach-clutching because it’d all start over again in a matter of hours.

After having Kate and taking a hiatus from work my psyche was able to unfurl from it’s abused-child fetal position. And unbelievably, for the first time, the simple realization that there were other kinds of jobs out there came to me.

Unfortunately, agency life, for all it’s unpredictability and manic peaks and valleys, did get me accustomed to creature comforts far beyond Bagel Fridays. It was creative. It was lucrative. It was never boring. My co-workers were always funny and mostly brilliant. And the flip side of the burning ulcers was the ‘the client loved it’ adrenaline rushes.

Teeninsy Kate injected her existence into my life with the dramatic flourish of a table being hurled on it’s side during a round of Go Fish at a nursing home. She was a mindblowingly happy-making, wanted and welcomed addition to my life, but oooooh-ee! Did she ever change things.

Unsurprisingly, there was no turning back to my old job life. But nearly a year into careerlessness, I started to get small twinges of wanting to do something. I talked to friends, joined LinkedIn, winced with introspection, lunched with former co-workers, and massaged my temples in an attempt to conceptualize the kind of job that’d be both gratifying and allow me moderate to lavish time with Kate.

My criteria were: part-time, lucrative, flexible, creative.

Ever the realist, Mark said, “Pick two.”

In this process I was like a spider, dragging anyone within reach into my web to wrangle over the whole morass with me. Which is to say that aside from Kate Kate Kate, I had a new conversation topic to drone on about to anyone who’d listen.

And throughout all this thought and blather I made what I thought were two brilliant assertions:

1. The vast majority of part-time jobs require hair nets.

2. Job sharing is a myth.

I mean, here I was living in San Francisco for God’s sake, and I didn’t know a single person who job shared. And if I didn’t know anyone here who did, you can bet your Blackberry that folks in Omaha weren’t.

But then, last week, I was proven wrong by a dear friend who I’ll mysteriously dub “Sherry” so as to conceal her not-yet-started-the-gig identity. Yes, after a series of phone calls and interviews that spanned several weeks, my dear Miss Sherry got herself a two-day-a-week job. Job-sharing with another woman.

But wait! I also must mention that this job is in her field, at a super-cool company, senior management level–and she’ll even get mondo employee discounts that’ll rock her whole family.

No burger flipping required! (In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and guess there’s not a deep fryer in the whole building.) No calling the men Mr. So-and-So and getting flowers for Secretary’s Day! No whispering, “And what are you wearing, Arthur?” into the phone while the kids play in the other room!

And best of all, NO HAIR NETS.

In the words of my people from the great small state of Rhode Island, I am SO WICKED HAPPY for her. And for the slim ray of hope this casts for all the other talented professionals who–mothers or not–have great contributions to make, years of senior-level experience, want or need to make money, and require flexibility.

Now that that myth has been busted, does anyone know if that toothbrush photo from the Jamaican vacation story is true?