Tuesday, December 30, 2014

When Christmas Isn't Like the Image

If there is one area of my life where I spectacularly fail week after week, it is making a successful transition between work and home. I begin the week with grand ideas of what I am going to accomplish after work and end the week having done none of it.  Over the years I have discovered that I seem to require a certain amount of downtime before being productive at home. From an outside perspective, this time is wasted, but I can't figure out how to shorten or eliminate it. So week after week, I make big--or actually quite small--plans about certain tasks I want to accomplish during the week and night after night, I find myself zoned out unable to overcome the inertia in order to act. What this means in real life is that I am perpetually and utterly behind and the easiest thing to let go is cleaning the house. The house is always a dirty mess.

None of this changes just because it's December. If anything, it gets worse in December because there are so many activities that demand time on the weekends. Any time I would normally use to pick up is consumed by outside demands.

When I was a child, I remember my mother cleaning the house in preparation for Christmas. The specific task I remember most vividly was her dusting the television, which was a giant piece of furniture, putting away all of the pictures that usually resided there, and setting up the elaborate Nativity scene which had been built and painted by my granddaddy. Mostly what I remember is returning home from school or an outing to find the house completely transformed and then I knew it was Christmastime.

We would visit my grandparents' house and my grandmother turned Christmas decorating into an Olympic sport. If there was a surface that could hold a decoration, it had one: in the bathroom, in the kitchen, in the hallway, in the bedrooms, under the tree, on the TVs, in the bookcases, on the electric organ, EVERYWHERE. There were multiple trees and nothing was ever rotated out of the collection or tossed when it was old or broken. There was a place for every decoration she had. She adored Christmas and even after she went blind, you could describe a particular ornament and she would tell you where it belonged. You truly walked into Christmasville when you walked into her house.

I don't have any overriding ambition to recreate my grandmother's house. Honestly it was a bit over the top and I wouldn't want to deal with all the clutter, but to a child, it was magical. The most enduring thing about her house is that I have a definite idea of what Christmas should look like, and, well, my house doesn't look like the picture in my mind.

Olivia figured out where we should hang our stockings this year.

The house isn't cleaned before the decorations come out. By decorations, I mean the tree. We barely get the tree up before Christmas. We usually decorate it the Sunday before Christmas, not out of pious devotion for keeping Advent, but because that's when we get around to it. The table that usually resides where the tree goes gets moved into my bedroom where it is piled high with stuff that used to be in the living room. No, there's not really room for it in my bedroom; we just crawl around it while the tree is up. All the remaining debris from the living room gets unceremoniously dumped upstairs. The room upstairs is almost impassable.  The tree is decorated with some number of ornaments, not nearly what we own, but enough to declare the tree decorated. And that's it. No other decoration comes out. There is nothing in the bathrooms, nothing in the bedrooms, nothing in the kitchen. Just the regular dirty, cluttered house. I haven't seen my Nativity set in years. I feel like I am denying my children some of the wonder of the season.

Setting the camera up for pictures before church.

I get most of the presents purchased before Christmas, although I usually forget or put off finishing something that requires organization until riding in the car to visit a relative, but nothing is ever wrapped before Christmas Eve. I get Christmas Eve off of work and it is usually a frantic madhouse day of wrapping and packing. There is a lot of yelling because I don't have time to deal with the children. I've got about 24 hours to do four days worth of work. There's plenty that doesn't get done. We do get to Mass at some point in the evening. I usually finish the day with the Pope on TV. The remnants of wrapping is left all over the kitchen table because it's late and I can't put it away without causing a ruckus.

Notice Olivia is wearing her Easter dress. Because.

When Christmas morning arrives, we open presents in a hurry while our view is marred by all the trash and supplies that I didn't get put away earlier in the morning and also by the Halloween trick or treat bags still hanging off the banister. Well, my view is marred; I'm not sure anyone else notices. We are always in a hurry because we have to leave. There are two separate households that expect us to make an appearance on Christmas Day. Both houses expect long, leisurely visits with full meals. There isn't really time for that. We rush through presents at home and then rush through presents and a meal at one house, and then rush to finish packing to leave for the other house. The packing isn't finished because I was wrapping yesterday. Hurry. Hurry. Drive to the other house and hope not to hear it because I'm late again. Hope nobody gets mad because we aren't really hungry since we already ate a huge amount of food at the other house.  That's happened before. Relax for the evening. The next day we are off again to the other side of the state to visit two more sides of the family. Everyone expects you to come. A day or three more of driving here, there, and yonder, and then we are home again. The house is still in the same disaster state in which it was left and now it looks like a department store exploded in it. It takes several days to dig out.

Waiting on Christmas morning. Note the Halloween bags to the left.
I always begin December thinking this year will be different, but it never is. I think I will take a day or two off from work to get the presents bought, to get the presents wrapped, to get the house cleaned, to get the house decorated, but it really isn't feasible. First if I took the time from work before Christmas, I probably wouldn't be allowed to take any extended time during Christmas. It's either/or and I choose the mess and time off during Christmas. Second, due to the nature of my monthly work cycle, it isn't really possible for me to be off towards the beginning of December. We compress our work schedule so the people who have afterhours and weekend transfer work do not have to work over Christmas. Thirdly, even if it were workable, I do not want to use up my entire year's worth of vacation time just trying to make Christmas fit the vision in my head.

What is the vision in my head? I want the house to be cleaned, have more than a tree for decoration, and be completely done before Christmas Eve. I'd like to send out Christmas cards again. I'd like to be able to enjoy the last few hours before Christmas in joyful anticipation instead of being a stressed out, screaming lunatic. I'd like to be able to plan a nice meal for our little family instead of scrounging for something to eat at the last minute because we have both been too busy all day to remember we still need to eat supper. I'd like to be calm and prepared instead of rushing and trying to cram it all in. I'd like to go to bed at a decent hour. I suppose some of these things do come, but only around the sixth or seventh day of Christmas.

I find myself mildly envious of those whose families live so close that visiting is not a production or those whose families are so far away that visiting is out of the question or those who get enough time off work to be able to make all the arrangements, travel beforehand, and are able to relax and really visit over the holiday instead of rush, rush, rush.

Our Holy Family Advent Wreath

It is not entirely a lost cause. I have an Advent wreath which we light every night at suppertime. I always make sure we have candles to burn in it even if some years the pink candle is red. It isn't exactly a traditional Advent wreath because instead of greenery, it depicts the Holy Family. I figure since the likelihood of the Nativity scene coming out is small, it's a decent compromise. The children take turns snuffing the candles every night. There is a strictly held schedule for whose turn it is to keep the arguments at bay. They are extremely diligent about lighting the candles; we cannot forget, they don't allow it. When Christmas draws near, we sing the appropriate verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel in honor of the O Antiphons at bedtime prayers. Both of these are firmly established traditions in my house and are certainly things I never did growing up.

Is it enough? I have no way of knowing, but it is what it is. Do the children feel the rush and stress that I do? Do they feel like Christmas is a haphazard affair like I do? I don't know. I hope our little household traditions convey the meaning of the holiday and that they can cling to them instead of needing more of the external trappings. Just because I have a notion of what Christmas should look like doesn't mean that they do. Maybe they haven't noticed.

The church ladies' group bought this for Father for Christmas and I thought this was a good place to stick the picture.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Decade

Sometime during the past week--I will spare you exactitude--I passed a milestone that never in my wildest dreams had I ever considered would apply to me when I began. I have been either pregnant and/or nursing continuously for ten years. An entire decade. It's hard to fathom and yet it now seems as normal and natural anything else I might do for a decade.

At some point when I was an undergraduate in college,  I decided that I would breastfeed any children I had. Why I came to this decision, I can't quite say. Perhaps there were studies published and promoted that supported its benefits. I had never had long term exposure to a nursing mother. I knew that my mother had nursed my brother for a few weeks. I don't remember this directly. He was weaned by the time he was six weeks old and I had not yet turned six years old. My sister and I were not nursed at all. The only direct memory I have of anyone breastfeeding is that one of my aunts would go into a back room with her newborn and close the door. Sometimes when the door would open, you could catch a glance of her in there and it was forbidding and exotic, as if to see this interaction between mother and baby was intrusive and wrong. To my knowledge every baby was on formula by two months old. I came to believe there was something odd with this situation, but it was all I knew. 

When we decided to get pregnant with who turned out to be Grace, I was not over the moon with baby fever. I was actually quite pragmatic about the whole idea. I knew in the abstract that we wanted to have children eventually and, given our ages and my proximity to graduation, it seemed like the time was right. I was 27 and would be 28 by the time of delivery. I was philosophically opposed to old parents. I thought having a baby at 28 would allow us time to have another and perhaps squeeze in a third before I was 32 because that was my hard and fast deadline. After 32 is just too old. Old parents. Ugh.

During the pregnancy I struggled with constant nausea and tiredness. I berated myself for being lazy when, at 8.5 weeks pregnant, I laid on the couch all day and did nothing. We went out to eat and the waiter wondered what I had been doing all day because I looked exhausted. Only sleeping on the couch. And growing a person. I was sick almost all the time, had my first migraine headache, and discovered how heartburn felt. Delivery was a blessed relief.

After Grace was born, I set out to breastfeed her. I had no idea what I was doing and neither did anyone around me. My goal was to nurse her for six months which seemed so far, far away. I had no idea if I could make it that long, but I was determined to try. My first week or two were rough because they say it isn't supposed to hurt. It hurt. Milk was everywhere and I cried a lot. I was sleep deprived. The advice to pump and sleep started, but I was too stubborn. I was going to make it work. I had read enough to know that I had to get through the first few weeks otherwise I would be on the path to formula. I was NOT doing formula if I could help it. We were going to make it to SIX MONTHS!

We made it past six weeks and everything got easier. All of a sudden six months didn't seem so unreachable. Then people started to wonder when I was going to wean. People would tell me my milk wouldn't satisfy the baby. That I would *need* formula. Also when am I going to wean? Not until six months.

I made it to six months. I didn't want to wean. I enjoyed nursing my baby so we kept going. When are you going to wean? I don't know.

I wasn't very comfortable nursing in public so I would find family bathrooms, nursing rooms, and the car to feed her. I didn't like being sent off by myself, but I was also very self-conscious. I remember once nursing a baby in the front seat of the car in a parking lot afraid that someone would pass by and see me. How embarrassing! Once I was nursing in the lounge area of the ladies room of a large department store at the mall. Two women old enough to know better were outraged I would do something so indecent and proceeded to talk all about my outrageous behavior outside the bathroom door, right next to where Dave was sitting. This moment was an epiphany. If people still get upset at nursing when I retreat to the privacy of a bathroom lounge, you cannot please them no matter what you do. There obviously is no need to remove myself at all.

When I started work, she was down to four feedings a day: at waking, at naptime, in midafternoon, and at bedtime.  She could take or leave the first and the third, but relished the feedings at naptime and bedtime. I was heartbroken to give up the nap feeding since I was at work. I left silly instructions that Dave needed to heat up some milk for her in a sippy cup and then cradle her while she drank it. I can't remember if he did that or not. But I didn't want her to miss me. I shifted to feeding her immediately when I got home from work, but she wasn't really interested. After a few days of trying to force the matter, we dropped that feeding and were down to one in the morning and one before bed. It was around this time the questions about weaning started again. She was over a year now. You can't nurse her forever, you know. I didn't know when I was going to wean, but I wasn't ready to let go yet.

We knew we wanted to have another baby. Eventually. Sometime in the future. I had just started a new career. We were living with my parents. We had just bought a house that had been a foreclosure and needed massive renovation. I was apprehensive about experiencing pregnancy and the unrelenting sickness again. And yet I found myself pregnant when Grace was 18 months old. After a few angsty weeks figuring out how we were going to pay for the prenatal and hospital care when we had just shot our wad on the house, we were pleased with our happy surprise. In so many ways, this unexpected pregnancy was undeserved blessing and grace. I have no idea when we would have pulled the trigger for another baby if she hadn't arrived by her own accord.

Now I was plunged back into the sickness of pregnancy again. The morning feeding of Grace was gone and I clung to her bedtime nursing session. We soon moved into our new house. With the changes in both environment and those wrought by pregnancy, Grace soon lost interest in nursing. I remember trying for several days to get her to latch and she steadfastly refused. I would press her face into my breast and she would just grin at me. I wasn't ready, but it was here. At 20 months old, I let her go and our nursing relationship was over. I was unsure if we would make it six months and we lasted twenty. It was bittersweet.

Olivia came in her due time and I was now confident. Of course we would nurse more than six months. However we had a complication that didn't exist with the last baby. I now had a full time job and I would have to pump to feed the baby during the day. I was nervous if I could produce enough milk in this way and we had to introduce a bottle. Grace had never really taken a bottle. Olivia turned out to be very bottle resistant. We attempted and attempted and she steadfastly refused. We tried every trick that could be found but she only wanted me. Finally the day came and I had to go back to work. All was well until she got hungry and she still refused the bottle. She cried and cried. Dave tried everything he could to get milk into her including spooning it into her mouth. She was having none of it. He called me and my heart was ripped out as I sat at my desk. I told Dave that I understood that he was doing the best he could and that he needed a break and an understanding ear, but I could not handle it.  I told him to call his parents for help because I could not handle it. I told him not to call me again if she was screaming because I Could Not Handle It. My baby was screaming for me and my body cried out for her. Milk poured out of my breasts, but I was 40 miles away and there was nothing I could do. We hung up the phone and I sobbed at my desk. When I got home that evening, Olivia spent the whole night nursing, making up for all she had missed. She held out for three and a half days before surrendering in exhaustion and hunger to the bottle.

My concern about the pump turned out to be unfounded. I had no trouble producing everything she needed and more. Perhaps my foremothers were wet nurses. I kept a pumping schedule at work, but those early days of pumping were a bit fraught. I had no designated place to pump so three times a day, I would wander my office building looking for a private place. There were some nervous moments, but I never failed in finding a spot. Eventually the powers-that-be deigned to allow me to use the defunct handicapped bathroom that had a locking door. It was defunct because sewage semi-regularly backed up into it. I was not allowed to have a key but had to keep the door propped open between uses. If someone closed the door, I had to find the office manager to reopen it for me. I found a table elsewhere in the office and drug it into the bathroom to have a place to put the pump. I would stand there and pump two or three times a day. I would sometimes mark time in place to pass the time. It was psychologically grueling. Pumping sucks. It is a cold, utilitarian way to extract milk with none of the appeal of nursing a real baby. Even though it definitely wasn't my favorite thing to do, I wanted to give my baby everything I could even if I couldn't be physically present to her. If I couldn't be there, my milk could be. I pumped every workday until she was 16 months old. I am ashamed to admit that we had such a stash built in the freezer that we ended up throwing away probably two gallons worth of milk. I thought it went bad after six months in the freezer. I didn't know I could have still fed it to her over time. We still have a freezer bag full of Olivia's milk which had been pushed aside and buried and then rediscovered. I can not bring myself to throw it out.

Our nursing relationship was the primary way we reconnected when I got home from work. As a young infant she would spent most every evening constantly nursing. This urgency surprised and frustrated me sometimes. There were so many things that I needed to do but couldn't because my baby needed me. She woke multiple times a night wanting to nurse. I didn't know how to handle this situation well and so walked up and down the stairs repeatedly to tend her every time she woke. She wanted to be near me and I couldn't help but feel that she was trying to compensate for my absence during the day. I was exhausted, but I couldn't bear to withhold myself from her. If she needed me and my milk, I was going to provide it even if it broke me. It was during this time I first noticed gray hairs on my head. Well meaning people would advise me to pump even more and have Dave give her a bottle at night. They didn't understand that sleeping instead of feeding the baby caused just as many problems as it solved, I already spent too much time with my pump, and I desperately needed to mother my own baby.

Eventually she slept all night and we had easy and casual nursing sessions. She would nurse once when I got home from work and again at bedtime. Then only at bedtime. Nobody asked me when I was going to wean this time until she was nearing two.

I was now 32 and my old prejudices against old parents were easing. I wasn't that old. We decided to have another baby. I was soon pregnant again with the exhaustion and sickness that comes with it. I wasn't exactly ready to wean, but I also needed to get in bed earlier at night. Olivia was approaching two years old. Two years is a little bit old to nurse, right? Dave and I decided it was time to wean her. On her second birthday, I held her in my lap and nursed her. I told her she was a big girl now and that I would hold her anytime she wanted, but we weren't going to nurse anymore. She looked at me with big eyes and nodded her head. She didn't speak yet. I thought that was the end. The following weekend she came to me at bedtime wanting to nurse. I was conflicted because I didn't want to deny her, but also didn't want to start a pattern. I gave in and nursed her one last time. That was really the end.

My pregnancy with the new baby brought tidings of a boy. A boy?! What do you do with a boy? This pregnancy also brought pelvic girdle pain which left me waddling absurdly early. Walking, dressing, and other menial tasks like transitioning to a standing posture from a sitting posture were absurdly painful. I made friends with a belly belt.

Sam was born two weeks after I turned 33. I was officially an old parent, but I didn't care. I was stubbornly confident in my nursing abilities. Too confident. His latch was terrible, but I never asked for help. Why I was a third time nurser! An old pro! What could anyone tell me that I didn't already know? I tried every trick I knew and was left with bleeding nipples. Still I powered through it and eventually, after about a month or so, we found our groove.

I learned from the ordeal with Olivia and introduced a bottle very early in order to avoid another three days of torture. He took the bottle gladly and easily. I also learned that climbing the stairs multiple times a night was a recipe for disaster. We decided on a partial cosleeping arrangement where Dave would get him from upstairs when he first awoke in the night and then he would spend the rest of the night in bed next to me. What a difference these things made in my mental and physical health.

At work I was also a seasoned veteran at pumping. I returned to the old, defunct bathroom but this time I was allowed to have a key. A few months after I had been back at work, it was announced that another coworker was returning from maternity leave and a room had to be prepared for her to pump. What exactly had I been doing all these years? They decked out my little bathroom with a rocking chair and ottoman, a table, and a lamp. They covered the toilet so we wouldn't have to look at it anymore. I felt both grateful and annoyed. The most favored employee returned from maternity leave and worked for approximately two months before resigning in order to stay home with her baby. Ha! I still got to keep the goodies in the room. We managed the milk supply much better this time and didn't throw out a drop of it. I pumped until he was 14 months old.

We were surprised at how easily Sam slid into our lives. I had long made peace with the first six months of chaos. He was soon an acrobatic nursing toddler. No one asked me when he was going to wean. I didn't worry about it or give it a second thought. Nursing was a normal way to live now.

In a slow turning of the mind that shocked me, we decided we wanted another baby. I never, ever thought I would want or have four children. Four?! And I was 35, a really old parent. That's crazy talk, but now it seemed natural and normal and I desired it fiercely. I still hated being pregnant, though. It was still a misery and fraught with apprehension if we had made the right decision.

The sickness and exhaustion again overtook me. I never attempted to wean Sam, but I did go to bed early. He would climb into bed with me and nurse and then go upstairs to bed. He soon grew tired of this routine and stopped coming. Then it was over.

Again pregnancy plunged me into the nausea and the vomiting and the heartburn and the pelvic girdle pain. I went to a chiropractor for the first time to mitigate the hip pain. Maybe it helped.

Marian was born and nursing her was like an old comfort. We slid into an easy rhythm. We applied and adjusted all the learned lessons from the older children. We adjusted our sleeping arrangements again to keep her in the room with us so nobody would have to climb the stairs at night. Night wakings were tiring, but not crushing. She was such a joyful, easy baby. Like Sam, she just slid into our lives.

At work, I pumped in my private office now. I began to pray the Divine Office while I pumped. I decided to donate my excess milk to a local woman whose baby needed it. I donated around six and a half gallons. I don't know how much Marian consumed.  I am guessing another six gallons on top of it. That is a lot of pumping.

Now I don't pump anymore and Marian is 18 months old. Nursing is just what I do.

I have no idea how long this streak will continue. It could come to an end in a handful of months or we could have yet another child and continue on for several more years. Only God knows. St. Paul says women will be saved through childbearing and I believe it. I have been utterly transformed by this experience of bearing and nursing children.

I began this journey expecting to have one, two, maybe three children, well spaced, because that is what you are supposed to do. Yet I find myself well along the road with four children and pondering more. I hoped to successfully breastfeed until the six month mark, wondering if it was possible, and now wonder if two years is too young to wean.

The mental, spiritual, and physical demands are greater than I could have possibly imagined at the start but I joyfully embrace them. I am not always happy about it, but I choose it again and again. I have often pondered the seeming contradiction that joy is not the same thing as happiness, but I think I have a greater understanding now. There have been times when I have been totally spent, physically and mentally exhausted, and cried until there were no more tears and yet , at bottom, there is profound joy at the gift of my children. I cannot imagine a better way to spend a decade. It has not always been easy, but it is a grace filled life for which I am eternally grateful.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Random Observations

I offer this post in the spirit of Quick-Takes. Just some random observations that float around in my head where I don't really have more than a sentence or two to say about it.

1) Mothers who are employed feel like their motherhood is attacked by the assumptions of society, i.e. if you really cared about your children, you wouldn't be working. Mothers who are not employed feel like their adulthood is attacked by assumptions of society, i.e. if you had something substantial to offer, you would really have a job. No one wins but the Mommy War runs hot.

2) I think the rise in homeschooling is directly-related to the rise in labor saving devices. Here is my theory: We, as a society, decided that children needed more education than their parents could provide while they scratched out a subsistence living off the land so grade schools were invented. With industrialization, men left the home for jobs, but women still had plenty to keep them busy all day long. Labor saving devices for the home were invented and women had less and less to do. As these devices became prevalent in most homes, women got bored and lonely because the chores no longer were a full day's work and the children were gone all day. Rather than remember why we sent the children off to school in the first place and rejoice that we actually have time to educate our children now, we declared, as a society, that women really ought to get jobs too. After several decades of this paradigm with all the fallout the family experiences from it, many are now reassessing and deciding to homeschool instead.

So that's it for today. What do you think? Yes, no, crazy?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cube Crisis Finale

The cube crisis has been resolved. Kinda. I had a meeting with the boss man who made the location decisions. He explained his reasoning which is the exact reasoning I could infer from the seating chart. I wasn't surprised by any of it. He said that he was not given enough offices to house everyone--he only had responsibility to assign nine of the twenty-seven-- and since I am supposed to be part of a workgroup that has mostly not been hired yet, he thought I was the best choice to put in the cube next to all the empty cubes that will one day house other employees. Given the speed at which things move around here, it might be a year or more before anyone is hired.

I told him I had a philosophical gripe and a physical gripe. My philosophical objection is not the cube itself, but being the only one out of twenty-seven employees placed in a cube. First, why did the powers-that-be think this would be alright and not signify status. Second, it definitely signifies status. Third, placing an employee in a cube, surrounded by empty cubes, on the other side of the floor from all the other employees is ostracizing whether it is intended that way or not.

My physical objection is that this cube isn't even nice. It is small so the desk can only be arranged with my back to the hallway. The hallway on which my back would be turned is a major traffic area  next to the main door that the employees use to exit the building. I would have people walking past me all day long. It is completely distracting.

I said all these things and I didn't even die. My hands were shaking and my voice may have broken once, but death did not come.

He said there was nothing he could do about the lack of offices. That he had to make decisions based on what he was given. I understand that. He's only been here since August so he has no culpability in the years of crap. He also said that he did not want me to feel like my cube location was an indication of my value as an employee (I'm not stupid, but it's a nice sentiment), and he said he would see if he could get me moved to a better cube. And he did. It is a nice luxury to have a boss that attempts to make things better instead of just tut-tutting at me.

I have officially been moved out of the horrible cube into a bigger cube near everyone else in which I can sit sideways and have a solid wall on the backside. Nobody sneaking up behind me there. So major crisis averted. It is the best I could have hoped for, given the situation.

I still am not endeared to my job. I still want out as quickly as possible. I still am very much aware of my status or lack thereof. I still am waiting for new responsibilities in the new system which may or may not come. But I have not lost the ability to amuse myself on the Internet! I will endure!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

When a Job Goes Wrong

I'm feeling chatty about this job situation and nobody really wants to talk about it here because, really, what is there to say?

I have known for awhile that my job is a dead end. It has been clear for years. I have been denied promotions and demoted and the scope of my responsibilities has remained constant for years.  In the face of all this, I have played the game even as I so desperately wanted out. However, the truth is that I pretty much checked out when I was effectively demoted nearly two years ago. I was heavily pregnant with Marian at the time and that was pretty much the last straw. Any modicum of caring evaporated. I hoped that my employment would not extend much past my maternity leave. Well, my hoped-for end date was over a year ago. When I say I checked out, I do not mean that I stopped doing my job well or that I became a problem employee. I only mean that any train of thought that had my current job in any long range plans was gone. And I do my job well. I input the files and run the costing audit for our database almost entirely independently. Last year the total dollars running through our system amounted to over 1.89 billion dollars. That's Billion with a B. And my work resulted in a 0.02% variance in accounting for all those dollars. I didn't mistype. That's two one-hundredths of a percent. I *am* good at what I do.

After I returned from maternity leave, we were set to begin implementing a system change where the current, extremely antiquated database software would be phased out and new modern system would be put in its place. I had assumed (ha!) that I would be heavily involved in putting in the new system. When I returned I was informed without consultation that they had hired a consultant to take over about half of my current duties to free me up to work in the new system. I was marginally annoyed because I thought I would definitely have time to do both. One of my ongoing issues over the years is the lack of enough tasks to keep me busy for 40 hours a week. In truth, I have a job that requires 40 hours the first week of the month, about 20 the second week of the month, and nothing the last two weeks of the month. I intentionally slow-walk my work to about twenty hours a week in order to only have one week a month with nothing to do instead of two. I have asked for more responsibilities to no avail for years so just when I thought I might actually be utilized for something approaching full time work, they took half my responsibilities away which bothered me, but at least I would be getting to work on the new system.

This consultant has been a thorn in my side from the start. He doesn't do what he says he is going to do in the timeframe he says he will do it and frequently what he does do is wrong and I have to re-do it. I have spent as much time or more time babysitting him than it would have taken for me just to do the job myself. One of my supervisors is aware of my discontent and she agrees with me because she was opposed to the consultant being hired in the first place. The one who made the decision doesn't want to hear it and encourages me to make use of the consultant every month and wants to know why his billable hours are not what the contract calls for. That he is totally wasting my time and the company's money does not seem to be the correct answer.

Even as I have had to deal with the consultant taking half my work away, my involvement with the new system has almost been nil. At the first training session in March, I was shocked to learn that one of my coworkers had had access to the system for months. I was under the impression that this session was the first time any of us would be getting a look. He was far and away more comfortable than anyone else and even the trainer suggested that he could teach the class. I was not happy that I had been completely left out of the loop. He was neck deep in spec files and I was still looking for the log-on button. Ever since then, I have been left on the periphery of this implementation. I attended all the training sessions and have been assigned a handful of tasks to complete, but our go-live date is set for mid-December and I haven't had a need to sign-in for months. Our old, current system is set to be shut off in January or February and I have no idea what I am supposed to be doing after that.

Once a few months ago, I told my supervisor that I had a whole week free to work in the new system. She sounded excited and said there was a lot she needed me to do. When the week came, she assigned me nothing. The truth is that I didn't remind her that I was free. I don't stand up and volunteer anymore. I have been slapped down too many times. If there is something she needs me to do, she knows where to find me. My office is directly across the hall from hers. It isn't like she has numerous employees to tend, only four. I just don't care anymore. Sitting in my office doing nothing and volunteering to do more work will get me to the exact same place. I'll do whatever she asks me to do, but I am done begging for work.

And now I am going to be delegated to a small cube, isolated on a remote area of the floor. It isn't even a nice cube. It is currently housing copy paper next to the cube of the administrative assistant, you know the job that requires a GED. It is obvious that they are trying to make me uncomfortable and hoping I will quit. That or they have taken me so thoroughly for granted, they think they can treat me anyway they want. There is not another explanation I can think of. Why else would my responsibilities be lessening and my new location suck? And I honestly have no idea what I have done to merit this treatment. The most horrifying part of this location change is that my workscreen will be directly visible to anyone who passes. That means that not only will I not have any work to do, I won't even be able to amuse myself online. I am anticipating eight hour days of staring at a green screen doing nothing. It is hard to suppress the panic this prospect induces.


Several months ago, after realizing the job search was going nowhere, Dave decided to get his real estate license. He loves real estate so this isn't so random. He has spent the last few months studying, taking classes and exams. His license was approved and went live this past week. Now he just has to get some clients and sell some houses. We are about ten thousand dollars away from the amount they say you should have in the bank as a cushion for the down side of the yearly real estate cycle. That ten thousand dollars is the only thing preventing me from submitting my resignation on Monday. The ironic thing is that since they seem to want me gone so badly, almost any standard severance package would be enough for us to make it until Dave gets going.

The prudent path is for me to endure any humiliation at work until we have the money in the bank and then put in my notice. We have bills and responsibilities and children who depend on my income. It would not be wise to eat through our savings while Dave gets his income rolling. The wise choice is for us to live off of my income as we have always done until we have enough in the bank to adequately cushion us. The downside to this approach is all the logistical problems of dealing with childcare. We are going to have to heavily rely on others to watch our children through a highly irregular schedule.

I am sorely temped to throw caution to the wind and just put in my notice now. It would free up Dave to work 100% instead of being at the mercy of someone else's ability to take the kids. Surely he could have enough in the pipeline by the end of January to make my job unnecessary by February. Oddly enough, knowing that this is most likely, really and truly, a short term situation makes enduring it harder. I know the end is coming soon, but not how soon. It might be three months or it could be six. Having a definite end date would completely ease my mind. I just want to walk away now.

Friday, December 5, 2014

One of Those Days

There are some days at work where it takes every last ounce of my willpower to not submit my resignation on the spot. Today was one of those days. They announced earlier this week that my work group was being moved from our current location to another floor in the building. This could be good news since my current office has no access to outdoor light so I'm dying a slow death of Vitamin D deprivation, but I had an ominous feeling. As it turns out, I was right to be wary.

We are being moved to centralize the work area of the employees under the same executive after a revamp of the org chart. Twenty-seven people are being moved into the same office area. Twenty-six of these people are moving into single occupancy offices. One of these people is moving into a small cube next to the door to the parking garage which is arranged in such a way that everyone who walks by will be able to stare at this person's work screen. I'll bet you'll never guess who gets the cube?

How is it that I, with over eight years in seniority here, ended up getting the cube? Well I feel extra appreciated, let me tell you. Do they want me to quit? It sure feels like a slap in the face. But at my mid-year performance review in October, I was doing great! What gives? Sometimes I hate this place.

So on Monday, I will request to speak with the boss-boss for an explanation. He will give me some BS answer. And I will have to resist telling him exactly what I think. The lack of ten thousand dollars is the only thing holding me to this job right now. The Only Thing.

Take this job and shove it.

My Nursing Weight

Before I was pregnant with Grace, one of my biggest concerns was pregnancy weight gain and how to lose it after birth. Everyone knows that pregnancy dooms women to be fat forever and losing the baby weight is nearly impossible. Of course, every baby I had ever been around had been totally or almost totally formula fed so, yes, all that weight that mom gained to feed the baby but didn't use to feed the baby did hang around for years. Or forever. Whatever. This is what I knew and I was worried. I scrupulously watched my calories and kept my weight gain as small as I could manage. I was still disappointed in myself because I gained 27 pounds. I had hoped to keep it under 25. I knew that the guidelines recommended 25-35, but my mother only gained 19 pounds with me and she never lost the extra weight from that pregnancy, so in my mind every extra pound was one that would be doubly hard to lose later and might be with me forever. I did have one glimmer of hope and that was I was planning on nursing which was supposed to help with weight loss.

Wow! Nursing *does* help with weight loss.! Or at least for me.

After Grace was born, I lost every ounce of that 27lbs in three weeks. I was still so shellshocked by the demands of a newborn and trying to cope that I never gave a thought to my weight. I was in complete survival mode. My first real thought about my weight was when I realized that my maternity clothes were falling off of me and I would have to dig out my regular clothes again before I could go out in public.

With Olivia, I gained 30 pounds and worried much less about the weight loss. I thought it would fall off just as easily as the first time. Again, I didn't think much about it postpartum because newborn. Then at six weeks, when I regained my senses, I thought I would pull out my regular pants because, you know, it had been six whole weeks. Devastation as I could not pull my pants over my thighs! I had been tricked! The first time was a fluke! I was doomed! Or not. This time it took three whole months to lose the weight.

Now I was wise. With Sam, I gained about 33 pounds. I expected it to take longer to get it off this time. The process was much slower which was a bit discouraging, especially when I had to go back to work in ill-fitting maternity clothes because I couldn't afford to buy clothes that fit. I lost it in fits and starts which was scary because I was sure every plateau was it and the magic was gone. But after about six months, the weight was gone again.

With Marian, I only gained around 30 again and the weight loss happened in much the same manner as after Sam. Slowly, in fits and starts, but gone after seven months. This time I could afford a few pieces of clothing that fit so, at least, I didn't look as terrible.

Each time after the pregnancy weight was gone, I enjoyed a glorious time. I *kept* losing weight. Bizarre. I would bottom out about five pounds lower than I really should weigh. It is an interesting problem to have. I could eat what I wanted and in any quantity I wanted. Finish the plate at the restaurant? Absolutely. Dessert whenever. Yes! Snacks in between meals? Why not? Food, glorious food! And it wasn't even gluttonous because I *needed* the calories.

But then after a time, my calorie needs drop and my weight starts to increase. This is okay because I really needed to weigh more. My weight would drift upwards until I reached a good and appropriate weight and then I would hang out there for months. It is what happens next that drives me crazy.

I can weigh the same for months and keep approximately the same eating patterns and then something happens with the nursing or my body or something and I will gain five whole pounds in two weeks flat. For a short person like me five pounds is a lot.

When it happened after Grace I was shocked at how quickly the weight just showed up. I was determined not to let it happen again. But it happened again after Olivia. And Sam. And now Marian! It just sneaks up and happens in a blink of an eye. Even when I know it's coming, I can't seem to stop it.

In the past my weight loss solution has been a long term plan where I gestate another baby and let the nursing magic happen again. At some point this will cease to be a viable solution, but it is hard to work up the energy needed to lose five vanity pounds. I was hoping it would be different this time. Dang.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

To Be A Housewife

Who knew such an innocuous comment about sewing buttons could touch off such a firestorm? There has been a lot of talk about the history of the home as a functional economic unit, and the value of the craft of homemaking in the family, and what homemaking looks like in real life. You should go read them all. Do I have anything of value to add to the conversation? No, not really. As I have read these various takes on the value of the work of a homemaker, I have felt a bit like an outsider. The fact is that I am not a homemaker. The basic skills of homemaking or the lack thereof is what drove our decisions about who would have a job and who would stay home. A large portion of my life circumstance is based on the fact that I had no idea how to run a household or do many of the tasks pertaining to housewifery and the thought of doing it overwhelmed me. Fear-based decision making usually doesn't turn out well, in case you were wondering.

I was raised to have a career, except it wasn't exactly phrased like that. I could be anything I wanted to be. I was expected to get good grades. I was expected to participate in extra-curriculars. I was expected to go to college and get scholarships. I was not expected to learn how to cook. I was not expected to learn to sew. I certainly was not expected to craft anything. In school, career after career was presented to us, but mother and housewife was not among them because, really, who does that? At home, it wasn't discussed.

I never had any interest in learning to cook. My mother's idea of cooking involves boiling something out of a can and baking meat in the oven. It wasn't good, but she had no patience to give the food its proper attention. This isn't an accusation; she will tell you exactly that. Since food was meh at best, learning how to function in the kitchen seemed pointless. What's funny is that I had a friend who loved to come to our house to eat because her family went to Taco Bell every night. Even soggy green beans boiled to oblivion were more homey than her house. I certainly wasn't the only child with little to no example in the kitchen.

At some point in my teenaged years, my mother would sometimes expect me to feed myself and my siblings when she wasn't home. My little sister almost always stepped in to do it. Nobody taught my sister to cook and yet she learned. How or when, I have no idea. If I were alone, many times I would just starve. I don't know why, but I had to overcome a lot of inertia to get me into the kitchen. I think a lot of the reason is that I want things to be 'just so' and when it isn't really your kitchen, nothing is 'just so.' I still have that problem. For me to prep food with peace of mind and without crankiness, I would first have to completely clean and reorganize the kitchen. This is a task of several days. I just stay out as a coping strategy. I also don't think well when I am hungry. I make the decision about what to make much harder than it should be. Quick and easy is not something I am capable of in the kitchen unless we are talking about boiling pasta because my knife skills are not developed enough. When I'm hungry, quick and easy is what I want, but can't deliver.

Growing up, I had chores. I can still name them for you: load the dishwasher after supper (everything went in the dishwasher), vacuum the upstairs, clean the big half of the upstairs bathroom that had the toilet and the tub, and pick up my room. But beyond these basic tasks, learning household skills was not a part of my childhood. Sometimes my father, who grew up on a farm and knows how to do a million things, is incredulous at the tasks my siblings and I don't know how to do. My sister will retort, "I don't know how to do it because my father never taught me how." This reply usually ends the recitation of our shortcomings, but doesn't change the fact that teaching household skills was pretty much ignored. There is much we are clueless about.

For whatever reason, the culture around doing chores at my house was discouraging. My mother was very easily distracted by conversation so she did not like doing her chores with company--this is also not a secret--which meant we did not do our chores with company. My mother usually did most of her work around 6am on Saturday mornings. We never saw it. To me chores felt like punishment even when they weren't. I was banished from society while doing them. Instead of acting rationally and getting them done as quickly as possible, I would languish for hours trying to figure out what to do first or get lost in my head. I could lay on the floor doing nothing for hours.

I am an odd introvert. I like to talk and am quite chatty. I like being around people, but not too many people. I feed off of the energy of having other people around except not too many people and not for too long. I know, picky, picky. I still have this problem. I accomplish more when someone else is home than when I am by myself. I just feel lost when I am home alone and hours waste away with nothing to show for it. I get frustrated with myself because why can't I just pull it together? When I was first married, all those old feelings surfaced again. Dave was working and I spent hours and hours by myself, lonely and spinning my wheels. I didn't really know what to do or how to do it or if I did, I'd waste hours waiting for someone to get home before starting. This isn't a recipe for success.

What is the point of this tale of woe?

The fact is that most people around my age and younger were not raised to be household managers. We were raised to get jobs. We find ourselves in situations we were not prepared to handle. Many of us feel there is a better way to live but see a chasm between what we know and what we ought to know. Most of us deal with this incongruency with humor. Dark humor, perhaps, but humor nonetheless. We can laugh or cry in despair. What I don't understand is why many who *do* possess these skills take it as a personal affront because so many of us don't possess them. As Calah says here:
You mothers who entered into your marriage knowing how to sew, cook, and clean, who learned the virtues of patience and fortitude, who grew up being trained in the domestic arts — you are truly blessed. The vast majority of my blog has been a chronicle of the tension between realizing that my vocation is true and vital but having no idea where to start learning it, and feeling that I’m truly failing in the meantime. I’m not laughing at you, and there’s no need to prove to me that you are superior.
It's not so easy to learn entire areas of expertise after you figure out that you actually should have learned all this stuff ten or twenty years ago while up to your neck in children. Most of us do not have nice Mormon neighbors to show us the way. We are groping around blindly. I, for one, admire the ones who stay in the trenches despite their lack of skill and persevere while making it all up as they go along. I ran away like a coward.

I decided I wanted to learn how to knit and I have done it on and off again over the past year. I make washcloths. Ugly, misshapen washcloths, but it is the only way to learn. As I sat over Thanksgiving weekend slowly knitting a new washcloth, I had one child leaning on one arm, another sitting over my head, and then Marian grabbed the needles out of my hand and an hour's worth of work unraveled in about 15 seconds. It was just a washcloth and I didn't even get mad,  but it illustrates the reality of learning homemaking skills with young children. It is many times an exercise in futility. There is no doubt that many times there is value in that futility, but many times we just want to throw up our hands. We shouldn't have such a steep learning curve, but we do, and many valuable skills will have to fall by the wayside until we have time enough to pick them up again.

FYI: I actually do know how to sew on a button. It is ugly and likely overkill, but the blasted button stays on the fabric.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What Was Wrong With The Other One?

I feel like I have a post brewing on Buttongate, but it hasn't congealed in my head yet. It was my failure in knowledge of the "domestic arts" that lead us to make the completely pragmatic, and ultimately terrible, decision for me to work full time. So, yeah, I have something to say here, but not yet.

In the meantime, Olivia got a Thanksgiving prayer from her Sunday school class. Here it is in its entirety:
Bless us, O Lord,
and these your gifts
which we are about to receive
from your goodness.
Through Christ our Lord.

What was wrong with the regular version? I am perplexed. This is a standard mealtime Catholic blessing which millions of people know. Except with different words. Why confuse them? Is this an attempt to modernize? Cater to children? What is the purpose of this? I don't know. Any thoughts about whence this oddness came?