Back to the Beginning

canstockphoto21954338Once upon a time, I had a business card with a job title. Over the years, I’ve saved each job’s business card, a potpourri of assistants and coordinators and managers. For a good portion of my working life, I did not have a business card and it felt meaningful when that first box arrived at my desk.

After my daughter was born, I spent two years trotting my wiggly baby to a daycare each morning and commuting downtown with my husband to a many-storied building of glass and metal. One year of hauling a breast pump and hunching over in the corner of a windowed conference room. And a breaking point – my misery seeping into the office. I left the job, got my baby, and came home.

I’ve been home ever since, spending some of the best and worst moments of my life without a business card. It was easy to justify. My husband has a decent job which has survived multiple layoffs. We have health insurance. The house and car are paid for. It didn’t make sense to pay child care, which had become increasingly worrisome with each developmental stage. I also had the big dream of establishing a writing career.

My daughter is 12 now and shaking off the yoke of an attentive parent. A writing career would be a surprise, given my work habits. And while I’m still chugging away at it, I’m not counting on it. I have a business card that says I’m a writer and every once in a while, I dust off the box, open it and then close it again. The genie stays in.

Today, I start a volunteer job. I volunteered twofold – to tutor high school English language learners and to help in the volunteer program office. Part of me dreaded the idea of data entry and filing, but I’m good at those things. I’ll have a boss and a system to learn. I’m sure there will be jargon and acronyms. Every job has them.

For a moment, I felt a twinge of despair. What had I gained by all these years at home? I volunteered, threw complex birthday parties (treasure hunts and crime mysteries – holy shit, what was wrong with me?). I grew gardens and taught my daughter the words to canstockphoto24937827Elvis songs and how to draw cats. She remembers very little of those years. All that effort and awkwardly conscientious parenting, just a figment of my imagination.

I talked not too long ago with a mother at the school where I’d been PTO president. All those hours planning fundraisers and staffing book fairs. Of talking with teachers and parents and doing assembly presentations. My name occasionally shows up on old documents, to be replaced by someone else. I was the uber-volunteer until I burnt myself to the ground.

canstockphoto1854942For years, I’ve helped take care of my mother-in-law. She lived two blocks and one phone call away. Running her to doctor appointments, taking her grocery shopping, writing note after note as her memory failed. Guiding her through daily physical therapy exercises. Doing her taxes and paperwork. Sitting with her until the paramedics came. Now she is in a nursing home. And no one, especially her, remembers all the years before.

My resume has a canyon in it. A vast expanse of about a decade, filled with dirty diapers and strollers and wheelchairs. Silly songs about dinosaurs, patient and impatient answers to questions about the remote control and the telephone. A filling in the sandwich generation.

When I interviewed for the volunteer job, I put on the only dress pants I own, Talbot suits long gone to consignment shops. I talked too much and laughed at weird times. I tried too hard. I realized that I’d been away from things too long, that I feel uncomfortable with small talk and I have to make a conscious effort not to use swear words.

Self-pity was in order. And boy, did I ever feel it. All of it was for nothing. There was nothing to show for my efforts, my time, my love, my exhaustion. Not even a business card.

As with all self-pity, my reasoning was severely flawed. My daughter is this amazing person – loved and loving, kind and funny. She fills our home with music and light. She may not remember how many times I sang silly songs to her, but her heart does. My mother-in-law spent many years in her own apartment, the last few only because she was protected and cared for and loved. She doesn’t remember my name sometimes now, but her face always lights up with recognition when she sees me.

As for all the school volunteering, well, the very nature of it is transitory. I did some good things, like filing for nonprofit status, which will lead to corporate donations. But it’s all like so much smoke, evaporating and invisible.

canstockphoto3210183This morning, I sat on my cushion and prepared to meditate. I’d been feeling a tad smug that I’ve managed this practice for the last few weeks, without fail, building up from 5 minutes to a shiny 13. As I settled in, our tom cat began his caterwauling. I focused on my breath. He yowled louder. I kept my focus, feeling a little proud that I’d managed to let go of my sensory irritation. Then I realized that I had forgotten to set the timer.

My perfectionist self was tempted to start over, but I decided to continue for a bit longer.  With a laugh, my eyes popped open. It was all about humility. A messed up meditation. Love without recognition. Not having a good answer to what do you do?

When it was all gone, when there was no money, no accolades and no title, I still sought a sense of importance, even in the most mundane activities. To learn humility is to be grateful for the gift of starting over again. And again. And again.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

The Green Study “Worst Job I Ever Had” Contest: Honorable Mention

canstockphoto4598050An Honorable Mention from The Green Study “Worst Job I Ever Had” contest goes to Leisha at cancerinmythirties for a job where the Ick Factor seemed age inappropriate.

She was sent one The Green Study Coffee Mug, a cheesy postcard from Minneapolis and I made a $25 donation to her local Red Cross chapter.

The Worst Job I Ever Had — OR — A Hairy Guy & an Old White House

by Leisha at cancerinmythirties

I was eleven years old.  I’ll give you a minute to picture an eleven-year old. At 11, you are just a kid.  So much to learn.  So many mistakes to make.  You still need someone to look after you.

But we needed the money. So I placed an ad in the newspaper:

Summer Babysitter/Mother’s Helper:  Responsible 11-year-old girl available to care for your child(ren).  CPR-certified.  3 years experience.  References. Light housekeeping/cooking if needed.

I received a number of calls.  I’m not sure that all of the men who called actually had children.  But that’s another story!

Anyway, I had been babysitting for my younger sister for years and had branched out to babysitting for friends, neighbors, friends of friends/neighbors since turning 8.  Think about that for a minute.  I have eight-year-olds.  Two of them, in fact.  And I cannot picture leaving them alone for 20 minutes.  I cannot picture them cooking.  Or cleaning.  Or caring for other people’s children!

But I did all of these things at the tender age of 8.  So, by 11, I was an old pro.

Of all the calls I received, the most appealing came from a woman who said she’d need me Saturdays and most weekdays and that I could start that Saturday.

Why was it the most appealing?

1.)  I could walk to the house.  We did not have a car, so proximity was important.

2.)  She had a two-month-old son — and I loved babies.

So I said yes.  And I walked there on Saturday morning, arriving early because I was a very responsible eleven-year-old.

But I was not prepared for what I would find or for what this job would be.

I had passed the house many times on the school bus.  It was a weathered old white house in poor repair.  The lawn was littered with bits and pieces from at least a few vehicles.  And there, in the long gravel driveway, was a run-down old truck with a skull and crossbones bumper sticker on the back window and a pair of panties hanging on the rear-view mirror.

But I was not one to judge.  I grew up quite poor.  Owning an old white house and a run-down old pick-up truck (with or without the panties) would have been a dream come true for us.

When I knocked on the front door that first day, a tall, hairy guy motioned me inside.  He looked me up and down and gave me a smile and a wink I had seen before.  Then his wife swooped in, red lipstick-stained cigarette dangling from her mouth.  She handed her infant to me with as much care as you’d expect from a football player tossing a football.  “Here are the other two,” she said, pointing to Jimmy, age 7, and Cassie, age 4.

And with that, the man and woman left, promising to be back “later.”

In the months that ensued, “later” meant anywhere from 2 to 10 hours.  I never knew.  Sometimes the couple would leave and go to an unnamed place.  Sometimes their bandmates would come and they would all go out to the old barn in the back to play while I looked after the kids all day.  And sometimes it meant that the mother would leave me home with the children and the hairy man.  And on those days, he often wore only a pair of boxers and said he enjoyed watching me bathe the kids.  Yes, hairy guy was a weirdo!

And the kids, oh, the poor kids.  I fell in love with 4-year-old Cassie and 8-week-old Joe.  They were sweet and cuddly and needed to be nurtured.

And, to my dismay, 7-year-old Jimmy fell in love with me.  I learned this when he took me back to the old weeping willow he called his treehouse and attempted to kiss and handcuff me to a tattered backseat his dad had dragged in there from his old car.  Of course a discussion about boundaries ensued.

And yet I returned.  All summer long.  And on the days when their parents came home drunk and/or stoned, I stayed late without pay and walked home in the dark.  Those kids needed me.

And I will never forget them — or the worst job I ever had.

Congratulations, Leisha!

Be sure to check her blog and these enlightening (age appropriate) posts:


Weekly Photo Challenge: Renewal — Confessions of a Former Mermaid

“Give me back my peanut butter!” — OR — “My 1st Bucket List Adventure: Part I”

The Green Study “Worst Job I Ever Had” Contest: 3rd Place

canstockphoto45980503rd Prize from The Green Study “Worst Job I Ever Had” contest goes to Bill at Pinklightsabre’s Blog for a job straight out of a Chekhov story.

He will receive a Green Study Mug and a priceless postcard from Minneapolis. A $50 online donation to the American Red Cross has been made on his behalf to his local Red Cross Chapter.

Ball Bearings

by Bill at Pinklightsabre’s Blog

My friend Dave and I were down on our luck. Smoking cigarettes, staying up late playing Dungeons & Dragons, no luck with the ladies. Running out of money, living at home. Arguing with our parents, arguing with each other, sometimes needing a wank.

The offer came through at $7 an hour, unheard of! All the temp jobs were running in the high 5’s, sometimes a hair over $6, but never $7. We both got placed: 6 AM at the industrial park, Monday morning.

We met in the break room and waited, half a dozen guys in sweat pants and baseball caps, drinking coffee. It was a sort of recognition our lives sucked: me and Dave both with a college degree, reduced to this.

Two guys came in and told us to sit down. One was a hulking Puerto Rican with a mullet, and the other, a balding white guy with a tie. They explained we were part of a very important project, that if we worked hard there could be other opportunities.

We were to inspect ball bearings. There had been a problem with one of the lot codes and it was a government contract for a big name aircraft, so they needed us to go through all the other lot codes and check for defects.

We were led to a table facing a wall in the warehouse, with fold-out metal chairs. The ball bearings came in plastic tubes, about 20 a tube, and the tubes came in boxes, about 20 tubes per box. The boxes came out of crates. Dave and I were chuffed: seven bucks an hour, for this?

We got to it. Each of us got a few tubes, a set of cotton gloves, and a bucket. The bucket was for defects. Defects, we were told, came in the form of small patches of orange, which was actually rust, which may have been the result of a problem with how they were shipped, by boat.

The ball bearings looked like mini silver donuts, and had a nice weight to them: such magical little things! We were to carefully rub the grease off, inspect them thoroughly, then put them back into the tubes when we were done.

We sat there in silence rubbing the ball bearings, sliding them in and out of the tubes. No defects. None, really. Dave saw what he thought might have been something, but when he asked the guy with the tie, he said it was okay.

8:30 AM. Time for first break. Dave and I go out to his car and smoke a cigarette. It’s starting to rain.

8:45 AM. Back inside. The Puerto Rican set up a radio for us, but says we have to fight over what to play, he’s not getting in the middle of it.

10:30 AM. Lunch: no defects, yet. Dave suggests tomorrow we should think about getting high.

2 PM. We get off work and drive home. Day 1: three more weeks, maybe more, depending on how fast we go. Dave says we don’t want to work our way out of a job, slow down.

That week, I dream of ball bearings: rubbing the cool, silver surface with the edge of my thumb, looking for orange flecks, a Rorschach test: faces, flowers.

We get chummy with the other guys over time. Since it’s all men, and we’re all about the same age, it’s low conversation: Women, Getting Loaded, Car Parts, Sports, Fist-Fights. Pick your category, everyone’s an expert.

One of the guys drives an IROC-Z and tells Dave he can get us whatever we want, whenever. He’s quiet, looks like he might be Arabic; his name is Abe.

It’s Friday and we haven’t found any defects yet. Abe overhears the Puerto Rican and the white guy while he’s in the crapper, says they’re thinking about letting us go and calling it off, next week.

We need to find some defects. Abe tells Dave in the parking lot he kifed a tube and is going to take it home to work on it over the weekend. Dave and I want to continue our D&D campaign, but we’re tired from the early mornings, and agree to call it a night. We’ll get our first check the week after next.

Congratulations, Bill! 

Be sure to check out his blog – for a walk on the dark and light side:

Dreams and Despair

Sentiment, sediment and what’s at the bottom of it