On-the-job life lessons provide some heart-stopping moments

Posted: Sunday, June 13, 2004

A little over a year ago, I likened my joining the "outside" work force after a 15-year absence to that of a mole coming out of its hole.

I would like to change that analogy. I definitely feel more like a deer a deer caught in the headlights, that is.

The past year has been one of bounding from (learning) one task to another each time wondering if I was going to make it across the street or become a front grill decoration on the truck of progress.

There have been some near misses.

At work, they've included learning the intricacies of office etiquette. Each department has its own idiosyncrasies, and it can be a challenge keeping them all straight. I also have had to learn not to say whatever is on my mind and that sweats don't count as causal clothes.

The more technical problems I have encountered are learning to use a computer and not locking it up every time I touch it. I seemed cursed in this area. So much so, that when anything goes wrong with the computers, the first question asked is "Nan, what did you do to it?"

I won't even discuss my archenemy, the time card machine.

I also have had to learn to use a cell phone. This modern-day marvel can take pictures, send text messages and allow the family to find me anywhere. (It seems a little silly, though, when it rings while I am in the bathroom.)

Before the cell phone could make my life easier, I first had to learn not to hang it up with my face, remember to turn the phone to vibrate when at work so as to not disturb co-workers and then to turn the ringer back on so I could hear it while I was driving.

This last lesson I learned the hard way, after I almost wrecked my truck. The phone, which I had in my shirt pocket, vibrated. I thought I was being attacked by bees.

I grabbed my chest with both hands, looked down and realized two things: One, it was my phone, not bees; and, two, both hands where not on the wheel and I was about to become news in my own paper.

I could just imagine the headline: "Woman injured in auto accident while groping herself."

Some near misses have been home related. I overestimated my ability to merge motherhood and a job outside the home and, consequently, found myself on the receiving end of some heart-stopping phone calls.

"Hey, Mom, I know how stressed you are about not having the Christmas tree ready for us, so I found the chain saw. (Heart stops beating.) But it wouldn't start. (Heart beats again.) So I hacked down the six-foot tree in the front yard, and it fell toward the house. (Heart stops.) But it missed. (Heart beats again.) I did hit my leg with the hatchet. (Heart stops.) But I didn't get cut."

The only thing that kept me from jumping up from my desk, running out of the building and driving home as fast as humanly possible was lack of oxygen.

We got past that, but then there was the call about how to use the washing machine, followed by another one 10 minutes later that went, "Hey, Ma, when suds come out of the washer does that mean I put in too much soap?"

And my worst call yet: "You're the mom. Moms should be doing this, not the kids."

One thing I have yet to get past is that I have become my own mother I guilt myself.

I figure I must be a great mom because the guilt burden I am giving myself is a doozy. Will the kids grow up insecure because they felt abandoned? Was the dip in my son's grades because I was too tired to check homework every night? If there is an earthquake, how will I make it across Bridge Access Road and reach my children? Does feeding them more processed food and take-out meals mean I love them less? How can I be a good employee if I haven't learned (whatever new task) without messing it up?

Really, with what we women beat ourselves up over, it is a wonder we function at all.

Still, working isn't all bad, and, since I have to, I am fortunate that I like my job. Many people don't have that luxury.

It makes the days when I do get across the road just as spectacular as the near misses. Things like knowing I am not too old to learn something new and seeing a story with my byline on it are undeniably satisfying.

At home, it has been rewarding to see the kids become more self-assured and learn to do the things that need to get done without being told. The oldest proving how responsible he is has helped me realize he will do fine when he moves out next year. My youngest has discovered he can do just about anything he puts his mind to.

Of my two full-time jobs, parenting remains the toughest one. At work, if you mess up, you know right away, and the consequences tend to be immediate.

As a parent, you won't know for years if what you have put you heart and soul into was good enough. You don't get raises for doing a good job as a parent, and the hours are much longer 40 hours a week at work versus a lifetime as a parent. Your kids also can't fire you so, if you're a bad parent, the kids just have to suffer.

As I juggle the job-parent thing, I hope for three things during the next year: My family will remain strong; I will still have a job; and I will move up the food chain becoming a lion, instead of a deer.

Nan Misner works for the Peninsula Clarion.

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