coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A crying shame

Being someone who does not cry in the workplace is a persona I have carefully cultivated over the years.  I believed I needed to be strong; even tough.  As an old feminist, I feared displaying too much emotion at work was one of those things that held women back.  I still believe that. 

I have joyfully mentored many women over the years.  For better or worse, one of the things I tried to do was to break them of work-related crying habits.  I am not saying that crying is bad.  In many areas of our lives it is appropriate and even a good thing to do.   I am saying that it does not serve a useful purpose in the workplace.   It is hard to take someone seriously as an employee or as a “player” when they are crying.   Although I know people usually cry at work simply because they are not able to control their emotions, and often for good reasons, it is important to realize that observers often interpret workplace crying as either a tactic or a weakness.  Neither perception helps get raises, promotions, or more challenging job tasks. 

I hate to cry – even if I am alone and at home.  It is physically unpleasant.  I look awful.   I feel awful.  I use a lot of Kleenex.  It gives me a headache and a sore throat.   My eyes become bloodshot and my nose gets red.  At this point in my life, only the death of a loved one can bring me to tears.   Perhaps that will change in retirement as I learn to “live in the moment,” (a cliché I am personally tired of hearing, sorry to resort to using it here) and become more relaxed about how I react to events.  In the workplace stressful events were things I had to “get through.”   In retirement stressful events will hopefully become things I “live through” and allow myself to feel and fully experience.   Does living well mean feeling deeply?  I will have to get back to you on that.   I am not actually ready to give up my non-crying persona yet.

If my mother read this she would ask me if I was bragging or complaining.   Hard to say.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Enough already!

Are you getting tired of reading about how happy I am since I retired?  I am almost tired of saying it.   I am going to stop real soon.  I promise.  It seems like I am bragging, but apparently “feeling happy” just never gets old.  The stated purpose of my blog is to explore my thoughts about aging.  Consequently, I am going to share some thoughts on the subject of making the decision to retire.   It is, after all, a personal decision - and although I am writing about what worked for me, it is not for everyone.  So, please continue to humor me while I ramble on.

I was talking to T at dinner about how good I felt.  He said, “yeah, you feel relief, right?”  I thought about it and decided it was a tripartite process, this "happiness in retirement.First there is relief.   Then there is a sense of freedom, followed by the feeling of possibility.   That is what I mean when I say I am happy.   Could it be that mind-numbing boredom is right around the corner?  Financial concerns?  Lack of purpose?  Probably I will experience all of those things at one time or another.  For now, I am just trying to figure out this thing called retirement as I go along.  I was not prepared for it.  I did not expect it.  Truthfully, I did not think about how I would feel once I was retired.  I retired because I was done.   I had an epiphany last summer.   Some lame crisis came up and I, of course, had to find a way to resolve it.   It occurred to me while solving the problem that the thrill of “Problem Solving” was no longer present in my work life.   As my friend SH S would say: “Bam, Pow.”  I was over it.   I was over my job.  Damn!  Time to retire.  

Problem Solver was a role I loved.  I was the administrative manager in an academic department with over 100 people.  I had minimal control over what would happen next, and maximum responsibility for resolving it.   That pretty much defines office jobs everywhere.  I was not the only office worker in the department doing this kind of work.  Office workers are heroic, self-sacrificing, and extremely productive.  Many people do not seem to appreciate how hard office staff work and how much they care about others.  Add to the office mix all the management stuff and you have some idea how I have spent the last 37 years.  During my working years I genuinely loved whatever job I had; however, in recent years it all started to get old.  One of the only things that made it worthwhile towards the end (besides the people) was the rush I felt when problem solving.  It was creative.  It was fun.  It was challenging.  However, by the time I made the decision to retire my shoulders were constantly up around my ears.  I took only shallow breaths.  My brow was furrowed. My hair turned gray.  Okay, okay, maybe the hair turning gray was just a natural part of growing older.   Still…the hair turned gray.   I gained a ton of weight by stress eating, and I drank like a fish.  A couple of years ago I developed a mysterious rash on my face and hands.  I ignored it.  All of this seemed acceptable as long as I still got a creative rush from the job.  So when I had that particular epiphany last summer and realized the thrill was truly dead and gone, I knew it was time for me to retire.  Because if I was not having fun, then I would not be creative.  And if I was not creatively inclined towards my work tasks, then I would not be doing a good job in the future.  After that the decision to retire was easy and obvious for me. 

My Mom retired in her mid-70s, and then only because she had Parkinson's Disease.  She loved her job.  She did not retire because she wanted to and she was certainly not happy to make the decision to stop.  I am still sad she was unable to continue doing what she loved and wanted to do: work.  I have other friends and family who worked into their late 60s and early 70s. They did so because they loved working, or because they needed the money, or both.  All excellent reasons to avoid retirement.  When to retire is, like I said, personal.  You will know when you are "done."  We are all so different.  There is no-one-size-fits-all model for human behavior.   Do what makes you happy. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


OMG - let me tell you about the circumcision!   It was heartbreaking but memorable.

Yesterday my son-in-law, MV, had to go back to work so he could not go to the circumcision.   Because my daughter, M, still cannot drive I took M and N to get N circumcised while my granddaughter, E, was in school.   The hospital (a prestigious Women and Babies Hospital) had given MV a referral to a pediatric practice that regularly did circumcisions for them, a husband and wife team.  All sounds good, right? 

We had an adventure finding the place to begin with.  When we finally got there it was a small practice in a funky little inner city shopping center.   Just one waiting area (no "well" waiting room with a separate "sick" waiting room like M & MV have become accustomed to with their pediatrician).  The floor of the waiting area was tile, and obviously had not been mopped in recent years.  There was only one other family waiting, but they had a very sick little boy, so we sat all the way on the other side of the room from them and I held up N's blanket over his face to block him from germs. 

The woman in the other family was a skanky, skinny, white street momma with obscene tattoos all over her arms.  I cannot figure out how she had two children because she had the skinniest butt in the world; absolutely no hips and 0% body fat.  Her lank hair hung to her waist.  She could not sit still.  Her eyes were messed up and unfocused - maybe on drugs?  Apparently she had been there for a while because she was super angry, bitching out loud to her equally skinny Goth husband about the doctors making their kids wait and taking others in before them.  She also ranted on about how the doctors spent too much time with their patients and should just get a better system to move people through more quickly.  I found that to be an interesting argument for a young mother to make when her kids were sick.  She kept interrupting the secretary to give her a hard time every 5 minutes or so.  She just would not shut up or sit down. She was working my last nerve. 

I scoped her out, figured I could take her down if I had to (she was really skinny and obviously distracted) and passed the time by fantasizing about beating her to a pulp.  She stayed on her side of the room.  At one point she caught my eye and said, "I'm so mad at these damn doctors, I'd like to just clean this room."  That made me laugh, and then I felt less inclined to kick her ass. 

When an African American family came in, both parents with their children, it made the skanky white woman settle down.  The African American mother was clearly a woman of substance.  She had three small children and would not let them play with the toys because of germs, and had the children singing church songs while they waited.  Cutest damn thing - those kids sang so sweetly and were trying to remember the words to "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." 

M texted MV the whole time we waited, seemingly trying to get information to fill out the forms.  She told me later that she was texting him about leaving because the place was so skeevy.  He was helping her plan her escape.  She was just getting up to tell the secretary we changed our minds when they called her name.  So we went in.   Keep in mind that we expected this surgery to happen in the hospital, but the hospital dropped the ball.  MV took him to his regular pediatrician last week, and that doctor said she did not do circumcisions.  This poor baby needed to get this circumcision done before he was old enough to remember!  I decided that if the doctor did not wash his hands I was going to grab N and run with him.

I really liked Dr. W (we got the husband).   He wore superhero scrubs and was funny and friendly.  He talked to N, and laughed at my jokes.  He was kind and thoughtful to Mother M.  The room we were in was clean, and the nurse was sweet and attentive.  The doctor said that, although we were welcome to remain while the procedure was done, most people opted to go in the waiting room.  We wanted to stay.  I asked if I could watch.  He said "Sure, as long as you don't get queasy."  I am the woman who wanted to be awake for my hysterectomy, so I knew I was going to be fine. 

I am not one to display (or even feel) emotions in the midst of a crisis.  Well, that's not exactly true - I do feel anxiety.  If that is an emotion.  Mostly, I am just there... in the moment, rolling with the punches.  I fall apart later, when I am alone.  Crying in public is not an option for me.  I would not be able to cry if I wanted to in most situations.  Good thing, too, 'cause I look God awful ugly when I cry, and I need an entire box of Kleenex.  Plus, in this particular situation curiosity got the best of me and I could not pass up the opportunity to see exactly how this infamous surgical procedure was done - up close and personal. 

I could not believe my good fortune.  At first M was up there with a touch to his face and the pacifier handy, but when N started raging and turning all red faced (he has never cried that hard before) she just could not bear it; she had to sit down next to the desk where she cried her heart out at the idea of her baby suffering.  They both cried their way through it, actually.

Of course that meant the way was clear for me to move in and get a closer view, and also to provide some emotional support and love to that sweet, sweet baby boy.  I was there like a shot!  I put my left hand on his hair to make sure he knew he was not alone and then I sang to him.  I sang every nursery rhyme and children's song I knew.  He actually stopped crying a couple of times to listen.  All of this while I struggled to contort my upper torso to keep out of the way of the doctor AND continue to keep my eyes on the task at hand.  

Actually, they had numbed his private parts, so I do not believe he felt any pain after the needle delivered the pain killer.   The needle hurt him, I am sure, because that is when he started crying.  But what REALLY pissed him off was that they tied down his hands and legs so he couldn't move - and this boy is a mover and a shaker.   It freaked him out and he was raging against the injustice of it all.  The reason I know this to be true is because if you could have seen what I saw, and if that baby could have felt what was happening, he would have been shrieking in pain. Which he was not.  He was red faced and mad.  Totally different cry.  Anyway, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.  I hope it is true.

By the time I drove them home, I was shaking.   All three of us were overwhelmed by what we had been through.  I just wanted to drink a beer and stare off into space for an hour or two.  But I needed to pick up E from school instead.  That's another story.   Next time.