Hello again

I have been MIA – again. While I have been pretty busy – because we’re all pretty busy – it’s essentially a lame excuse.

My focus of late has been on my better health, getting my big girl capris out of their twist and bitch-slapping myself back to reality. I’m doing fine. I’m not slacking. I’m not faltering, failing, fucking up. I’m locking down my negative girl and letting reality seep in … which is that things are good and the sky is still up there above me.

It is August and the grand plan has been to visit my daughter and son-in-law in Florida. M and I were thinking after Thanksgiving, but G and K have commitments that make that just about impossible. Since we have the more flexible schedule, we are now looking at the week between Christmas and New Years. K has the week off at her new job, and it’s either insanely busy or completely dead for me. This year, I’m inclined to work it out so it is mostly completely dead.

Next problem is that C and A both have to work that week – it’s kind of a no vacation period for them. From my perspective, it will be fine. Unfortunately, this is where the first big hurdle in family dynamics comes into play: managing expectations.

Between air fare and lodging – it’s going to be expensive. Add in attractions like Disneyworld or Universal Studios – it’s going to be ridiculously expensive. M and I will likely get a rental car, which I will build into the budget. And meals out, etc. – cheap and/or economical is not going to be part of that equation.

I am extremely sensitive to it. We have (mostly) agreed we’re not doing Christmas gift exchanges this year in lieu of the trip. I am withholding my consent for us because we are able to contribute cash toward the trip or whatever else they wish to use it for and call it a Christmas gift.

Then there is the concept of together time. This one is trickier.

For us, if M wants to spend 4 days visiting all 4 Disney parks I’ll suck it up and deal. Timing is imperfect – I am envisioning zillions of people and very long lines everywhere we go – but I do this because M really wants to and I want him to be happy. C and A have annual passes and are happy to spend their days off with us visiting Mouseland. While I know G enjoys theme parks, between the crowds and the waiting and it not really being K’s thing, they have maybe 2 days if we’re lucky.

We are perfectly fine with that. K has 4 very close friends who live in the area and of course she wants to see/spend time with all of them, and the rest of us strongly encourage that. Instead of spending money not having a very pleasant time with us, she and G should accept her friends’ offer of hosting them for several days and perhaps rent a car to meet up with us in Tampa once M has gotten his fill of theme parks in Orlando. C and A will also be back at work and their time is going to be limited to meals out with us during our stay, so we will have to find activities to amuse ourselves. This is a huge part of the tradeoffs that come with planning a trip around the holidays.

I am actually not sure K sees it precisely that way, and there will have to be a lot more conversation and communication about plans as we move forward. In my mind we are all going to be on vacation, except for C and A, who unfortunately have to work, But any time we can spend all together will be irreplaceable and should be celebrated.

This is our first foray into a joint family vacation, and I expect there to be a learning curve as we figure things out. But because we’re family, I expect we will be honest about what we want, how we feel, what is affordable, what is financially out of reach.

Now just to make it happen without anyone getting the wrong message or hurt feelings.

Ahh family. On the scale of family relationships as I hear from others and read about online, we are a pretty simple group that actually gets along well. No real reasons for complaint. Right now, I think it is just a struggle to manage expectations.

Better choices today

Immediately after bleeding my angry rage post yesterday, I was off for a visit with TM (my therapist, for newer readers unaware of my tribe of experts). Even in the midst of my own crazy, I understand when the walls have closed and boxed me in and how I need help getting out of a funk. It was a hard conversation, especially through the blur of angry, raging tears and having to continually blow my nose. As is typically the case of talking stuff over with TM, it was also productive.

The downside is there is still more work to be done in this area. No matter how “done” I feel with the whole series of chapters in my life, it seems there is always an unread page or 10 to go back and thoroughly read, review, digest, turn. Perhaps this is life for everyone. Happily there are huge swathes of the population who have more normal and mentally/emotionally healthy families of origin and cannot comprehend the legacy of my type of crazed and complicated coping mechanisms. I seem to have to tug and unravel something else every, another thread every few years these days.

I am choosing to believe that it says a lot about my evolving maturity that I can report  such things without feeling the old humiliation that my issues are somehow my fault, that I am not handling it more successfully without having to publicly admit my shortcomings and air my dirty laundry. If anything, I am more motivated to sort this shit out and put it away in a neat and orderly manner, kind of Kon Marie tidying of my horrific childhood events. And no matter how much I try to woman up and tell myself it was not as bad as many others endured and survived, it was pretty bad. There is no competition or comparison on who suffered the most when it comes to childhood sexual abuse and assault. To be healthy and the best me I can be means I have to dial direct and deal with it; no avoidance, no raging against the unfairness, no tantrums about not wanting to do it. My choices of action or inaction have their own types of consequences, both are painful and difficult in their own way. From long experience, though, action is more like the sting of ripping off the supersticky bandaid versus delaying the inevitable and peeling it slowly while the wounds fester underneath.

Ewww – so gross to think about.

Today is a better day already. I went to bed early and slept a deep, mostly dreamless sleep and woke up refreshed. The only “nightmare” I had was that it was actually Monday and I had overslept and was going to be late for meeting trainer J at the gym. Except it’s Saturday, not Monday. If that’s the biggest problem I have in my sleeping hours, I am going to be okay.

I was completely on fire and in-focus in my gym practice today. Had some time to chat with J and other members, and while others might have found the extended rest distracting, for me it just made my focus feel sharper and more on-point. TM had an interesting observation yesterday. When I phoned for the appointment on Thursday, my voice mail stated that I really hoped to get in this week because I was having an issue that was disrupting my focus and distracting me in the gym, making me feel like poser member, and thoughts of giving up were starting to creep in while I was already struggling to get through a List. All true. It was not just the recurring rage and anger and pain that dragged me back to his office; it was the fact that it was interfering with my exercise routine. I have worked too hard and come too far in my better health pursuits to be derailed now by old wounds, and I am determined to stay on track with the training no matter what. TM just found is ironic that all the years he encouraged me to get more exercise and I could would not do it, only now to be calling for an urgent care appointment because my head is trying to disrupt my gym time.

Progress has never been described more accurately.

TM and I agreed that a couple more “tune up” appointments are in order. Life is in a state of flux this month with the job changes and recruiting new clients, settling back in with former clients returning, plus accepting more work from existing clients. As far as life issues go, these are good problems to have and I feel very, very fortunate. However, I would be lying if I said there is not some struggle with adjusting to self-regulating my work schedule and mostly being on my own every day. M is around, of course, but with regard to coworkers and that interpersonal interaction, it’s an adjustment. I miss my crew. I miss my role within the firm and working together toward a common goal. While I still feel like a vital component in my clients’ business goals and objectives, it is very different from being a hands-on part of each day after day.

Again, I am very appreciative to have work that continues to support us and keep us moving forward on our financial goals. There is no shame in admitting it is takes some effort to get used to this new normal.

I’m also grateful for this space, where I can download and offload my ugly insides without fear or anxiety of harsh judgment. My intense craving and need to feel safe is a ruling impulse in my life, and if there were a hierarchy of vices and poor choices (thanks trainer J for putting that image in my head), blogging as an exercise in reclaiming power over my own thoughts and emotions is a lot better than self-harm in so many other ways.  Food remains a trigger for me in this state, and thankfully we have purged most of the junky choices I might select and it is far easier to resist the allure of the nearest convenience store. Dill pickles (my latest food obsession) are mild on that harmful scale, as is a peanut butter sandwich I had for dinner last night. At least there were roasted veggies on the plate as well.

The aviary, anxiety, and getting on with it

Mish-mash catch-all post with updates on various happenings in my life. Busy days this shortened work week, but before I get too engulfed by various things I wanted to provide a quick update on current events.

Cheepers

I wish I’d thought to take a more recent photo, but Cheepers is still with us and appears to be thriving. That said, I have concerns about his longevity, visions of setting him free in the wild only to be snatched on his first freedom flight by the hawk, the big bad boogey bird of the greenbelt behind our home. Or worse, crashing down and within reach of our cats, who then dash off to consume him in private and well out of reach of M’s wrath.

He eats pretty well when M feeds him, drinks water pretty well from an eye dropper that M puts in his beak, and can fly a bit when M launches him from the floor a couple of feet off the ground. Other than that, Cheepers is pretty much completely dependent. He’s not a terrible housemate – he either stays in his box (in the air conditioned comfort of the house) or on his paper plate (when we are at home to ensure he doesn’t fall off whatever surface his plate is resting upon). He goes outside in the cage for a few hours each day in the nice temperatures of the mornings and evenings. Overnight, he sleeps uncaged on his paper plate on M’s nightstand. He starts cheeping for breakfast when the sun comes through the windows, but even with me rustling around getting ready to leave for the gym at 4 in the morning that bird stays with beak tucked into his wing and happily sleeping.

I’m not sure what will happen to him, frankly, but I can envision a future with us having a bird pet for however long he lives. It’s now been 2 weeks, and while other birds of his species – that may or may not be the parent birds – are out in the yard, they seem pretty indifferent to him and he to them. Birdy-Bird, his predecessor that also fell out of the nest and ultimately died in our care, was older when M found him and would interact routinely with his parents while ensconced in the yard in his cage. Cheepers was younger and likely abandoned, so essentially M is his parent and family. Unfortunately M cannot teach him how to hunt and feed himself. M cannot get Cheepers to eat food or drink water he places in front of him.

I think M has become, by necessity, a helicopter bird parent. And unfortunately, I see little hope of getting him “launched” successfully and safely.

Yep, M enables him. Cheepers goes off in his cage to jobsites or on runs with M during the day, his worms in their own cooler for snacks and lunch. There are certainly worse fates for the little bird, but he seems far too domesticated and tame now to survive on his own in the wild. Time will tell.

I have always been a dog person if I were to have a pet. Now I have cats outside and a bird in my house. The bird is unlikely to live a long life either way, and the cats were already adults when we met them 6 years ago, so they are settling into the “mature” cat years now. But after this, I want no more pets.

Anxiety

The Big Law Firm (BLF) transition was paperwork-ly completed last Friday. Monday began the first day for remaining staff as new employees with BLF, and of course yesterday was a paid holiday. I had really, Really, REALLY hoped for a soft landing in this change and that despite my personal misgivings and worries about it, that the staff would find the experience positive or mostly positive. I really wanted future communications with them to contain sort of tempered excitement at worst, that they miss working with me but things are so damn great even without me it’s hard to contain their enthusiasm. I also really hoped the first day would be more off-hand and casual as they all adjust to the new normal.

Yeah, Pollyanna still lives here.

Monday was fairly brisk for me setting up my own new normal as far as self-employment continuing and restart with client work and appointments, so it was a rare mid-morning to late afternoon period of not reading texts except those from clients I was meeting or expecting to be hearing from about schedule-related issues.

I had 117 texts from various staff members when I finally sat down to read them. About 30% were of the “so weird without you here” and “we miss you already” and “it’s lunchtime – where are you?” type messages, which made me smile. The rest were descriptive about the changes being implemented from day 1 and how it felt like BLF had executed a military coup and drafted all of them. Or worse. Change is hard.

I wish it were different, but reminded them that change is difficult at first and to give BLF staff a chance. They do operate differently than we did, than I did, and it’s a new era and practically a new job, so be patient and smart about learning the new systems and procedures. Give BLF a chance to not only adapt to a new firm, new cases, new staff, but also a chance to evaluate the office work flow and adapt to and incorporate some of our best practices. While I am realistic about there being no place for me in the new business world order of the firm, I know these are very smart and talented attorneys. They will adapt to the new culture and the culture will adapt to incorporate them as well.

Even the former partners are having to adapt somewhat. In their roles as consultants and advisors they will be in the office periodically for meetings with clients and consulting/transitioning ongoing matters, but they too are having to adapt to not being primary decisionmakers and expected to be somewhere throughout the day. As I will be assisting them with the wind-down of the firm throughout the next 6 months to a year, I will still see and speak to them regularly, although of course it’s not the same as it was. But as I have reminded myself hundreds of times since this all came about, things are constantly in a state of flux and nothing stays the same forever, nor would I desire that.

But I am also facing the reality of my new normal. Monday I was busy with work-related things both planned and unexpected, as is typical for all aspects of life. I have had 3 clients that I had to cut loose back when I accepted full-time employment express happy-happy-joy-joy at the opportunity to return to the fold, and before the calendar even turned I was already engrossed in resolving a bigger problem and found myself with a short-fuse deadline for today that I was only able to get extended to Monday and even then only because the regulator knows me well and is delighted to have me back on the case. While grateful for the reprieve, I’m furious at the person who spent more than a year collecting fees for work she was not actually doing. I am actually so furious about it I am making a list and planning to market directly to her clients, probably all of them.

Because I tend to hate marketing, this is an added layer of stress. Fortunately for me, all my work has come from referrals from people I know or clients I work with or have worked with in the past. I am not very good at talking up my services or expertise; I am pretty black-and-white about what I can or cannot do for someone. Schmoozing is not normal or easy behavior for me, especially in a marketing-type capacity. While I can and do negotiate (I buy all the cars in our family because M hates dealing with salesmen), I dislike the process.

Beyond that, though, I have some concerns about what to do with myself all day. I mean, right now I have plenty on my plate – through the end of July my to-do lists overfloweth. There is just this sense that a “regular” workday and workload will be inadequate to fill up my typical work hours. What do I do then?

In my experience, the anxiety is unfounded. It is the mostly unknown workday right now, and being such a schedule-keeping creature of habit, I dislike that uncertainty. So, I have decided the only course of action is to stay on some semblance of my presently normal schedule. Stick to my regular wake-up and exercise schedule, plan my workday around its normal timeframe. I have more flexibility to actually meet with clients in their offices now, although I imagine my Tuesdays are pretty well set and will continue.

My routine-loving stress puppy will be soothed by sticking to what we know. For at least the month of July, that will be good enough.

Life (and Work) Does Go On

I am cutting myself some slack on my present-level of anxiety over the changes in life and career. While I am not at all worried about finding enough work, being capable enough to do the work, or even juggling and managing my time to ensure stuff gets done, change is hard, even change I have been anticipating. Unfortunately things have been sort of ethereal in nature during that period, and now that July is here and full-time self-employment is again a thing, I have to get busy wrapping my arms around it and sorting it into orderly priorities.

This week I have appointments outside the office with existing, returning, and potential clients. Which means I have to be on best and most dressed-up behavior most of my days – none of my favorite capris and tank tops at my treadmill desk much this week. This is one of the true perks of working from home into the future and I’m impatient to start enjoying it.

From the messages and support from friends and clients alike, I am lucky to have such great influences from those who populate my life. I am not “losing” friends by leaving the firm so much as gaining a different slant on the friendships built there.

Between the negotiated severance package and terms of my separation, money is not even top 5 of concerns I have about this transition. In that, I am extraordinarily fortunate and genuinely grateful. While so far from “frugalista” I should probably consult the dictionary regularly to refresh my memory when my brand of financial restraint seems too confining, ours is a pretty simple life. Biggest splurges are probably training for me and fuel for M’s travel to and fro to run, both of which have a direct benefit on our overall and ongoing health.

That said, I always do have a bare-bones budget in mind, our go-to in the event of financial famine. I update it regularly as our circumstances change, but typically very little changes unless we have acquired new debt (ha ha) or have become gazelle-intense about saving for something or paying off the mortgage.

I am mostly chasing my tail because big changes give me some sense of anxiety. Since this is not a change I wanted but more one I had to implement and accept, it makes adjustment that much more difficult. I am and will continue to adjust to the new normal, and from there I expect less aimless frothing on a spin cycle and more productive use and practical applications of time and energy.

Onward, ever onward. The adventure continues, even with me whimpering and weakly wiggling my feet in protest.

 

Parents

Out and about at lunch today with one of my associates, she asked me if I miss my parents. Second anniversary of her father’s death is Saturday and she is already feeling the oppressive sadness processing her ongoing grief.

At work, in most of my face-to-face life, I rarely think about much less mention my parents. When I do, it is typically in the context of their shortcomings. While I wish to be fair and balanced in my observations and remembrances, truth is there is not a lot of positives to talk about my childhood or my family of origin. There truly are few happy memories.

The simplest answer is no, I do not miss my parents. When I think of my mom, it is the last few months, and then only when M and I are doing something or are somewhere that she might have enjoyed. It is the reflexive part of me that wants to be kind, even to people I do not especially like as people. With my dad, it is more a curiosity of who he was, what he was like as a young man. All I know about him, really remember about him, is that he was drunk much of the time and seemed miserably uncomfortable during the periods of my life he was trying to get and stay sober.

My associate comes from a closer family. Her mother and twin sister live in southern California, and they talk on by phone or text every single day. Her vacations are spent with them or her boyfriend’s family. And right now, her ongoing grief over her father’s sudden death 2 years ago still weighs on her heart. I feel for her, yet wonder what that’s like. Tempering that grief this year is the eager anticipation of birth of her first niece or nephew later this year. She will make a wonderful aunt, and someday, when she has children of her own, I strongly believe she will be a wonderful mother.

She has good examples to draw upon.

Me, not so much. And I wonder whenever I depart from this life, if my kids will miss me and mourn my passing. Not something I dwell upon, but it is a point of curiosity that I will never know for certain. #relief

Despite not having good parenting examples to draw upon, I did okay. I own my mistakes – I married the wrong guy and had children with him, then divorced him and broke up a family. There are scars there, I’m sure. While I do not apologize for making a poor choice in their dad as a husband, I worked very hard to be a responsible parent and give my kids the tools they needed to grow up and successfully launch into independent lives of their own. In his own way, I feel equally certain their father did the same. My relationships with my children and their spouses are loving, honest, open. M and I am parents who respects boundaries and their sovereign adulthood, but if they need us, we would do just about anything to be there for them. And truly, I believe the same is true of them for us. Thankfully there has not yet been a situation that tested those theories.

Relationships change with time, because we have different experiences that alter our perceptions and beliefs – I believe they call it growing up. Does not mean we all grow up well, or evolve into better, smarter, more powerful or intelligent people; growing up to me just means we are not exactly the same people with the same thoughts we were the year before. Or such is my hope, anyway.

In the last couple of years – it feels like big growing up years. I started taking better care of myself, getting regular doses of exercise, learning how to use weight training machines and equipment in the gym, making better and healthier food choices. For most people this is just one tiny aspect of what they do in life, a hobby, but for me, it’s become The Hobby and The Gamechanger for most aspects of my life. I went from an employee working for an employer to expanding my side hustle (accounting) into a full-time, self-sufficient small business and back to full-time employee with part-time small business and now back to full-time small business owner. The impacts of these two things on my overall health – I went from insulin-dependent diabetic to well-controlled diabetic without any medication. I lost long-time friends along the way, people who perhaps felt threatened by a trimmer, healthier, freer, more financially empowered me. At the same time, I have made and added new friends that share my hopes and dreams, understand my health aspirations and mindset. Other relationships deepened, the bonds of our tribe strengthened and became closer. Both my kids, while living on their own for awhile, married their partners and solidified and expanded our family.

How does this all come back to my parents? Expectations. Or lack thereof, in my case.

I had no sense of my parents investing in me growing up. Go to school, get good grades, get a good job. Nothing at all against blue collar families, but my parents had no idea what was involved in getting into college, how much it would cost, how much – if anything – they would be willing to contribute for me to get my degree. So I was middle aged before I finally finished my degree. I got a job, got married, had a family, got divorced, got married, raised a family, and through it all got better, progressively more responsible, high paying jobs before I finally finished college. My success – I’m perfectly frank and honest that my parents did little to nothing directly to contribute to it. They had relationships with my children, until the kids grew up and into the initial stage of independence.

I did learn a few things from my folks. From my dad, don’t drink alcohol – you have no self control and will be an alcoholic. From my mom, don’t try to trade on your physical appearance – you’re not tiny, pretty like me, and learned helplessness presents more like a mental handicap than charming, attractive, rescue-worthy. And from both: we cannot or will not protect you from the predators of the world, so resign yourself to being a disposable commodity and expect everyone to steal your virtue, your dignity, and anything else you value.

There was such obvious favoritism between my sister and that it disturbs me to this day, yet made my adult life so much simpler despite that. The great hopes and dreams landed squarely on my sister’s shoulders, and when you are not expected to amount to much, the bar is set so low it is not that difficult to step right over it. It created this huge sense of resentment and distrust between my sister and I, because while accepting the benefits of being the golden child she resented the responsibility of being the older daughter and having to cope with the conflict of blazing her own trail. Me, I didn’t much care. Being viewed a the fuck-up (or the potential fuck-up) for having a mind of my own and speaking frankly has its benefits.

Because of that family dynamic, with my own children I have some very hard and fast rules about treating them equally. I do not see or sense the resentment between them that once existed between my sister and I. And I am very happy about that.

At the same time, I cringe and squirm in discomfort when I recognize my shortcomings and challenges that have been passed down from my to my kids. My bitter battles with food – C shares that. My hesitation and freaked-out-ness about school and education – I see the same sort of challenge with discipline and focus on topics and subjects of less interest with G. At the same time, I see a lot of good qualities that come from their father and I as well. They are both intelligent, have personal integrity, and are good citizens within their own communities. Far more than I was at their age, they are fiscally responsible and not buried in credit card debt, so they obviously learn from mistakes, mine as well as their own.

My associate and my friend, I am glad she loved her dad so much that she continues to process her grief 2 years after his passing. It’s moving to me that she tears up a little when talking about precious memories, that her family are people who express love in ways she could and can feel.

Breaking cycles, breaking family patterns – it may take generations to get to the right and more perfect balance. For me, it’s enough to come from my background and having children who grew up into balanced, responsible adults that I like as people well as love because they are my children.

My parents did the best they could, and their imperfect, flawed examples taught me to try other ways. My mistakes are mostly original and my own. For that, I am grateful. But I still do not think of or miss them much. That’s my character flaw to bear.

Budget sacrifices

We have a couple gifting occasions coming up this summer. Normally I don’t give it a whole lot of thought – if it’s a wedding I go to their registry, pick something out, order it, ship it, done. If it’s a baby shower, I do the same thing. If it’s a baby announcement, though, I like to go to some baby explosion store and buy some cute wearable. Because it’s a baby and they have amazingly cute, tiny things. And it’s remains a novelty for me to shop for tiny things.

Essentially, I make giving gifts all about me in the convenience and fun factor. Plus buying from a registry ensures the couple or parents get what they want or need, and the post delivery baby gift selection is typically functional as well as ridiculously cute. At my core I am pretty practical.

I never think about whether I’m being cheap or anything else. I typically have a budget range in mind that depends on who the person is in my life, their own circumstances, etc. In my mind gifts should be given and accepted graciously with little or no thought to cost. Of course, I am a complete Pollyanna who truly believes it is the thought that counts.

Lately here, discussion in my own life about weddings and baby showers are coming up more and more, and there seems to be a great debate over how much to spend on a gift. With 2 kids having weddings last year, apparently I should be more in the know about this stuff? Nope, not this mom of both a bride and a groom. The kids are adults, capable of handling their own gifting and financial affairs, and frankly the biggest concern I had was being the mother of “those kids” who did not write their thank you notes in a timely manner. Thankfully, both of mine got theirs done within a month of their weddings.

Sorry friends, I’m the last person you know to ask if a gift makes you look cheap. If you put some thought – even if the extent of the thought was to check their registry and select something – it counts. A few years back a client’s son was getting married and when I checked the registry, a single piece of their china was over $100, crystal was expensive as well. I felt weird giving a coffee cup or salad plate, so I wandered over to towels and such and purchased a set of towels that happened to be on sale. It was a registry item; obviously that’s what they wanted. I didn’t blow my budget and got them something they indicated they desired. My work is done.

This comes up periodically because I work with younger folk, many with a lot of student loan debt hanging over their heads and influencing their choices in jobs and career pathways. Something like gifts for a wedding and a shower can be major budget busters. One of my associates was recently asked to be a bridesmaid. She immediately said yes but is now having serious reservations about the idea once she began adding up the costs. There is an engagement party, so that means a gift. A shower gift, a wedding gift, the dress and shoes and jewelry, the bachelorette party, and it’s also a destination wedding. Ugh. I would have been tempted to say no to the invitation out of budget constraint, but I’m also middle aged and if my friends are getting married now, they are more far less concerned with the modern day wedding experience.

When is enough I wonder? I don’t know. I had the minimalist experience with my daughter last year and then the more modern tradition with my son. Both turned out beautifully and all parties are happy. My daughter had the small courthouse wedding she wanted, my son and daughter-in-law had the wedding of the decade (it was so much fun). The work leading up to the bigger wedding event was enormous, but that was what they wanted, so that’s what they had. I think they did a good job of managing costs and expectations, but it was still an expensive event. I also think it helps enormously that G and K are reasonable people – no -zillas that I saw or heard about – and were able to work with their friends to make the important parts of the wedding happen.

But I still know a lot of folks who worry about appearances. I suggest to my peeps that living within your means always looks good, but when you are a young attorney saddled with debt, most people only look at the profession and make the assumption that passing the bar automatically equates to healthy salaries. Perhaps, but when you factor in long hours, living expenses, and the burden of 5 to 6 figure students loan debt, they healthy salary sudden feels a lot like minimum wage.

This does not mean feel sorry for the well educated young professional, they have such a rough life. But it does mean that their lives are not so rapturously golden because they have a law degree and a professional job.

Once upon a time I was a budget coach, in that I helped people figure out their income and expenses and all the live they were presently living and really could not afford. It was some of the worst and most painful work of my life. Going through it myself was bad enough; trying to help people understand that their “needs” did not equate to cable television, 2 cars (with car payments), new electronics every year, etc. was a huge challenge. Once they realized they would have to give up most of if not all of their wants to pay down their debt, they wanted to get out debt as quickly as possible, which meant unsustainable budgets and more month than money and having to hit the credit card again for basic living expenses.

It was an ugly cycle.

I rarely do that kind of thing anymore. Dave Ramsey has getting out of debt pretty well covered if someone is serious about taking those steps. But chatting with my associate and her stress about the minimal expenses and bridesmaid obligations saddens me. Her heart is in the right place, her friend is her best friend since childhood. But the expenses are going to pile up and she is not going to be able to afford a cup of coffee for the next 7 months unless she diverts any bonuses (90% of which have been used to pay down her student loans) for the wedding expenses.

At least she has options; few people get work bonuses. Small comfort when she is trying so desperately to relieve herself of the debt burden.

Hard choices, difficult conversations ahead. But no, I don’t think she looks cheap for not wanting to spend thousands to be in her dear friend’s wedding. And yes, I do think her friend should understand if she says she cannot afford to be a bridesmaid and attend a wedding in Hawaii. If anything, I wish everyone were as disciplined and as driven to break out of debt enslavement. Law school was worth it, and student loans felt like her only choice at the time. I don’t care about that; what’s done is done. But I very much respect her smart choices now and the sacrifices that may have to be made to slay that dragon.

I am very proud of her, no matter what happens next. I advised she be true to herself, her values and priorities. True friends will understand or work with her to make it happen.

This, that, the other thing(s)

Kind of mish-mash post of things I have been meaning to write about and just have not had time to write and publish.

Decluttering Efforts Continue

Time just slips right by me these days. I have had a glorious 3 days working on my house, the various storage spaces, and yard, yet it seems like this never-ending battle with crap. Or as I console myself, 25+ years of crap. But still – it’s a lot of stuff, much of which has not seen light of day in years. So many years that I doubt we would miss it or think about it further if it ended up in the landfill or dropped off at Goodwill. M disagrees. M also disagrees with me on a lot of crap I have tossed, but he’s more sentimental than I am. He also did not grow up with my parents, have my childhood, and is not triggered by seemingly innocent or charming objects. It’s hard impossible to have a rational discussion with an emotionally irrational me. M expresses himself and his opinions, but knows that when it comes to that pile of stuff, I am the final and only decider on its fate.

I did keep a few things from the piles I thought sure were destined for the dump pile. My mother’s high school yearbooks. A couple of old scrapbooks that belonged to my mother’s sister who died young and before I was born. A senior portrait that has hardly faded in almost 70 years. When I was little I always thought my mother was so beautiful, far prettier than the other mothers I knew, and so tiny and petite. For as abusive of her body as she was (long-time smoker) as she was, mom aged really well. I can only hope the good genes I got work in my favor as well.

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5/30/2017 – Mom’s senior photo

For the most part, the last of the stuff remaining from my parents house has been dealt with and whittled down to an envelope of photographs and a few photo albums. It can stay in storage awhile longer until the next need to purge overwhelms and I can see how I feel about it then.

Otherwise, things are going really well in this effort. M and I are working together toward the common goal, versus bickering and growing impatient with each other about the decision-making process. He has his stuff – his racing career memorabilia and childhood mementos – and I have my stuff to deal, make decisions, organic into defined spaces. Part of our issues, and likely the source of our bickering and impatience with each other, has been the way this stuff has been stored. M has endless numbers of little boxes of things, whereas all my crap is boxed and bundled in bulk, because I knew it would be dealt with and (likely) discarded at some point, after which it would be boxed, labeled, tucked away. We now have the time and sorting space on our pool deck and RV driveway to spread out and figure it out. Our progress is far smoother and more efficient this time.

We were in the garage yesterday moving some of the building supplies out of there and into storage when M caught me staring at the wall of shelving overflowing with crap and suggested I stop staring or I would have an anxiety attack over it. The stuff will be dealt with, but we need to stick with our plan and focus on the pieces and parts in the order and stages. He is absolutely correct; I wander into trouble when I get overwhelmed.

So today he’s dealing with the last of the what we have on site and making a run to the dump with what we’ve agreed it trash. I have the back of his Highlander filled up with donation stuff for Goodwill. After the dump M will be bringing another load of boxes to be viewed and sorted from storage, including everything that is not the box of Christmas lights or Christmas tree. I have at least 6 boxes of Christmas to go through and decide what to keep, what to offer up to the kids, what to donate. My goal is to whittle it all down to just 2 storage boxes, because if we put up our tree, I enjoy it just as much when it’s just the tree with the lights and very minimal to no baubles. I can also easily see a time when we revert to no Christmas tree once more.

Dinner with G

Sunday night we hand an impromptu dinner with my son. K was out of town camping with the pup-pups and a friend, so when I decided to invite them to join us for dinner at a new-to-us local restaurant, it was just G.

I love my kids, all 4 of them, and I love spending time with them as a group and individually. K and I had hung out last week – so much fun – and having dinner with just G was interesting as well. The dynamic is a little different when it’s just one half an established couple, neither good nor bad, just different. Hearing his perspective on their life events and his particular slant on work and their activities is always refreshing and good.

Mostly, I am really glad that they are a thriving, happy couple as well as thriving, happy individuals. Unfortunately the story when hanging out with one half of a couple is not always the happy face united front they present when together. It’s good to hear from them as individuals, to hear the genuine affection and care they have for their absent partner, to listen as they describe their own struggles and triumphs. I’m very fortunate, I know; I probably spend more time chatting with K than I do with my son, particularly lately. But it’s all good. I have always wanted and worked hard to have close relationships with my kids. I’m lucky they chose people that fit well within out tiny family dynamic.

K’s Job Search Success

For about 2 months, K has been seeking a new job. Her former supervisor had left the firm last October and K was promised a promotion and salary adjustment after the first of the year. That came and went without any communication about the promised promotion and salary increase, so finally mid-March she requested a meeting with her supervisor to discuss it. She prepared well, making list of all the additional responsibilities she has assumed, the projects she has shepherded to successful completion, the many accomplishments in the 6 months between her former supervisor’s departure and her increased workload. There was plenty of praise and agreement that she’s done a stellar job, but there was also regret that there was no money in the budget to increase her salary.

We had discussed this extensively before the actual meeting, and privately I hoped she would be successful in getting the recognition, managerial status, and salary bump, but I was not especially hopeful. When they failed to fulfill their promise, I applauded while K refreshed her resume and went to work applying for jobs.

Multiple interviews and 3 offers later, K landed a terrific opportunity in a travel-related non-profit at a 40% increase in salary, shorter commute, and higher quality healthcare and benefits. Trade-off is that the job is likely different type of stress and potentially longer hours, but also offers exposure and networking opportunities unmatched by any of the other firms that sought to hire her.

I am so proud of K for her pursuit and patience through this trying ordeal of dealing with multiple firms, interviews, and offers. Her efforts paid off.

To and fro in Tampa

My other son, A, will be coming home for a brief visit in August. Because of vacation time accrued and their multiple pets, C will not be accompanying him this trip. He has a large family and they are very close-knit, so being clear across the country has been hard on him and he has been terribly homesick since they moved 6 months ago. We will for sure see him for a meal (or 2) while he’s here, but we also understand that realistically he only has a few days with the travel time from Tampa and we will have to share.

M and I are tentatively planning a trip to see C and A in early December, and hopefully G and K will be able to go at the same time as well. With K’s new job, and G’s job in general, it’s a challenge to get all of us together and away for more than a few days. But going clear across the country – I’m hoping for at least a week. C and A will have to work during some of the time we’re there, but that will be okay. We are all grown-up and self-sufficient and can amuse ourselves.

Planning will start in earnest later this summer. But for now, I’m excited about the idea of going east to see my Florida kids. And Disneyworld, too. But really, I’m excited to see my Florida kids. Probably at Disneyworld.

And Finally, Work

Since parting company with a few private clients a couple of week ago, my life has been irrevocably changed. I am getting more sleep – good, solid, high-quality sleep – and my self-employment workload seems lightened by at least 50%. Funny how I barely realized the impact it was having on the whole of the rest of my life.

At the office, we are actively recruiting a new administrative person and another couple of attorneys. There are days when it seems I spend much of my workday reading resumes, scheduling interview, following-up with candidates, writing “thanks but not quite the right fit” letters and emails, or doing some sort of new employee orientation. Comes with my job description, and I do love my job, so I cannot and will not complain about it. The people are probably 89% of my satisfaction with the job; bosses and associates and even clients make even the drudge days more pleasant than other places I have been.

Unfortunately, the work is not always pleasant for me to be around, even if I am only inhabiting the same office space. There are presently a few truly contentious matters going on, the type of thing where voices are raised in conferences and in phone calls to opposing counsels. It is par for the course, even normal, but it jangles my nerves and adds a thin layer of negative stress to my day. To the partners and staff involved, though, it’s like a jolt of fresh energy that lights up their days. They LOVE the fight. Which probably explains whey they do what they do and I do what I do. I don’t know that I will ever get completely used to this side of the lawyering business.

Life continues in a largely positive manner. No (new) complaints here.

 

The Sally Field conundrum

Remember back in 1985 and Sally Field’s “you like me!” acceptance speech? Every time I or anyone else uses that phrasing, I think about that speech. I do not watch award shows, but I do tend to read about them after the fact. And now that nearly every pop culture moment is available online somewhere, it’s not hard to replay it over and over again.

We are in the midst of a minor  hiring spree at my full-time job. My responsibilities have grown and expanded in my 18 months with the firm, and the firm itself has nearly doubled in size. These are very good developments, and even good changes and growth can be a challenge to adjust and manage. Trying to design my own role, to keep the some of the lesser responsibilities I enjoy and balance those with the higher skills and experience management role I have grown into is proving much more difficult than I anticipated. Bosses – all 4 of them – have wish lists of the type of role I play within the firm, and not all of the tasks are going to make the cut, because I am just one person with the same working hours as anyone else. On top of that, I am the most vocal proponent of work-life balance, and in an office full of ambitious type A lawyers, I could almost begin to feel like a slacker with my 4 day work week. Almost.

I have a young receptionist that I like very much. He is attending college as well as working full-time, but he is quite intelligent and hard-working and has sharp focus and attention to detail. While I would like to promote him into another role where he assists me on higher-level and greater detail data entry type of work, he lacks some of the experience I could acquire if I sought out a particular accounting assistant skill set. The best thing about my present receptionist, though, is he is eager to learn, asks intelligent questions, takes notes, and learns from mistakes. He gets bonus points for majoring in business and turning his attention and studies toward accounting, so at least he grasps the basic debit and credit concepts. On top of that, he thinks I’m just the bees knees as far as bosses go and actually really likes me. While those are definite points in his favor, more than that he is delighted to learn from me and quickly grasped that when it comes to results, I almost don’t care how he does it as long as the final product is verifiably correct.

So we sat down yesterday to talk about the administrative jobs he does now, that I want/need to delegate to someone else, and what sort of job description we should write for the person we will hire. And it is a “we” project, because there are aspects I will be depending upon him to train the newest staff admin. By the conclusion of our working lunch we had come up with a new job description for the new receptionist I will hire and the promotional position he will be moving into and new hourly rate he will be earning beginning June 1. Now all we need to do is find the right employee to fill this job.

That I have a positive working relationship with bosses, coworkers, direct reports is very important to me; we must work so closely together it would have some measure of impact on my mental state to have to interact with a negative vibe day after day. That said, I work with professional folks who conduct themselves accordingly; even if they hate one another the focus is primarily on the work and getting it done. But we’re human, and stuff leaks out, tempers flare. I have too much respect for work/life balance to want to have to be in any sort of toxic workplace.

The way things have been evolving or devolving with long-term friendships the last couple of years have been hard for me. I am someone who values relationships and honest communication, yet at the same time, I do not nag or belabor a point of disagreement. I respect other people’s sovereignty and ability to make their own choices, even if I strongly disagree. Others are not quite as benign in their interactions, and I have been pushed and what feels like ridiculed for my own changing lifestyle choices, unfortunately to the point of having to distance myself from friend I/we genuinely enjoyed.

Last night during a text exchange another friend told me that I take life far too seriously and that I need to lighten up. Frankly, it landed as a cutting blow with a very sharp and precise scalpel. In truth, I am kind of a serious person and always have been. I have my impulsive moments, but I have regretted them so routinely after the fact that it has taught me to be more restrained and to be much less impulsive, be more thoughtful before acting. Same situation with spontaneity – I am a planner and being spontaneous tends to cause anxiety and discomfort.

It has long been a point of deep insecurity that these qualities make me an extraordinarily boring person with no sense of humor.

My more confident self now understands that is not precisely true, but being hyper-responsible is not really as exciting or fun to be around as a high-energy, no boundaries, fearless sort of soul. If there were not more serious, practical, responsible folk in the world, how could we appreciate those that are impulsive, spontaneous, and seemingly so much more fun to be around?

One of my dearest friends is my polar opposite in personality, in that he is a complete extrovert and thrives on social interaction and being around people. He is the guy who can talk to anyone about anything for an extended length of time and come away feeling energized by the interaction. He is a big personality sort of guy, yet he’s also very thoughtful, responsible, and more conservative in values. He might be someone who is gregarious and makes acquaintances faster than the average person gains weight eating without restraint, yet because of the generosity and expansiveness of his social need he is also far more accepting and understanding of differences in we more introverted sorts.

I think my Sally Field conundrum is that friendships I have retained and maintained for many years are now falling away because my life and lifestyle are changing. We are all getting older, our parents are getting frailer or are gone, our children are grown and leading independent lives of their own. M and I – we planned for this time period with eager anticipation and are enjoying these empty nest years at least as much as we did the child-rearing years. Our priorities – taking care of ourselves – are very different than they were even 10 years ago. For so many of my friends, their lives and desires are not so well considered; they had not given a lot of thought beyond what it meant to be a mother or a daughter. For many, their has been shift from working and caring for their children to working and caring for an aging parent and/or grandchildren. What they see as selfishness on my part – exercise, full-time job, self-employment business, working on our home – I see as a natural shift in my priorities.

I am also starting to understand they may like me less now because my life is far more about me and M as a couple and what we can do to enhance our life together. There are a few happy marriages and committed relationships, but far more long marriages are ending and affairs emerging or ongoing middle aged singles when they wish to be part of a couple. And truly, it is easier to bash and bully a genuinely happy friend in serious pursuit of her own uniquely personal objectives than try harder to fix your own problems.

Understanding is one thing, acceptance quite another, but anymore, I am about there, even if it is with sorrow and resignation. These friends are people I have known a very long time, some most of my life. I got through my divorce, hands-on mother years, the death of my child, the troubles with M with their help and support. I have been there for them through their own marriages and relationships faltering and failing, through the trauma of troubled children and drugs, the deaths of parents. We have celebrated graduations and weddings and births, mourned deaths and the diagnosis and treatment of serious illness. It just seems so strange to me that we could get through all that and find ourselves at odds over something like healthier lifestyle choices.

Inside, I have to believe they still like and love me in reciprocal ways I feel the same types of affection for them. But our lives are different now and continuing to evolve and to change, and perhaps some distance and separation will bring more clarity about what is real and what is important when it comes to friendships.

At the same time, I know change is just part of life. I am more philosophical about it, less insecure and tense about being non-friendship material. I have met some lovely women (and men) through the gym and other groups I have casually participated in with regard to diet and nutrition. It is refreshing and invigorating to meet new folks, to be exposed to different perspectives and experiences. At my base I am kind of shy, and it seems to take some effort on my part to put myself out there and truly engage with others in any sort of meaningful way. Not so long ago I was so deeply insecure I felt certain everyone had a negative view of me and had this irrational urge to take steps – any steps – to alter that viewpoint. What a waste of energy to even consider or care about, and I shake my head at my own silliness. Nowadays, I always hope that people I like and enjoy like me in return.

Because I am kind of a serious person; I like relationships to be respectful, positive, and harmonious. And I am not going to apologize or ever again feel regretful about this aspect of my personality.