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.

 

In my book of life, another chapter concludes

Last night we had our final dinner as a firm. While I had my doubts about it when first announced, the partners wanted something special for the staff offsite to commemorate the firm that once was. There has been a wide range of emotions about the sale, but joy and elation were not within that range. Mostly it has been anger, sadness, uncertainty, ad some bitterness that the partners would sell out and abandon what is a great firm, great jobs for all of us.

I do not disagree. While intellectually knowing and understanding their position and desires to pursue some other type of life, it has been a struggle to accept and let go for me. But accepting what I cannot change has been for my own good, and I’m in the best possible shape for this parting. I am staying positive 90% of the time about it.

Thursday afternoon we had a boozey-schmoozey final lunch. It was fun – good food, lots of laughter, booze – and at 4 p.m. I was putting the last tipsy lawyer into an Uber and saying goodbye to my receptionist. He gave me a parting gift and I opened it in the car. It’s a copy of Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and he wrote the sweetest note inside for me. I didn’t cry until reading it, but it was powerful. I love that kid and expect he will do well and have a great life.

We were closed for the day on Friday at the partners’ insistence. They were moving their personal belongings from the offices and did not want the staff around to witness this final phase. I stopped by in the late afternoon to put a personal note and goodbye gift on each desk. The empty offices, the framed degrees, the photographs of the firm and staff through the years off the walls nearly broke me in half. The finality that this would be my final stop in this volume of my life and career hit hard.

But last night, last night went from semi-serious and nearly morose to something more typical of us as a group over the course of the evening. Good food, open bar, and a lot of funny and touching anecdotes from the partners about each of the staff members made for a good evening. I’d been asked to share something as well – about the state of the firm on its last days as well as anything else I cared to talk about. I was still trying to write it all down 3 minutes before we were due to leave the house.

In the end, I quoted numbers from my notes, because I’m a numbers kind of person and that is part of my role. For me personally, I spoke from the heart about what they have all meant to me, how it has been both a pleasure and a privilege to work with such a scary smart group of people with such unlimited potential for greatness in careers and in lives they live. Ours is not a Hallmark movie inspirational tale – our clients are primarily big insurance companies and not some little guy seeking justice in the form of monetary damages – but being our best selves, using our intelligence and experience to do the best job we can has its own rewards.

My career has spanned longer than a few of these kids time on earth. While I have not always been a manager or a leader – I was 47 before finishing my degree – it has been many years since I have discounted or pooh-poohed my professional accomplishments in comparison to others. As a very young woman I came to understand that I could have everything I wanted in life (assuming I was willing to put forth the sweat equity to make it happen) but I could not necessarily have it all at once. I married, divorced, raised children while working progressively responsible administrative support jobs, a role that I still feel is mostly undervalued. Every job I have had, no matter how low on the food chain or how lacking in respect, has taught me something, even if it is how to not conduct myself or the ways I manage work-related relationships. I remain hopeful that this new big firm experience will benefit my (now former) associates in positive ways. To the very end I continued to encourage them to have an open mind about the possibilities and experiences awaiting them.

And I meant every single word of it.

I debate with myself the value of authenticity and sincerity in the professional realm. There is an edge of cynicism that continually tries s to expand within me yet gets tamped down at every turn. I am realistic that people are people and there is a segment in every workplace that are ruthlessly ambitious or insecure and will do whatever it takes to realize their vision of getting ahead. The work I do is not deeply personal or life-altering to my clients, but it must be done and putting forth quality effort and using my education and experience is satisfying to me. I have grown accustomed to a higher level of autonomy and control in my work, and I see going back to self-employment as the best option for maintaining that. I know how fortunate I am to have this option, to have retained enough part-time clients to ensure our basic living expenses are covered, but already a few clients I referred out 18 months ago when I went with a full-time job have gleefully returned and other firms have been contacting me about projects of various lengths. I should have no problems keeping myself busy, off the streets and out of Baskin Robbins (purely medicinal purposes, of course).

Returning to employee status – I don’t see it happening for me unless something extraordinary happens to my stable of clients. The law firm offered me an unique and challenging opportunity where I felt certain I could and would make a difference. At the end of it, when the old firm is now just a shell that we will be winding down and closing out as a corporation in the next year, I know that my presence and efforts made an impact and a difference for the partners and the staff.

It’s hard to be sad when I know this to be true.

My book of life continues to be written, only one chapter is now concluded. Fresh page, fresh start. Let the new adventure begin anew.

 

Baggage

April has been exhausting. Work is busy, hectic, crazy. Personal life is busy as well. But this is normal. This is typical. But it’s the stuff in storage that is steering me in a funk-like state that is bordering depression.

When my mom died a few years ago, I could not shed her house and all the stuff she stuffed into it quickly enough. But in every life there is a large bunch of personal family stuff that has to be dealt with on an individual basis. There was a pile of old photos and albums and miscellaneous items.

All that has been in storage. Except now it’s not. It’s been mostly dealt with – donated or thrown away. My photos, photos of my kids, a few of my sister and nephews I kept, the rest are of folks I don’t know or my sister – boxes and boxes of albums documenting my sister’s life – and since I no longer have relationships with either of them, I made the self-protective decision to throw what seems zillions of photos away.

There are a few mementos I kept – a couple of favorite drinking glasses from when I was a kid, a remaining serving dish from my parents’ original set – but the other stuff I was so paralyzed over in the months after my mother died was surprisingly easy to released to their next home. For the new owners of those items, it will not have the same stigma or history of negative, angry emotions attached.

And for the first time, I feel truly free.

Yet, for everything attached to my family of origin, there is a faint strain of guilt as well. The terrifying rage and anger I still feel has been mostly diffused – growing up, physically distancing yourself to match the emotional safeguards in place – tends to do that for us. Self-protection is not to be underestimated.

Hard as I try to be a good community member where I dwell, I am very conscious of where I have failed, either by choice or circumstance, or some combination of both. Part of my mind are broken enough to make normal then and normal now coexist peacefully as polar opposites. The closed-off part of me where feelings don’t work classically normal is like walking with a limp after serious injury and best case scenario of healing, and recognizing that in and of itself is a huge step forward.

Being open about my history is not an easy thing, but now, my family of origin is gone and I have been untethered from all that influence and the angry, reflexive negativity attached and now with the disposal of the last boxes of stuff that remind me of all my real (or perceived and told to me) shortcomings,

This range of emotions I feel – it’s not anything I would wish upon anyone else. It is rooted in a kind of dark, abusive, confusing place that breeds self-loathing and negativity  that touches and taints any and all attempts to lead a normal life. I am good at compartmentalizing; I am even better at avoiding unpleasant feelings and emotions. As time has passed, as the professional help to improve and overcome took hold, I have gotten better about managing my affairs and at faking it until making it with the general day-to-day business of living.

I will feel better tomorrow, Monday, whenever M goes to the dump and empties the truck  load of crap that we have finally gotten around to discarding. Maybe sleep patterns will return to normal. Maybe I will return to the place where my peace resides.

I take no real pleasure in the feelings I feel in this moment, because they are too close to the bad, hateful shit that churns up with thinking about any of it. Shedding the last of the mementos releases me to continue my life in whatever healthier, happier, peaceful ways I can find.

Cutting the final links in a weighty chain is … enriching. Building on that is the better path.

Parenting is hard

It’s St. Patrick’s day. In 1984, my oldest child was born. I remember checking into the hospital and the nurse saying I would be having a  St. Patrick’s day baby and in honor of that, they would be tattooing a shamrock on the baby’s butt. Whether my serious expression was primarily fear of this whole birthing process or I was so tired I looked as if I were taking her seriously, she quickly assured me she was only joking.

B was probably 6 before she realized that the St. Patrick’s day parade we took her to each year was not actually held in honor of her birthday.

It’s 21 years this month since she left us, and I miss her still.

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3/17/2017 – B, Jan-1985; about 10 months.

And her final school picture, taken not long before she passed away.

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B – Jan-1996; not quite 12 yet.

March is a challenge every year. Not a day in the last 21 years passes that I do not think about her, and I would not have it any other way. Mostly I smile. Occasionally, I tear up and feel the weight of loss. Mostly, though, I really do smile. So much life and memories packed into 12 years and 5 days. In my heart I cherish all she was to those who knew her and turn away any and all thoughts of what might have been. Our time together was limited. I am glad to be someone who was present with my children, so my regrets about that time are so tiny and insignificant relatively to the balance of my life.

But parenting young adults is still hard.

C called early this morning after a major fight with her husband. Unfortunately this is not the heartbreak drama of teenage angst, but the seriousness of a grown-up married people. Trying to be fair and balanced – out the window. My kid is crying, having a panic attack over the telephone. Forget fair and balanced. A said cruel things and there is blood in my eyes.

Okay, not quite that bad.

Being her mother’s daughter, I cringe at some of C’s decisions and mannerisms that come directly from me. I know that when this kind of dust-up happens, it’s not just because A came home and decided to be a prick that day. Having been in Florida only a few months, there are a billion details that one takes for granted growing and becoming an adult in your own hometown. Finding doctors and dentists and making new friends – it is a process. And when shit hits, the gap between what you had before you moved crossed the country becomes the grand canyon.

I talked her down off the ledge, called and checked in on her more than I have in 20 years, since that first summer that she and her brother stayed home alone while M and I were both working. By the end of the day, she’d calmed down and made significant progress finding healthcare providers and making appropriate appointments … in a few weeks. But she found stop-gap help with a local clinic – a referral from an assistant manager at their apartment complex. And with a little guidance from me, began the outline of The Plan for what she would do if this type of thing should come up again.

As for me, it was a busy day at work with a lot of gratuitous meetings that did little other than frustrate me with stranger’s ability to demonstrate their cluelessness. I am a master at compartmentalizing, though, and chugged along and got through it. By the end of the day, though, I was unrepentantly swigging sugary soda.

Parenting is hard sometimes, something no one really stresses before you take on that role, and I am honest enough, selfish enough, to say I do not really love the responsibility and the job itself. But I love the kids involved, all of them, and my hopes for them hinge on their overall happiness. Even when things are not going so well and they do stupid shit that frustrates and/or irritates me, I have to believe they will learn from the experiences.

Another St. Patrick’s day, another of B’s birthdays in the history books.

I miss her.

 

 

Keeping the faith, believing in me

For all of us struggling with diet, exercise, improving our health, or just the pitfalls life presents, just believing we DESERVE any and all success we are struggling so mightily to achieve seems like it is at least half the battle to stay focused and on track. Believing in others comes easy for me, yet believing in myself, my own worth? Such a challenge.

To all of you out there who read, who comment, who encourage and inspire me daily, this is my current soundtrack. Hope and inspiration comes in many forms, from many unexpected and delightful sources. Thank you all for sharing my journey and for helping me stay strong to keep trying.

Faith of the Heart (Rod Stewart)

Faith of the Heart (Russel Watson, theme from “Enterprise”)

Updated to add the Russel Watson version, of which the video includes the actual song lyrics.