I was in first grade and one day they marched all of the classes into the cafeteria/auditorium, arranged us all by height on stands that were placed on the stage and began to teach us songs. I remember it clearly and I remember the emotions of confusion and vulnerability that it caused in me. It seemed very odd to be stood on a stage and asked to sing, why couldn't we just sing in the classroom? But it was the first time that I'd heard such American classics as "Over the River" or "America the Beautiful". Now every time I hear those songs there is a part of my mind who is a vulnerable small girl standing on the stage at Edward A. White elementary school.
Next week is Thanksgiving and the memory above and a thousand others flood my mind. I can hear the sounds of Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in the background as I sat at the kitchen table with my sister and cousins polishing silver. I stood on the streets of Florence Alabama and waited for the parade to pass and throw candy and then the giant Santa to be lit. I stood in the PX in Fort Benning GA waiting for a turn to sit on Santa's lap and tell him about the Chatty Cathy doll I really wanted. I had no idea that within a year Santa would be in a jungle half way around the world hoping to make it home for Christmas. I sat on a sofa, smelling the turkey and dressing cooking and staring at the bright happy pictures of "The Night Before Christmas" in the new Little Golden Book that my grandmother had just bought me. At nine years old, I sat in the living room with my father, putting on my shoes with Macy's in the background. We were talking about his father who had just died.
Holidays, especially Thanksgiving, bring back some of my most vivid and earliest memories. I hope the memories that my kids have are ones that they want to take with them.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
The building that I work in is absolutely gorgeous. It is the corporate headquarters for one of the five largest companies in the world. When it was built in the early 1990's, the company was relocating from a northern state where real estate came at a much higher premium. The company had a good deal of money to spend on it and did little to spare spending it. The buildings were built in a 60 year old virgin forrest and the ecologist that worked here were unwilling to disturb it more than necessary. So instead of stripping the land of vegetation, cranes were brought in to place prefabricated forms. The result is that 15 years later, healty mature trees are right up against the windows on the 7th floor. We look out all year long onto a natural and beautiful setting. There is a stream that runs through the property, and rather than daming it or redirecting it pumps were placed to draw it under the building and out the other side. We have walking paths along it that are a great place to take a break when things inside are getting stressful. The roof top of the center building is a garden with manicured trees and seasonal flowers and shrubs. I don't care much for the artwork, but over all it is a building fitting of it's station. A few years ago my in-laws visited us and not having much notice that they were coming, I was unable to take any time off. Instead I invited them bring my daughter and have lunch with me in the cafeteria here. It is the office sport to derride the place, but the cafeteria is well catered and the lunches are relatively inexpensive. While my in-laws were here, I took them on a tour, show casing the care for the ecology, the art work and the museum. At lunch my mother-in-law commented on what an amazing building this is. The she said "It explains a lot" in a manner that I have come to call "Michigan style". The one time I lived outside of the south, I spent a few months living in Michigan. I didn't like living there because people would make comments out of the blue that didn't seem to have anything to do with the conversation, and didn't make sence and then make no attempt to explain them. It made me feel that I was constantly on the outside of an inside joke. That is what this comment was like. I asked what she thought the building's beauty explained, but she didn't answer. Sometimes now when I walk along the wall of windows on the cafeteria's loggia I think about the comment and wonder about it. I somehow think that the comment was meant to be a criticizim of me, or an effort to blame the divorce on me working in a beautiful building. I don't know, but I do know it wasn't meant to be a compliment. Probably nothing good would come of understanding the comment, but still there are times when I wonder about it.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Almost five years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. Knowing that I would be away from work for a long time and might not come back at all, I told my co-workers why I was leaving. Mostly it has been a good decision. It bought me a lot of empathy, which considering the amount of time I still have to miss work for health issues is a good thing. Since I came back to work, I have needed physical therapy to overcome some of the issues caused by my cancer treatment and to deal with pain caused by arthritis in my neck. I go every week on Wednesdays. The therapist is located within a mile of where I work, and on nice days it helps to walk there. If I lived in NYC, that wouldn't be considered a problem. It might even be considered a normal thing to do. But I work in Atlanta. It is unusual for Atlantan's to walk anywhere. I am finding out that it is an issue. To accomplish this appointment, I had worked it out with my supervisors to take a 45 minute lunch break everyday for the rest of the week and that combined with my lunch hour on Wednesday would give me the 2 hours I need for the appointment. I have been on this schedule for almost 4 years now. Until now, it hasn't been a problem.
A few years ago I had a co-worker who needed to have a series of surgeries for an equally serious health condition, but she chose to claim her right to privacy and kept the reason for her long absenses mostly to herself. After a year of being in and out of the office for her surgeries, other people in this office became impatient with her. They made her so uncomfortable that she eventually found another job, and left.
This year I have had two co-workers spend a good amount of time out of the office on disability. The first was a shock to me that she could find a doctor who would convince the disability reporting agency that she needed to be out. The doctor said it was to perform tests to rule out a potentially disabling condition. She was out for a few months, but the doctor finally decided that she didn't have the condition and that what was causing her illness was something that a lot of people don't believe is a real condition, including the reporting agency. She lost her disability payments but decided to stay out another month without pay because her job was protected by FMLA. I thought that might be somewhat questionable, but I work for a good company and they were willing to indulge her. Her job performance was somewhat tenuous when she left, and her supervisor was none to impressed with her reason for being and staying out. When she returned, we all warned her to toe the line, get her job done and not take any unnecessary time off. She didn't listen. Within 2 weeks of coming back she needed to take 4 days off due to a family emergency. No one gave her too much grief for that and food was even sent to her house. But then she started coming in late and leaving early and calling in sick. Within 3 months of returning to work, she was terminated. The second employee was out due to a severe and common psychological problem. She came back before her FMLA time was up and has done her job well since she has been back. But her grandmother became ill and died and she was out for a few days for that. And now she's starting to take more and more time off. While her supervisor is sympathetic, people are beginning to complain that they never know when she's going to be in. To a point, I can understand their concern.
This morning I was asked into a meeting with my supervisor and our department HR representative. The meeting was about my schedule. The HR representative is concerned that I'm abusing the Flex scheduling provided by our company to accommodate medical appointments. There seemed to be an issue that I was using "extra" time to walk (across the street) to the appointment. It was brought up that some people felt that it was unfair that the company was less lenient with other department workers concerning time away from the office. I pointed out that I had been taking the time by a standing agreement with my supervisor and therefore my co-workers. And that I was working my full work schedule and that I was meeting deadlines and performance expectations. That my time away from that office wasn't unexpected, and that my work load was adjusted to not convience anyone. I don't think she was amused. The feeling that I got walking away from the meeting and talking with my supervisor was that it was the co-worker and her supervisor who'd contacted HR.
This just leaves me cold. Now I don't know what to do. I still do need the physical therapy. I could try to adjust the schedule to go after work, but that would interfere with my car pool schedule. Car pools aren't real popular in Atlanta either. In addition to the physical therapy, I have at least one doctor appointment a month, and usually multiple appointments. Are they going to be an issue too? The frustrating thing is that this was a non-issue until my co-worker started feeling the pressure. This is all so frustrating.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I guess I shouldn't mind growing older considering the alternative, but lately it has been grating on me. I wonder if I should continue dyeing my hair. At some point it will look rediculous to have a wrinkled face and red hair. But what is that point? How many wrinkles are too many wrinkles? On the other hand there is a definate advantage at times. Say, my daughter or my sister is in another room ranting about something. I can hear their voice and by the sound of it tell that it is something that I'd rather not be involved in, so I just pretend that I can't hear them. It works everytime. If they don't approach me with it I can just keep my peace by not listening, and if they do approach me I can just apologise for being hard of hearing and ask what the problem is. Nine times out of ten they will just say "never mind" rather than repeating the rant. It really is a handy tool for keeping my peace. The part that I do mind, though is seeing the decline of my health and energy. I think that my lack of acceptance of it comes from the fact that it came so soon. I'm barely into my 50's so I don't think that curling up in my PJ's should be a goal for the weekend. Still, if I exert energy one weekend, I pay for it during the week and into the next weekend.
Monday, November 3, 2008
He was barely old enough to vote. This was his first election, and he didn't wait to find out what the results were. He simply cast his vote early and then went to say good-bye to his friends. They weren't aware that it was good-bye. They thought they were welcoming home the conquering freshman. It was just last year that he was a high school kid like them. But he had a scholarship to Auburn and everyone expected him to do well. He didn't do well, and nobody told him that it wasn't the end of the world. In less than one semester he'd lost the scholarships, and the girl friend. His parents would be disappointed and angry, and he'd be humiliated in front of his friends and classmates. He didn't have the life experience to understand that things are bad, but things always change. He couldn't see his way around this, couldn't see that this was only plan A, plan B would rise out of the ashes. So he said good bye one last time and then went to the basement of his parents home and shot himself in the head. The word spread pretty fast, it wasn't long before there were 30 of his best friends having a makeshift wake at the local Waffle House. For whatever reason the area sheriff's department decided it was loitering until one of the waitress' pointed out that there were parents available and they were keeping the tabs paid. His friends went back to school today to carry on with the life he didn't know he shouldn't give up on. I have to ask myself how it happens that life becomes so hopeless for someone young enough for life to still be elastic and flexable. What quirk of personality didn't allow for diviation from the perscribed path? When we were teaching them the values of after school soccer and networking on the web, did we forget to teach them that life is hard, but it always changes? Today's troubles will be gone soon, other troubles take their place, and joy happens. Hopefully the 30 0r so kids who cried and prayed in the Waffle House will somehow understand, this is how valuable they are. They should never give up.