Thursday, April 28, 2011

Verdancy and Verve

On my last day at my worst job ever, my boss said something to me that I cannot forget. I was alone in the first floor kitchen of the elder women's bridge club, brewing pots of coffee for the early morning card players, oil painters, and other ladies of leisure who frequented this members-only establishment. Richard* wandered in and was surprised to see me doing someone else's task. "Isn't Sherry supposed to be setting up the coffee cart?" She, my psychobitch tormentor, had decided to get one last dig at me by showing up for her shift two hours late. But I'd stopped caring weeks ago, and was just as happy to work without her. "Oh, she's running a little late today."

Richard considered this for a moment, then launched into a description of that morning's hellish commute. This included an unnecessary racial description of the guy who cut him off on the freeway. I responded with the requisite number of "hmm"s as I silently counted the hours to my final release.

He was quiet for a moment as I arranged linens and cups. "Well, Tara, I'm really sorry that this wasn't the sort of work that felt right for you. I think you've done a great job." Though he'd been my boss for just five weeks (he replaced the woman who hired me), we'd hit it off pretty well. Being a barrel-chested, crew cut-sporting Marine, he was such an oddball for the position that I couldn't help enjoying his presence in this labyrinth of chintz and china. More importantly, he liked to tell corny puns and I liked to laugh. All other workplace problems aside, I don't know how long I could have played "dodge the racist commentary", but our brief stint together was amicable. I was grateful for his praise.

But it was what he said next that struck me. "You've got a lot of energy and you'd do well at just about anything. I'd be happy to give you a recommendation any time. You just let me know."

"A lot of energy." It stuck out because I'd never thought of myself that way before. But he was right. I must have had a lot of energy to work long days on my feet and keep my sense of humor, especially in a place where I felt like most of my colleagues hated me.

Overall, work has been a far better experience since those days at the bridge club. My priorities are different. I'd rather have an hourly wage job than be miserable making a salary. I look for good bosses and minimal drama. I have to be excited about whatever it is that I'm "selling", whether it's great food or a fun experience. But mostly, I have to be doing something that feeds off of and replenishes my precious energy. Draining is not allowed! After all, I don't want to end up like this again ~

My cousin J recently posted this on Facebook. Despite its hideousness, I love it as a historic document. The clenched hands and that grey and miserable expression say so much about my twenty-year-old self. I don't know if I looked that way all the time (I hope not!) but I don't think anyone would have described me as energetic back then.

Many issues burdened me at that time, and work was the least of those. But when you don't feel good about yourself, it's easy to get into exhausting and unpleasant situations in the company of exhausting and unpleasant people. I have more self-respect these days, which means that I'm more self-preserving. The unexpected bonus is that - surprise! - I do have a great deal of energy.

Fast forward to my first trimester of pregnancy... I admit that I'm a complete and utter baby when it comes to nausea. I know no one likes feeling queasy, but I'm pretty bad at just dealing with it. I also love to eat, so disliking food was a heartbreaker, too. But the fatigue was the most frustrating part of it. Doing my grocery store demo job (which requires standing in one spot for hours, and handling food) was just awful, so I quit.

The bummer was that I liked my job and I was good at it. My boss said he might have shifts for me later, when I was feeling better. But in the midst of that funk it was really hard to imagine myself wanting to go back to that sort of work. Everyone told me that the second trimester is usually much better, but I'd never experienced these things before. Would I be one of those women who feels like shit all the way through the pregnancy?

Fast forward to a few weeks ago... Our tax return bump was petering out. We needed more money. But I was feeling restless, too. Since age 16, I've never been out of work for more than a couple months at a time. Even the idea of being a stay-at-home mom (pure fantasy) wasn't appealing to me anymore. With a baby due in October, I wondered if someone would hire me. I scoured the local job postings, looking for anything that might fit my abilities. But I knew that excitement factor was key. I need to be interested in the business that's hiring and I'm just not interested in dentists' offices or real estate companies. As far as my enthusiasm and skills were concerned, the grocery store was definitely the best game in town. Might they take me back? It was worth a shot.

I sent my old boss a gracious email, explaining that my second trimester had nearly arrived, I was feeling much better and I would be happy to work any shift that might be available. To my enormous satisfaction, he quickly responded that he'd never found a suitable replacement for me and that I was welcome to return.

The only thing more surprising than the enthusiastic homecoming I received from my old coworkers (so many people I hardly were thrilled to see me) was how much I loved standing in one spot, cooking cod fillets and chatting with customers for hours at a time. Now that I've regained my energy, I realize that it needs a structured outlet. I know I have an unusual attitude about the job market; for being pretty clever, I'm not terribly ambitious. But the fact is, I like working and once I'm there, I work hard. Staying at home with a kid is one thing, and I have no idea how much I'll want that until the kid is here. But staying at home with no kid is frankly depressing. I simply don't have enough projects or hobbies to consume this verve.

On my first day off after returning to work, we met our friends J and L in Sewanee, a gorgeous little college town about 45 minutes west of here. The four of us hiked a rocky trail full of waterfalls, skipping stones, lacy foliage and occasional views of a stunning, pastoral valley. I was pleased not only with my renewed vigor, but that all these months of working out had clearly improved my balance. My footing was sure, even as I climbed a giant rock toward the end of the trail. I asked J to take a picture and I laughed maniacally for comic effect. But it turned out looking exactly how I feel these days ~

The third trimester will make July and August quite challenging, but I feel awfully lucky to experience the second one in the Spring.

*As always, all names are changed (in the case of weirdos) or abbreviated (in the case of friends).

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