Sunday, December 7, 2014

Unemployment 30 Days In

This Wednesday evening, I was on a plane returning from California. It was December 3rd . . . the one month anniversary of T-Day (see It's T-Day for reference). We were flying fairly low, and with little cloud cover, the view was amazing. This perspective on the world, glimpsing it from in-between--the moon above, the mountains below, the clouds between highlighted by the fading light--was undeniably a small gift. I fished the iPad out from below the seat in front of me and tried to capture the moment:

My chief complaint with the iPad: Compared to the iPhone (returned to former employer on T-Day), the camera really sucks!!! And no flash! What the f@*!? But anyway . . . 

Bah! Stupid iPad. It was immediately apparent the picture could not do the scene justice. I returned to my worry: an admittedly illogical fear that, any moment now, death would begin at 30,000-feet-with-no-where-to-go and end with tuna-can-sized scraps of metal strewn over a mile of earth, possibly with a scorched black smear in the centre of the debris field. 

Yes, I have one of those irrational fears that boarding a flight will result in my children being left motherless. Despite my somewhat atheistic leanings, I spend a large portion of any flight praying to be returned safely to my family. Those who wish to help people like me seem to think the best strategy is to site statistics proving your everyday trip in an automobile is a million times more likely than a plane ride to end with your children becoming motherless. Stuff like this:

Oh phew! Now I can relax!

Since I live in Edmonton, so far from everything it requires a plane trip any time we wish to see family, friends, or weather without the threat of snow, and so sprawling it requires a car trip for even the most minor of daily tasks, this is wonderful news: my completely irrational fear of flying can be legitimately augmented by a statistically supported and rational fear of death in an automobile accident! I looked out the window again and consoled myself: It's very unlikely this plane ride will end in a fiery demise. Far more likely I'll be smashed on the road in the taxi ride home.

Surprisingly, the remainder of the flight was quiet. As the ground loomed up to meet us, the plane landed smoothly and with no issues. Another plane did not ram into us on the runway or fall on us while we taxied to the gate. But when I got in the cab, the driver informed me the highway was shut down--seven-car pile up, ambulances on the scene, we'd need to find another route home. Apparently, this should have come as no surprise (see fatalities by mode of transportation above). Now I worried the whole way home that my husband and children, who travel that route every day at this time, might be in one of those cars. 

The normally 20-minute trip took over an hour on the snow-covered city streets, jammed by traffic that would typically be on the highway. Pulling up in front of the house, a good sign: lights on means people are likely inside. Through the front door, only Charles, tail thumping and fur quivering with exciting, rushed up to greet me. But a glance down the hallway put my mind at ease. In front of me: winter coats and snow pants strewn across the floor. To my right: pizza boxes flopped open and abandoned on the dining room table. At the end of the hall: the glow of a computer screen and the dim flicker of a movie beckoning from the darkened living room. Ahhhhh, a sigh of relief, all's well here.

A sight to warm a mother's heart.

Turns out no one else was particularly worried that we might not be reunited, but I was hugely relieved to be home. I snuggled in between the little boys on the couch. "Who wants to have a mommy day tomorrow?" "Me! Me!" There we go; some excitement regarding my return.

I had not realized on the not-doomed-after-all flight that it was my one-month anniversary of unemployment. In fact, I didn't realize it at any point that day or the next. Turns out "real life" can keep you far too busy to keep track of such things!

But now, home from California and settling back in to daily routines, it seems like a good time to reflect. I had plans for my unemployment; I didn't realize it before, but they were BIG plans. And in truth, the last few weeks have made me feel very, very bad about myself. How on earth can I be getting so little done??? How can I stop spending a minimum of 55-hours-per-week on a job, and suddenly be unable to accomplish anything more than getting my kids where they need to go and getting supper on the table . . . at 7:30 pm!!!

Here were some of the things I was supposed to do with my suddenly copious amounts of free time:

1. Become a prolific blogger: I would blog everyday, and in each post, manage to find something interesting or humorous or insightful or delightful in the mundane happenings of daily life . . . and if not, I'd just share a recipe. Here's how that plan has panned out so far:
Tada! 30 days of "prolific" blogging progress!

And if that archive wasn't impressive enough, I have a post about procrastination that's been sitting in draft mode for 22 days:

See? It's true.

2. Become an awesomely productive do-it-yourselfer: This house, purchased two years ago with dog-urine-soaked carpets and walls that had not seen a drop of paint (or even just a wipe from a moist sponge) in 30 years was going to have new paint, new tile, new trim, new lights, all with my newly acquired home-renovation skills.

It's not that I've made zero progress on this one. But holy crap. Apparently when you decide to embark on your own home renovations, you are deciding to learn to walk all over again!!! I very quickly realized, I don't know how to do ANYTHING! Every seemingly tiny task is a giant production with an incomplete cast of characters--either the skills are noticeably absent, or the required tools have gone missing, or the necessary tool simply isn't owned at all. In the last 30 days, I've become very familiar with aisles of Home Depot I've never set foot in before, but my house doesn't look all that much different for it.

To do: Remove odd, non-functional box from wall. Replace with wall lamp or patch hole. Accomplished so far: Staring at odd box and confusing number of associated wires. Looking at every wall lamp at Home Depot, but purchasing none of them.

3. Reduce costs starting with food: This was going great! For a while there, I was the creative leftover queen! Here's an example. Chris says this looks disgusting. But not only did I like it (I am not ashamed), this lunch used leftovers that normally end up in the compost and cost only about $1. It could have been significantly less, but I'm still insisting on buying cage-free eggs.

Poached eggs and kim chi on leftover scalloped potatoes. Yum!

Unfortunately, about two weeks ago we had friends over for dinner, and not only did I fall off the savings wagon completely with the food purchases, now I can't seem to climb back on. I'm sure our recent, and ultimately heart-stopping-and-never-to-be-repeated, trip to Planet Organic is worth a future post.

4. Uhhhhh . . . you're going to get a new job, right???

Well . . . that was the original plan, but now I'm really on the fence about it. In fact, I've pretty much climbed over the fence and planted feet firmly on the other side . . . the stay-at-home-mom side. Here's a screenshot of just a handful of the jobs I've applied for--the provincial government jobs where you can actually log in and access evidence to base your job-searching depression on:

Date of application: Feb 4. Status: Offer in Progress. Hmmm . . . this is just a sign that you don't update your website regularly, right?

In recent months, I've applied for at least thirty jobs, received one telephone interview, and zero job offers. This is frustrating, of course. But I graduated from university in 2002 (the world was still reeling from 9/11, and it was not a great time for new university grads and job hunters), and my husband finished his graduate degree and returned to the labour force in 2009 (the worst time ever for finding a job!!!!). I'm well aware the world is different now, and no matter how good your qualifications are, 30 applications really aren't that many, and the job hunting road can be long and defeating. But really, the reason I'm going over the fence towards stay-at-home-momdum has much more to do with what has been accomplished in these last 30 days than what hasn't. Those things are much more fun to review:

1. Mommy Days! Even though I'm supposed to be using this time to blog, apply, and renovate, I've been frequently keeping the two little boys out of daycare and having mommy days instead. We do stuff like this:

And like this:

And like this:

2. I've read . . . books! Not picture books or parenting advice or business white papers. Real books with developed characters, plots, more than 100 pages, and everything!!! And in the evenings, I usually drink a cup of hot chocolate, homemade and sweetened with honey, while I'm doing it!

Old nightly routine: a beer and a computer. New nightly routine: a hot chocolate and a book . . . But I admit, occasionally the book is about beer.

3. Ending indecision, starting home renovations: Sure, the amount of progress I've made hasn't been nearly what I was expecting. But recently, a breakthrough! After days of looking at trim and baseboard options, debating the merits of stain vs. the merits of paint, worrying that Chris or a future home buyer won't like anything I choose, I realized something. Every day I don't make a decision is a day I just decide to live with plywood floors, unpainted walls, and rooms without trim. No matter what I choose and no matter how good (bad) I am at installing it, it's going to look 100 times better than what we have now. So stop thinking and start doing! I consulted my father regarding miter boxes, marched back to Home Depot, actually put wood and trim (and a miter box) into my cart, and got to work getting creative with the corners of my windows. This is going to take some dedication to complete all the windows on the first floor. And the first day proved there will be plenty of incorrect cuts and poorly constructed angles. But the world also has a lot of wood filler, and I'm pretty sure the end result is going to be awesome!

4. Family and friends: That flight back from California? I had been in LA helping my sister with a new baby and with my little toddler nephew. This is the type of thing I could never do while working. There were plenty of people--my husband, my mother-in-law, my sister--flying here and helping hold my world together so I could work and travel for Yahoo. But I was never the one able to go off and help others.

Slow down wild little nephew man, and let me take a picture of you!

While working for Yahoo, daily life was a merry-go-round of work->child pick up->dinner->bedtime->work->sleep->work->breakfast->child drop off->work. Now I sleep until 6:20am (so lazy!), I hang around chatting with other parents at school pick up, I grab the little boys early from daycare (instead of arriving in a panic minutes before closing), I took the kids to visit great grandma, not because she was sick, but rather because everyone was in good health and it seemed like a great time for family to get together, I occasionally sit with a neighbour who is feeling unwell, and I took a few days out of my own routines and responsibilities to help my sister with a new arrival. After years of working in sales operations for a corporation in desperate need of a turnaround, these everyday, normal, human things are a gift and a much-needed return to a different kind of reality.

5. Putting the kids first: I did one other big thing while I was in California. I gave the daycare the required 30-days-notice that I would be removing the little boys. So that's it -- no point in continuing the job hunt. By the time 60 days of unemployment rolls around, the wild little guys will be with me full time.

And this is something I have to thank Marissa Mayer, Jackie Reses, and their HR policies for. The fact is, my job was too good, and I was far too committed to it, to make the decision to leave without being pushed. That's not to say I think all that happened was right. A global internet and technology company deciding it's employees can't work remotely? Unconscionably wealthy executives deciding exceptions won't be made for things like family, partners' careers, and economic realities? It's all highly questionable. But these decisions forced me to look at my children and their fleeting childhoods, at my husband and our partnership, and realize that nobody needs me more and nothing could be a better use of my time than my family and relationships.

Now, every time I apply for a job, I think to myself, is this really worth the little guys being in daycare from 7:45am to 5:30pm every single day? Is this worth the big guy languishing in after-school-care every afternoon? Would I rather do this than be with my kids? The answer is always no. We are incredibly, incredibly lucky and should be able to get by (at least for a while) on one income alone. Sure, I won't be able to afford more flights to California; everything left in the savings account will have to be vigilantly protected. But people get by on much less, and we can, too.

At the end of the day, business process management, new product launches, corporate strategy, CEOs, HR policies, strategic initiatives, these all sound very important. They all can wait. Owen, age 9 and counting, Peter, age four and counting, David, age three and counting: they won't wait. So decision made: I'm going to make these days count before they're gone.

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