March 23, 2009

New Madness

I've been working a lot. Maybe a lot is a slight understatement. I'm nearing the end of a special project while balancing all the other crap that I'm supposed to do. While I've been working overtime the past month, everything really kicked into overdrive on Thursday when I was in the office for somewhere around fifteen hours straight. (Hint: You know you're working too much when it's dark when you arrive at the office and dark when you leave.)

A week or so ago, I was reading a story about a soldier in Iraq. He said that the only way to make it through, to survive that war or any war in general was to tell yourself that you were already dead as far as your family was concerned. If you resigned yourself to that, if you convinced yourself that there was nothing to lose because it was already lost, you'd be better able to focus on staying alive and doing your job. That quote was horrific to me. Frankly, if you get yourself to that point mentally, what's stopping you from throwing yourself on a landmine and being done with it?

Then I realized that the main reason I mentally object so strenuously to all this work, all this overtime, isn't because I don't want to do a good job. It's because I want to be a good dad. I don't want work to infringe on my time with my family. But I also found that if you resign yourself to maybe not being the best dad in the world for a week or a month, to acknowledging that you might miss a bedtime - no matter how much that sucks - it makes things a little easier to swallow. So maybe I kinda get what that soldier was saying. Though it still seems extreme to me.

The other thing that makes it tough is my inability to do a good job. I keep telling the people who work for me that if you do a good job, you get good work. I always forget that that applies to myself as well. I work hard, hold myself and my work to very high standards and get a lot of work as a result. Sure, I bitch about it but I've come to realize that I'm capable of no less. I can't half-ass it. I just don't operate that way. Sometimes I really wish I could.

All of this is a long way of saying that I'm working a lot, missing my family in the process and will be happy when I can chill a little. Unless there is some sort of unwelcome intervention (which is actually fairly likely to happen), all this madness will end over the next week. And when that happens, I will hoist a beer, cheer loudly and promptly pass out. Because I? Am tired. Then, of course, there will be a new madness. There's always new madness.

So how do you cope? Especially when it means being away from your family? Or is that a blessing sometimes? And what kind of madness are you dealing with? Oh, and one last question that has nothing to do with anything - is it totally wrong that I ate four hashbrowns from McDonald's this morning? (Okay, full confession time - I also ate one of their big, microwaved cinnamon bun thingies. And I kinda feel like I weigh 800 pounds and I need a nap.)

(Update 9:01 AM) Oh, also, has anyone noticed that I keep adding to this entry as the morning progresses? It's kinda like a really long Twitter entry at this point. Stay tuned - maybe I'll be back.

(Update 9:47 AM) McDonald's coffee is really bad. So bad that I actually defaulted to standard-issue office coffee.

(Update 11:44 AM) So, remember how I said that the deadline for the Great Big Project was probably going to get extended. Yeah, that just happened. I could laugh or cry but instead I'm just approaching it with a healthy dose of fuck it.

(Update 1:09 PM) Look, I know I'm a vegetarian but I want a burger. I don't know why but I want a fucking burger made of ground up cow. Mooo. Get in my tummy.

(Update 2:49 PM) Back to my original topic. Know what I think I need? My own private island. Who can hook me up with one of those?

Posted by Chris at March 23, 2009 6:44 AM

Glad you're seeing daylight. We do what we must and get through it. I worked most of the time my two youngest (now 36 and 4) were growing up. I asked the younger boy if he ever felt I should have been there more for him and he said he never was deprived because when I was there I was really there.

Re soldiers in Iraq, mine just emailed me to say he's in Germany headed home.

His wife tells me the first thing she's going to do is hand him both toddler boys.

I worried about him a lot even though he was in a relatively safe place but worrying and giving him up for dead are not the same thing at all. However, whatever gets someone through the day is okay with me even if I don't understand it.

Posted by: Ann Adams at March 23, 2009 7:27 AM

Oops. My boys are 36 and 40, not 36 and 4.

Posted by: Ann Adams at March 23, 2009 7:51 AM

I can't say that was how I coped. When the war got me down (when DIDN'T it get me down?) I just thought about all I had to look forward to.

It was a temporary situation. Yes, temporary was 15 months, which is a long time. But temporary, nonetheless.

We're facing an issue of a family member maybe going, maybe staying. There are upsides and downsides to both.

My husband is away a lot. At schools, training, etc. Now being on the "spouse" side of it instead of the "soldier" side of it is a little different. I don't go with him when he goes now.

I miss him terribly when he's gone, but in some ways, I think it gives us a greater appreciation for the amazing thing that we have.

It probably doesn't hurt that I know *exactly* how hard he works and he is much like you. He cannot NOT do a good job. He must do it to it's fullest every time. So I know when he comes home, he's done his best every day.

I'm glad that light is close for you, Chris. Whether it's 1 month, 3 months or 3 years, time away from your family is hard. It can be taxing and trying and downright miserable. But "coming home" is going to be divine!!!

Posted by: Holly Reynolds at March 23, 2009 9:00 AM

Disclaimer: I am older than you, and my spouse earns well. Those two realities give me a little wiggle room.

I was offered an agency job Friday afternoon. "Can you start Monday morning?" It was described to me by one of the partners as, "Walking into a shitstorm." They're in growth mode -- especially swamped and understaffed.

I accepted. I've always worked for agencies, and they're always swamped and always understaffed. Navigating shitstorms has always been a way of (work)life for me. 65-70-75 hr weeks, no weekends, no holidays, no evenings with my family. Never able to disconnect, always stressed, always ON.

I realized over the weekend that I don't want to do it anymore. I sacrificed my health and a marriage to it, and I'm just not willing to lose another husband and make myself even sicker.

I can't do any job half-assed, either. When you combine that mentality with an employer that is oblivious to boundaries and unconcerned with balance (as all agencies are), you have a recipe for disaster.

I'm calling to say, "Sorry, I've reconsidered" in just a few minutes. I'm not taking the job. I realize that sounds insane, especially in this economy. Call me crazy if you want.

I'm going to freelance and paint. My paintings always sold well, and it's work I love.

What's that old quote? No one ever says, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office" on their death bed.

Posted by: Elise at March 23, 2009 9:38 AM

Never stray from the bucks, my friend.

Posted by: Caleal at March 23, 2009 9:57 AM

Never stray from the bucks, my friend.

Posted by: Caleal at March 23, 2009 9:58 AM

I'm going back to work. Got to. Hubby is too old to get a job and at this point I'm sort of prime. Went for my first interview last week and hopefully the rest will go quickly. If this doesn't work, I will find something else.

Posted by: Maribeth at March 23, 2009 10:24 AM

i'm sorry. did you say something other than mcdonald's and cinnamon?

Posted by: ali at March 23, 2009 11:09 AM

Ohmigod- I actually LIKE McDonalds coffee. It beats the truck stop swill that is made in my staff lounge. On the work front- I used to have a job which regularly involved working 1-2 nights a week till 930PM and one Saturday from 9-630. The thing I hated most was missing my son's bedtime. That and getting home at 10:15 and hearing my husband yelp about how hard it was to get the kid to sleep because I had trained him to fall asleep next to mommy. I bailed from that job and that schedule the first chance I got. However, you don't sound like a workaholic- just hyper responsible in all areas. Sometimes you get to be SuperDad and sometimes you get to be SuperWorker. Most times it is impossible to be both.

Posted by: rebecca at March 23, 2009 11:38 AM

McDonald's coffee is the urban equivalent of a landmine. Just sayin'.

Posted by: Mr Lady at March 23, 2009 11:54 AM

McDonald's coffee is the urban equivalent of a landmine. Just sayin'.

Posted by: Mr Lady at March 23, 2009 11:54 AM

Am I leaving this twice? I don't care...

McDonald's coffee is the urban equivalent of a landmine. Jusy sayin'.

Posted by: Mr Lady at March 23, 2009 12:01 PM

As someone who is about to move from the home she purchased with her husband, move away from the friends she made, and move away from her husband for a year in the name of the almighty career, I completely understand how frustrated you are. Right now, I'm trying to figure out what I will absolutely NEED to bring with me, because I refuse to bring anything else. I don't want to do a separation with the Boy, I just have to live away from him.

It's going to suck. Suck big-time. But I think I understand the soldier entirely--if you're in a position where it *is* a life-or-death situation every day, you need to focus. And then, the end, if it means coming home, is much better. Apparently, the stress on soldiers overseas is that much greater because of all the immediate and constant contact.

Remember those kids in summer camp who kept being homesick because mom and dad kept in constant contact with letters and cookies, etc? Imagine that kind of guilt and homesickness but with your kids, instead.

Posted by: alektra at March 23, 2009 12:06 PM

I am in the opposite boat. I spend all day every day (and frequently all night) with my children. Sometimes I desperately miss working and getting away from them. Is that terrible?

I think it's all about finding a balance between being super mom or dad, and the other stuff that has to be done.

Posted by: Steph at March 23, 2009 12:34 PM

I understand what the soldier is saying. The only way I could function after my divorce was to pretend each time that my son was dead every other weekend. Otherwise I was so scared for him I couldn't function. Thankfully, he never died (although he cames close several times) in his father's loving care.
Missing a few bedtimes does not a bad father make. Trust me.

Posted by: That Girl at March 23, 2009 12:53 PM

Like you, I want to be a good family-person, but I have to work to pay the bills. But, I look at my working as being a good family-person. I would rather be home by three (or all day, if we're going to be candid), but my job keeps food on the table and will one day pay college tuition. I don't work overtime ever in my job, so there is that. But everyone gets to eat, my husband gets to work for himself as a periodically-employed consultant, and we're not really hurting in this economy. I really am doing more for them by being at work all day than I would by being home.

Posted by: Brooke Habecker at March 23, 2009 1:50 PM

I just kind of do one thing at a time. I hate having 5 things with lose ends floating around so try to finish a bunch of little things up. Not really a way to cope, but just how I like to deal with a lot of projects I guess.

Posted by: Dianna at March 23, 2009 2:05 PM

Don't do it! After being a veggie for many years I ate an In-N-Out burger and never went back. MOOOOOO!

I hope your project gets finished so you can be home again. Don't beat yourself up, there will be many more nights you'll be home and all will be well.

Posted by: Lesley at March 23, 2009 3:00 PM

One of my older friends who served in Vietnam tells this story. He was talking to his commanding officer and actually admitted that he was afraid. And the officer looked at him with pity and said, "You still think you're going to get out of here alive, don't you?" And that's when he gave up. He's alive today, but he remembers that moment.

Posted by: k8 at March 23, 2009 3:13 PM

I happen to own a private island. It's inhabited by cows. Delicious ones.

Posted by: GreenCanary at March 23, 2009 4:11 PM

My husband and I own our own business with two centers in washington state (we live in idaho). he works in seattle mon-thurs and is home for the weekend. i think it is harder on the parents than it is on the kids. my kids (11 & 9) will remember that dad was gone a lot but the times they spent with him were great. when mia and owen are older they won't remember that daddy had to work late and note be there to put them to bed, they will remember all the times you were there.
It is harder on us parents than it is on the kids.
this too shall pass.

Posted by: kali at March 23, 2009 4:59 PM

I learned this lesson very early in life while growing up with in a large family. I was very thorough with all my chores and as a direct result, my mom asked me to do most of the household duties. When I would complain that someone else should pitch in, she would just say that my brother or sister would do a crappy job so she wants me to do it.

Kid #2 arrived last year and most of that year was spent nurturing and spending time with my family. Now it's review time at work and I look back on the previous year and I feel like I didn't accomplish anything above my standard duties. So I won't get a good raise or bonus but oh well - it was worth it.

Posted by: Rengirl at March 23, 2009 7:18 PM

That's pretty much the strategy I used to cope with saying goodbye to my career when my kids were little and sick. After 12yrs of study and hard work to get where i was, I needed to adapt to being a stay-at-home parent and watching my husband who is in the same profession continue to succeed (and not get vomited/pooped on every day). Saying over and over to myself that this was all there was for me reset my expectations and allowed me to sleep at night.
Also, we live on a small island off Australia. House-swap?

Posted by: Jo MacD at March 23, 2009 8:09 PM

I've done the leave home in the dark/arrive home in the dark thing a lot in my previous job and it sucks the life right out of you. I hope you don't have to do it for long.

Did you get that burger?

Posted by: coolchick at March 23, 2009 8:41 PM

I'll refresh your memory - I have three under three. I just went back to work. And honestly, I'm not coping. I mean, I love what I do so that's a luxury, but other than that I would rather be home with my kiddos who happen to need me dearly and do not need to get rotovirus for the third time this year from their daycare mates.
And the Boys BB team just made it to state so that means the next two weeks for the band director (me) are at the beck and call of the athletic director.

How am I coping? Really investing at all moments of being a mom. I'm hoping to exercise a little more, but really, I'm hoping to find a magic pill that will let me enjoy work and not miss any moment of being a mom.

Posted by: nora at March 23, 2009 8:55 PM

I know this well. I am a 100 per cent kind of girl when it comes to, well, everything. And that balance between wanting to do well and being there for The Boy is tricky. There are days when I feel guilty no matter what I do. I feel bad because I'm not giving The Boy 100 per cent, I feel bad because I'm not giving the job 100 per cent.

It's a balancing act. I've had to accept that sometimes a B+ is adequate, but once in a while it has to be 100 per cent. (So I disagree with the soldier, you need to know there is something to go home to.)

Posted by: Nat at March 23, 2009 9:21 PM

The balancing act between the need to always do your best and feeling overwhelmed, taken advantage of is a tough one. And, I believe, it different for everyone. I am like you in that I can't do things half-assed. I take pride in my work as you seem to. I think the key is to remember that you are doing this for yourself and your family - not just "the man". If you keep that perspective, it makes the justification of the sacrifices that much easier to swallow.

Posted by: LaineyDid at March 25, 2009 6:50 AM