Office Closing

Have you ever, in the evening, reflected back on the past day and wondered in awe at how naive you were when you woke up that morning? Like when a day that started full of promise takes a hard right turn? Car accident. Kid sent home sick from school. Family medical emergency. You try and think about what it was like to not hold on to the information you currently have. Would you have done anything differently? Was there anything that could have helped you see this coming?

That’s been this year. That’s been this year for a lot of people.

I still remember the morning of March 25. I left the house at 6:30 a.m. so that I could meet my boss – she was proctoring my final exam for one of my certification courses. It was still dark out, and the steady stream of voices on NPR politely took turns piping through my car stereo. I was just crossing the train tracks near the Madison airport when the newscaster announced that Heinz had bought Kraft Foods in a merger facilitated by investors 3G and Warren Buffet. The experience was very dreamlike. So surreal.

Minutes later, I was the only person in the halls of the still-mostly-dark office building. Coming off the elevator, I found my boss texting on her phone in the conference room we’d pre-arranged. “Did you hear?…” I started. She shook her head in measured disbelief, “Jim [her husband]’s freaking out.” She’d just bought a house in Madison after spending 2 years commuting from 2 hours up north.

I settled in and took the exam. After I was finished, people had started populating the building and chatter ensued.

For three months following that day, anxious questions were lobbed at executives with not a lot of answers able to be given outside of the slim number of facts released at the announcement. Employees pored through the internet, unearthing somber tales of what went down when 3G took over Heinz. Our leadership tried to assure us that things would be different this time. Heinz was a struggling small company. Kraft is huge by comparison. “They’re looking to learn from us,” we heard.

The merger finalized in the days following the fourth of July holiday. Like a rollercoaster that had slowly been climbing a peak and just reached the crest, the weeks following were a blur.

Company-wide memos were released days later outlining policies on hiring and allowable expenses. Then the executive team was put in place in the span of just a couple of weeks. During this time, daily emails were released announcing newly-appointed executives and also announcing executives who would be leaving the organization. In project meetings, we joked about how similar our environment was to the Hunger Games. Canon booms. Playing the capital’s anthem. Faces of the departed flashing overhead.

Our executive structure was set 2 weeks following the finalization of the merger. Then managers and directors began to have meetings with HR. This was around mid-July. The month that followed was bar none the worst working environment I’ve worked in. Our management was told that they would be let go, but they were not allowed to tell the rest of the organization. Business as usual. For 3-4 weeks, basically the entire middle management of our company had to aid the transition of the new organization without divulging their fate to the rest of the employees.

Managers keeping face. Employees living in the dark. We knew something was coming, but no one could tell us details: what, when or how. We did this for a month.

Then August 12, we received the layoff notifications. I lost my job August 13. My situation is unique. I was kept on until November 20th to help my division transition to the new model. Their new way of doing things without my function on-site.

August 14, a rally was held with everyone remaining. Folks were told what the new structure is. Their new bosses. Some here in Madison reported locally while some report through a boss in Chicago.

From then on, I’ve been in a weird spot – bearing witness to a company dusting themselves off with the employees remaining following a huge layoff when I, myself was one of the people to have been let go. I’m like a ghost haunting a house. Not really a part of it, but still here somehow.

Now, yesterday, the rest of the people in the house that I haunt were put in a similar situation to me. Move… or leave. The house is closing its doors. So many people out of jobs. The corporate folks are lucky, they get a choice to keep their jobs if they are willing to move to Chicago. 700 plant employees won’t have a job come 2017.

It’s awful for everyone involved. We all saw it coming but were somehow in denial that it would actually happen. Pray for these people. Pray for their families. This has just been such a surreal year.

Bully For You

It’s almost like I was begging for it – right? Talking about how great kindergarten is going?

G rides the bus with his friend from two doors down. They’re both kindergartners and they both love playing outside with each other. These two have known each other for two years now and have really hit it off in recent months.

So imagine my surprise when G’s friend’s mom – my friend – calls me after the boys’ bedtime last night to break the news that my kid has been repeatedly punching her child all the way to school on the school bus. Even after he tells Graham to stop, Graham just… keeps on going. Even struck him in the face at least once.

And while my boisterous five-year-old has been coming home regaling the dinner table with tales of his brave new world, his friend down the street has gone home every day to seek consolation from his mother – asking her why his best friend is being so mean to him.

Breaks your heart, right? I *never* thought I’d be the one to get those phonecalls. I mean… I was the passive kid. Here, my boy who I tell everyone has compassion beyond his years has been rough with another kid and is totally not picking up on the cues that his actions are causing physical and emotional hurt.

Andy and I were so upset and disappointed after I hung up the phone with our neighbor. We played over and over what could have come over Graham, and our best guess is that he just wasn’t reading when the joke was over. Probably that the joke wasn’t ever funny to his sweet friend – who just wanted to sit on the bus and talk about Star Wars and upcoming birthday parties.

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We had a serious talk with G the next morning (this morning). Andy and I waited until he was dressed and downstairs at the kitchen table for breakfast. I told him about the phonecall. I told him how it felt to get that phonecall, and shame made Graham’s face go red. His eyes filled – then exceeded – their capacity. I knew what he was feeling. I remember that feeling. When you know what you did was wrong – so wrong, and you literally have nothing to say for yourself. You just desperately want everything to go back to the way it was before you’d made the choice you had.

We kept the talk brief. Stemmed the temptation to use a bunch of analogies and wax poetic about whatever. Instead, we focused on feelings. How Graham’s friend feels. How we feel. How Graham feels… all related to the choices he has made on the bus. Then we moved on to consequences. Graham’s friend doesn’t want to sit by him on the bus anymore, so Graham lost his bus buddy. There were a couple others too, but I think that was the thing that really stung.

G is a good kid, and a sweetheart. I have no doubt that this was a blip on the radar. It was an interesting wake up call to get though. We’ve got a little more work to do.

Kindergarten Greatness and Job Update

I realize that I haven’t written at all about how Graham’s kindergarten experience has been. The first day of Kinder was easily an entire post, so I’ll try and do a bit of an update and hope this suffices.

Kindergarten has been great. Like… so great. Better than I thought it would be. Graham is really handling everything so well. His teacher is awesome – he loves her, and he seems to be making friends too. He comes home with library books 2-3 times a week, new songs, and tales with not-quite-all-there details. He loves being a kindergartner so much.

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G rides the bus to school in the morning, which is about a quarter-mile walk from our front door. The great news is that his neighbor-friend Matthew from two houses down also rides the bus, so G has a built-in friend for the ride there!

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After school he rides with other friends to our local daycare. This has been working out so well, because the school bus takes him to daycare, he meets up with his daycare friends – who he has made over the past couple of years and who have now all split to different schools in the district, and Andy and I get to continue to pick up Graham and Reid at the same place at the end of the day! Win-win-win.

The job front has been buzzing. A Job #4 has emerged. I’ve made it to the second [onsite day-o-interviews] round with a couple of places, so I’ll be busy with that the next couple of weeks. If all goes well, I should know something by mid-October. Worst case scenario, they all fizzle out, and I’m back to square one of job applications and resume-tweaking. Hoping for something to pan out (of course!) Stay tuned!

Sympathy, Empathy and The Road Less Traveled

Apologies in advance for this not-much-of-an-update update. It has been quite the month!

Job hunting is not my favorite thing to do. It has been during this process that I realized – although this sounds sort of obnoxious – I’ve never really had to look for a job before. I mean, I’ve applied for jobs, but it was always for people who were looking for exactly my skill set and experience. They were looking for me. It’s not hard to find a job when someone is looking for you specifically.

Food science is a niche-y field, and I work in a somehow-even-tinier niche within that field. Suffice it to say: there aren’t many jobs to be had. On the other hand: there aren’t many people who do what I do either. This isn’t a terrible situation to be in, really, but it does mean that you need to be willing to move to wherever in the country has an opening.

So there’s that. We were super choosy about where we took this current job because it fit a criss-crossing criteria of being near family while not being in such a big city that we lose half our non-working hours merely getting from place to place. But we didn’t want to be in a little city either.

Basically we’re fussy prima donna millennials that want the world on a platter and don’t want to make sacrifices. K?

Anyhow, I’ve been riding the job hunt roller coaster – feeling alternately completely depressed about myself and just-OK about myself. I have appreciated the kind words of ‘this is meant to be’ and things about doors and windows closing/opening and “you’re awesome, you’ll find something”s, but pouring your heart out in cover letter and emails to get absolutely no response time and time again will seriously mess with your head. Also to go in for a job – as I am – with a colleague and have it be only her who gets all the callbacks? You can really only take so much of it.

As with most crappy life situations, it’s easy to spot who has been in this position before, because they don’t slather on sunshine and hope and positivity. They sit next to you and tell you how much it sucks, but that you do eventually come out the other side and then ask you out to lunch so you can give your brain a rest from all the mind games and doom. And I should say: I really do dislike all the “Things you should/not say to a person going through _____” articles that get reposted on Facebook, because I believe that people are earnestly doing their best and that some manner of reaching out is better than none at all because it means that they’re trying. That said – when you’re down, the line between ‘sympathy’ and ’empathy’ is super obvious. Sympathy does have an ‘up here-ness’ to it and empathy has a ‘down here’ quality about it. It feels almost identical to the giver and worlds apart to the receiver.

It’s been a month and three days since I had my appointment with HR. I have rewritten my resume at least a dozen times, applied for positions and flexed my network. Things are starting to come back, and I’ve got three paths that are starting to come into view. I won’t go into specifics here, but these three new jobs are very different.

Job #1 is basically exactly the same job I’m doing now at a really great family-owned company that people love working for and who has been super nice to me, but would require us to move. Probably a little less pay but in the ballpark of what I’m making now.

Job #2 is a stereotypical huge career opportunity, with several people reporting to me and a lovely title but also requires up to 50% travel and likely short term as I’d either have to move or leave the position in a couple of years. I have a sponsor/mentor who has been pulling all kinds of crazy strings to get me a chance at this one.

Job #3 is a management job at a small company owned by smart people. Their product is renowned, and their industry growing like crazy. The pay will be less and the commute would be long (like 45 minutes each way). It’s a production job, but it’s still in the food industry and has to do with sensory. My first interview was with the president of the company. They bring dogs to the office. (Don’t tell Hugo, because nope.) This job would be my exodus from corporate. This excites me more than I can say, but I also wonder if it’s not just because I’ve been burned so recently and in a few years would wish to have it back.

So that’s me. That’s life this past month. In another month, I should have a decent idea what my next job will be. Stay tuned!

 

Listening

Graham struggles at preschool. It’s maybe one of the biggest pangs of mom-guilt I get – that, because his father and I have two full-time working parent schedules, these kids have been pulling 10-hour days since they were 3 months old. Daycare was fine for G when he was little and all they did was sing songs and play trucks, but ever since he progressed into a class that started having expectations about his ability to follow directions in a series and allow the other kids in his class to participate in an uninterrupted group activity, we have been getting sporadic reports about his ability to cope.

I’ll stop a minute to be clear: Graham’s teachers are his advocates. They root for him, and take extraordinary measures at times to help him coexist in a classroom of his peers. He has flexibility to do his own thing when the class is doing another and he just doesn’t want to join. I read about the crazy expectations we crazy American parents have for our kids. This doesn’t feel like that. The expectations that Graham’s teachers have for him are not that he be an automaton and have a 9-to-5 desk schedule. It’s that he acknowledge that there is a story time going on for other kids and that he not scream out loud and bang toys around while a teacher is trying to tell a story.

Lately there have been increased reports from school that Graham is struggling again. It tends to go in waves. My latest crazy theory is that bad days happen on the full moon. That one’s not holding water. Obviously. We’ve had pep talks with him. Stern talks with him. Consequences. Brief conferences trading tactics with the teacher.

But today? Today as I was fixing dinner, Graham walked into the kitchen after arriving home from school and looked grief stricken. No drama, just… upset.

I said, “What’s wrong, buddy?” He looked at me. His voice cracked, his eyes filled and he said, “Mom. I don’t know what’s wrong with me… I can’t listen…. I am trying so hard, but I can’t listen. Ms. Peggy is trying to tell me stuff, and I don’t understand what she wants me to do.” And then the tears flowed. He just let loose. All the frustration that had been building up in him all day came out of his tiny little body.

He *has* been trying hard. Andy and I – along with Ms. Peggy – have been creating a ton of different strategies and tactics over the past year. We all get frustrated at times, because G gets so wild. Because he starts telling a story and has trouble in the middle remembering where he was trying to go with it. Because he gets so distracted trying to do a simple task like go to the bathroom or wash his hands or put on his shoes. I half think he’s so skinny because he can’t sit still long enough to finish a meal.

I’m writing this out because I never want to forget today. Today, Graham wasn’t about excuses or drama. Today, Graham set out to do well in school and couldn’t. And that just breaks my heart.