31 October 2009

At Work...But Barely

Over on the Work it Mom! blog, Nataly’s recent entry with respect to parents receiving special treatment at work caught my eye. It wasn’t something that I’d thought about, even after having A. My office is a mere handful – 5 folks – and each of us has such unique family situations that flexibility and covering for one another is simply part and parcel of the job and always has been. I mean, sure, I end up taking more time to ferry our daughter to appointments now and that can mean leaving early or coming in late, but with only one non-parent in the shop, it’s just understood as a given during the earlier years of parenthood.

Before I was a parent, Special Needs for Parents was never even a blip on my Work Radar. I knew that other people left early, came in late or stayed home with sick children but I was never asked to cover for them simply because I was childless at the time. And let’s face it, all of us young ‘uns back then certainly took our fair share of time when we needed it for personal things too. If I ever covered for a parent to go and do parently things, it was probably because they approached me directly and I had nothing pressing going on so was more than happy to oblige, regardless of why it was they were asking me.

In thinking about it though, being a parent has changed the way I view work. If I’m going to work overtime, I’ll take my laptop home and I won’t work until after A is in bed for the night. I used to just stay late and think nothing of it. Up until my recent return to my old Air Force reserve Flight, I never stayed overnight on drill weekends unless I had to after becoming a mom (now, I have to so it’s a moot point I suppose…) but before that, I looked forward to the weekend getaway.

But the real area in which my becoming a parent changed is the frequency with which I will willingly travel or go “TDY” (temporary tour of duty). Last Friday, I got an e-mail at work from my reserve unit asking if I could take a short-notice school tour for a course I do need to eventually attend. By short-notice, they wanted me to leave that Sunday (mind, this was Friday, almost noon) to be gone for two weeks. I responded with a simple “Are you EXPLETIVE kidding me?!”

On the way home that day, I realized that if the same opportunity had presented itself before I had my daughter, I probably would have been packing my bags that night and down at the unit bright and early to finalize paperwork. My, how things had changed!

In 2003 alone, I was gone for at least a week out of almost every month to a conference or a course. In 2002, I was deployed but even after my return, I would spend a month in Georgia working at Higher Headquarters and then a month at my reserve base – rarely did I see the light of home.

It got so bad between late 2002 and 2003 that the TSA agent at the airline I used most frequently (a small terminal in a mid-sized airport) knew me by name and commented if he hadn’t seen me in more than a few weeks. We chatted a lot, he and I. He was a nice guy.

2004 saw a lot of travel as well, as did 2005 and 2006. But then, sometime in 2007, I got pregnant and my willingness to go places started to wane. Now, we’re coming to the close of 2009 and, in the last two years, I have only been on 3 business trips for work and zero TDYs for my reserve unit.

Next year is going to be different. I already know that I have two 7-day trips for exercises, one 2-week course, one 3-week overseas trip, two 5-day conferences and…oh, one 5-day course I’ll have to attend. That’s as of now. Who knows what’ll be coming my way after the new year? But I’m dreading being away for every last one of those trips, even the overseas one (to Europe again). It means I’ll be away from my family. I’ll be away from my daughter who will still be growing and constantly changing before our eyes.

I feel like I miss out on enough of the fun stuff as it is. Just yesterdaymorning, M called me at work to tell me that he was making pancakes and she was on her step-stool at the counter, “helping”. He turned his back to get something, heard her declare, “PLOP! Stir stir stir” and turned around to see that she’d thrown her giant Nemo-beanbag fish in the pancake bowl and had taken up the whisk and was stirring it in.

I’m a “little things” type of person. Those are the “little things” that make me want to spring out of bed each day to witness. I’ve missed a lot of them just by working full time and being absent for 3 consecutive days of the month, each month now. Of course, this is our choice and I am by no means whining – but it’s funny how the thought of missing a week or two or more worth of the little things isn’t as appealing after you have a child.

It’s what comes of introducing yourself to someone new in your life who takes precedence over everyone and everything you ever knew before. THAT is what being a mother has done to me. And I think that it’s payback too…

It’s payback for all of those times when we were sitting in a bar somewhere while I was TDY, listening to the guys moan about how much they were coming to hate the travel because they missed their kids so much – and spritely dumbass me would pipe up, “Hey! Just look at it like it’s a vacation away from being a parent!” Right. Lesson learned. Being a parent isn’t the chore I used to imagine it was. It’s a life changing thing that softens your heart and makes you actually miss people, no matter how short and small those people may be.

In the end, it really means more opportunity for others around me to travel now that I’m not hogging all of the good trips and, given my druthers, would never go anywhere away from home again (at least, not without my family in tow). Well, that’s how I justify not taking up my fair share of the trips these days anyway.
What about you? Do you still look forward to business trips or special events or would you rather be home with S/O and offspring? Has being a parent changed how you work?


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